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What ‘pandemic fatigue’ could mean for Illinois’ teaching force

One out of three educators across Illinois is burned out because of the stress and safety concerns about COVID-19.

Students board a school bus in suburban Wheeling.
Students board a school bus in suburban Wheeling.
Nam Y. Huh/AP Photos

Consider the latest educational fallout from COVID-19: Hundreds of Illinois educators worn out from “pandemic fatigue” and on the verge of quitting.

They are on the brink of leaving, according to a survey of some 1,300 teachers statewide, because of the stress and safety concerns caused by teaching amid the pandemic.

The survey from the Illinois Education Association, which represents teachers in most districts outside Chicago, asked them about their experiences this school year, including their experiences with resuming in-person instruction.

One out of three educators surveyed said COVID-related stress had caused them to consider switching careers or retiring, something that state data show is already occurring at the highest pace in five years. Hundreds more teachers have already retired this year as compared with 2019.

Seventy-six percent of teachers said their workload is heavier this year than in 2019. Two-thirds agreed with the statement, “I have been more burned out more than usual this year.”

Sixty-nine percent said it was either “not very” or “not at all likely” that schools can reopen safely for full in-person learning for all students next semester.

“Our teachers are struggling. Our support staff are struggling. Some of them are working in school districts without a safe plan in place,” IEA President Kathi Griffin said. “Others are working in districts where there is a safe plan, but the district is not enforcing it.”

We urge lawmakers to consider IEA’s proposal to put enforcement teeth behind the reopening guidelines set by the Illinois Department of Public Health and the Illinois State Board of Education.

That’s another solid reason for the Legislature to approve remote voting and get back to work, as we urged last week. A safe reopening of our public schools — once the pandemic is under control — must be among our state’s top priorities.

Lawmakers must consider every option to make sure that in-person teaching can safely resume.

It’s worth noting that guidelines and standards that have some teeth could help Chicago Public Schools and the Chicago Teachers Union get past their stalemate over the district’s reopening plan.

CPS has said it plans to bring elementary students back to school on Feb. 1. A lot can happen by then. And no reopening, no matter how well-planned, will go smoothly unless teachers buy in because they’re convinced it’s safe.

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