Updated Jun 11, 2022 - Politics & Policy

How to help stressed teachers

Illustration of a chalkboard in the shape of a battery with low power

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

My sister, a special education teacher in central Wisconsin, says it's never been harder, more stressful, more dangerous or more thankless to be a teacher. 

  • She describes vividly what we all see unfolding online: a rise in depression, cursing, fighting, disrespect, disruption, violence and disengaged parents. "In 25 years, I’ve never seen it this bad," she says. 

The stakes: We’re staring down a severe staffing shortage in schools. Escalating burnout and stagnant wages are driving seasoned teachers out of classrooms, and fewer and fewer college kids want to become teachers.

Why it matters: All of us are the beneficiaries of some great teachers, so we wanted to toss around some ideas to make them feel appreciated for wrangling and molding us, our kids and our friends.

  1. Say thank you. Teachers tell us they rarely receive a simple thanks from parents and community members. Tell the teachers in your life you appreciate them, and post on social media to spread the message in your network.
  2. Make calls and write letters. Pick up the phone and thank the teachers who changed your life. If you don't have their numbers, look for them on social media and reach out there. And write notes and cards to the teachers at your local public schools.
  3. Volunteer. If you have the time, step up to volunteer in classrooms, in the library or in the cafeteria — and try to give our teachers and school staff a long-overdue break.
  4. Give them gift cards for school supplies and a stash of healthy snacks — they are among the few people outside the home who know a kid is hungry.
  5. Be kind. When you’re emailing your child’s teacher, remember that they’re barraged with demands and complaints. Be cheerful, appreciative and efficient: They may well be answering you on their own time.
  6. Bring doughnuts. It may sound frivolous, but it's not. Show up with goodies or coffee to your kids' school. Little gestures like this don't fix the situation, but they sure make it more tolerable, says Brooke Olsen-Farrell, superintendent of the Slate Valley Unified School District in Vermont.
  7. Empathize. Dial back the political attacks on teachers. They, like all of us, are simply trying to do what's best for our kids. Usually your issues are with the PTA or the union anyway.

The bottom line: Recognize the crazy stress teachers face. They joined a once admired, albeit modestly paid, profession — and now are vulnerable to physical attack while being pelted with political grievances.

  • A memorable tweet after the Uvalde shooting said simply: A hero is every teacher going to work today.

Editor's note: This story was originally published on June 8.

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