Teaching During a Pandemic Hit Teachers Who Were Already Burned Out the Hardest

Teaching During a Pandemic Hit Teachers Who Were Already Burned Out the Hardest

Long before schools shut down to prevent the contagion of the coronavirus, a different type of plague had been spreading through the educational system: teacher burnout. With stressors such as low pay, insufficient resources, and mandated student testing, teachers struggled to contain the spread of burnout and attrition throughout the ranks of the profession. 

Then COVID-19 closed schools, and teachers stepped up to fulfill unprecedented roles for their students. They strategized distance learning plans, revised lessons, mastered new technology, and delivered meals. But with added responsibility came added stress, and the urgency and uncertainty of teaching during the pandemic threatened to extinguish what little spark remained in burned-out teachers. Here are some stressors many teachers faced.

  • Burned-out teachers were already in survival mode. Hastily-made distance learning plans set teachers up for failure. Schools were not prepared for the sudden shift that COVID-19 wrought upon education, and teachers flailed in the constant state of improvisation and survival.
  • Students struggled with resources. Students were even less prepared for distance learning than teachers. Limited access to the internet, the absence of working parents, and pandemic-induced trauma left grade books riddled with incomplete. A lack of equitable resources and poorly-defined expectations undermined teachers’ efforts. 
  • Boundaries between work and home got blurred. Virtual meetings tore down the distinction between work and home. Without those boundaries, working where teachers lived quickly escalated to living for their work.
  • Motivation was hard to find. Closing the schools upended teachers’ familiar routines. There was no need to set an alarm to leave the house. Wearing pajamas all day became normal. Without a routine, teachers struggled to maintain motivation as the weeks of isolation wore on.
  • Family life suffered. Working at home forced teachers to choose between work and family. Families were reduced to background noise. Teachers found themselves alternately asking their loved ones to repeat themselves or snapping at their families to be quiet.
  • Relationships with students were strained. Distance learning strained teacher-student relationship. The impersonal space of virtual meetings was a poor substitute for genuine classroom interactions. Despite teachers’ unfailing attempts to reach out, disabled cameras or unreturned correspondence reduced many students to mere names on a screen.
  • Teachers were away from their support system. Working remotely stripped away teachers’ support system of colleagues. Collaboration between teachers continued in the form of frequent virtual meetings and constant emails, but it lacked the emotional bond teachers need to encourage one another in their profession.
  • Zoom exhaustion set in. The impersonality of virtual meetings gave rise to the symptoms of Zoom exhaustion. Without body language to convey and interpret emotion, teachers compensated by over-emoting and assuming the worst from students’ disinterested looks or disabled cameras.
  • Self-care became even harder to maintain. Extended shut-downs and quarantines made self-care harder.
  • Limited mental energy was stretched even thinner. Mental energy expended on teaching had to compete with added concerns. Teachers struggled to maintain focus on schoolwork as their own children needed help with assignments, their household chores piled up around them, their quarantine supplies dwindled, and their loved ones faced the threat of falling ill.

As with any disease, the effects of pandemic burnout were far more devastating to those with preexisting conditions. Burnout’s common symptoms weakened teachers before the pandemic. As such, burned-out teachers lacked the resilience to withstand the hardships wrought upon education by COVID-19. This vulnerability made them suffer the futility of remote teaching more acutely than teachers who exhibited high resilience in a normal educational setting. 

Teaching is tough; pandemic teaching is tougher. Teachers that recognize any of these signs of burnout in themselves must consider that the first step to healing is self-compassion. Teachers have earned their summer vacation more than ever and should take time to heal their wounds so they do not reopen when school resumes. Spring was difficult, and fall holds the promise of untold challenges. Teachers may not be able to prepare their lessons yet for every possible scenario, but they can build resilience now to handle any situation that could arise.


Teaching During a Pandemic Hit Teachers Who Were Already Burned Out the Hardest

Like it? Share with your friends!

Melisa Ferguson
Melisa is a mom, world language teacher, and self-care enthusiast.
Choose A Format
Share your amazing stories, tips, opinions, and other stuff that matters.
Upload your funny, inspiring, DIY, or informative video(s) for the world to see!
Personality quiz
Leave the serious quizzes at school, these are strictly fun! You make the questions and pre-define the results.
Trivia quiz
Time to test your friends' knowledge! You choose the subject and have fun seeing who scores the highest!
Pose any question to millions of educators by creating your own polls/surveys, whether for research, for fun, or for the sake of curiosity!
Share your classroom decor, costumes, funny classroom antics, silly grading moments, or other teacher life shenanigans!