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Teacher Burnout and COVID-19 Stress

October 19, 2020 • Patti Ellis

Teacher Burnout and COVID-19 Stress

October is difficult enough in a typical year, but with the addition of stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, schools will need to be even more diligent in identifying and managing teacher burnout.

October in a normal year

Typically, October is the time of the school year when teacher morale tanks. The change in season brings less daylight, decreasing the amount of vitamin D intake, and impacting fatigue and the immune system. The academic cycle is also hitting its first rough patch; energy is beginning to wane and challenges in the classroom have begun to surface. This slump has an impact on teacher wellness and productivity. Districts may see an uptick in teacher resignations around this time, as well.

Pandemic problems

Teachers are now facing a whole new list of issues to add to their plates because of the pandemic, and not all are directly related to the classroom. Work stress is further complicated by the needs of many teachers to manage their homes (e.g., kids, work at home, significant other, aging parents) while starting the school year in their classroom virtually.

Most teachers have had to adjust their academic strategies to accommodate virtual schooling. Even tasks as simple as taking attendance have become cumbersome, causing aggravation for teachers, parents, and students. Fear and worry may be plaguing many educators as they are now returning to the classroom with schools now opening up in-person to more and more students.

The pandemic is not impacting all teachers equally, either. According to a newly released report from McKinsey & Company and LeanIn.Org, black female employees are more likely to indicate that they are stressed. This is likely due to the fact black communities experience an increased impact from the pandemic, as well as continued, often deadly, injustice.

District responsibility

While teachers are faced with a multitude of stressors, many outside of the district’s direct control, districts can help teachers cope with these challenging times. The first step is identifying signs of stress, so be on the lookout for the following:

  • Absenteeism
  • Lowered confidence
  • Decreased productivity
  • Withdrawal from others
  • Change in behavior, particularly as it relates to irritability or concentration
  • Loss of motivation
  • Negative or anxious comments or behavior
  • Noticeable change in patterns of sleeping or eating

More than likely, most teachers are experiencing some level of stress right now, but districts may need to make an effort to assist individual teachers exhibiting multiple signs. In addition to more traditional ways of helping staff cope, specific strategies to help with the COVID-19 stressors may include:

  • Training campus leadership in identifying signs of stress
  • Ensuring policies are updated to reflect inclusion and not perpetuate bias
  • Evaluating class size and making adjustments where possible
  • Streamlining the virtual attendance process
  • Assessing needed resources and creating avenues for teachers to obtain them
  • Empowering teachers to set boundaries, particularly for those providing instruction online
  • Addressing concerns of safety and health, providing accommodations where applicable

Refer to previous HRX articles, Darktober: Strategies for Helping Staff Cope and Teacher Stress and Burnout is Real, for more information.


Patti Ellis is an associate consultant at TASB HR Services. Send Patti an email at patti.ellis@tasb.org.


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Tagged: COVID-19, HR