Denver teachers speak out in school surveys: ‘Teachers cannot survive another year of what they experienced this past year’

“Oh no, this is teacher life!” he laughed. “We do not go to the bathroom. We do not get drinks. We eat and run. It’s just how we roll. ”

Jiner may make a joke, but it speaks to the sheer volume of things teachers have on their plates. Half of Denver Public Schools staff surveyed by the district recently felt their workload was unsustainable.

“Every teacher leaves school with homework to take home, work that they did not have enough time to take home during their workday and it does affect your next day job if that work is not done,” he said.

Two surveys of Denver teachers found widespread feelings of burnout and distress, and educators on the verge of quitting.

Teachers describe massive workloads, without the time or support to do their jobs: teaching children. They also describe inadequate mental health support for students with challenging behavior. Another theme is an extreme divide between school staff and the district’s central administration.

In the district survey, only a third of staff responded. Usually, two-thirds do. It asked staff how engaged they are – whether they enjoy their work, feel it has a positive impact and feel valued. During the height of the pandemic, engagement was around 75 percent. This spring it had dropped to 57 percent.

Teachers had the lowest satisfaction, at 51 percent of teachers. Principals, school counselors, and psychologists were not far behind at 56 percent. Staff who provide special services like nurses, audiologists and physical therapists were at 60 percent.

Anthony Smith, DPS ‘chief of equity and engagement, said the district received more than 3,000 written suggestions on what teachers need to feel valued.

“It goes from more planning time, some teachers said,“ I just need not to have to sub anymore. I need mental health supports. I need behavior supports. I need curriculum supports. ‘ And we’re taking that and we’re going back and saying, how do we make this doable? How do we help them achieve success for kids? We have to have happy teachers to have successful kids and the district is committed to that. ”

He said in conversations with teachers and administrators, they’re struggling to understand whether the lack of engagement stems from the pandemic and the challenges it presents or whether it’s a consistent feeling.

“But I also see a need to feel valued by your district, to want to know that ‘we matter,’ to want to know that our district cares about us, that our schools care about us,” Smith said.

Jenny Brundin / CPR News
Karen Mortimer chairs the accountability committee that advises Denver Public Schools, She said the survey the committee sent out really struck a nerve. She says DPS teachers cannot survive another year of what they experienced this past year.

‘We struck a nerve,’ said Karen Mortimer, chair of a district advisory committee, which also surveyed teachers.

The District Accountability Committee survey distributed the anonymous survey to better understand challenges faced by school-based staff.

The 601 responses were tabulated in December. This survey was conducted at the height of the severe staffing shortage in the fall, which could have been a factor in the overwhelming stress staff were experiencing. Teachers also place a lot of stress on themselves, particularly when students are so far behind academically because of the pandemic.

“We take it personally when our test scores come back, and kids aren’t where they need to be. If you’re a good teacher, it’s going to affect you, ”said Jiner.

But according to the surveys, in general, despite being the people closest to students day in and day out, teachers do not feel district leadership listens to them about what students need.

“This should have been a year for us to work on changing the face of education, instead it is more of the same, with less time and resources to do things,” wrote one DPS teacher in the survey.

Many teachers painted a picture of a district in crisis, with high numbers of teachers overwhelmed and considering leaving at the end of the year.

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