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Teachers Union 'Study:' The Most Stressed Out People During the Pandemic Were...Teachers, Of Course

AP Photo/Seth Wenig, File

When I first saw this headline from CBS News, I wondered how such a "study" could possibly exist. Admittedly, we have all battled high levels of stress during the pandemic. Millions have died or been sickened, routines and plans were massively disrupted, livelihoods were threatened, and social interaction was curtailed. I'm not sure anyone walks away from such a catastrophic, year-long ordeal entirely unscathed. But some groups of people have had it far worse than others – and if you'd asked me to list a few of them at the very top of the list, "teachers" wouldn't have even crossed my mind. And yet: 

"Many of them didn't show up for work, in what the data showed to be remarkably safe environments, for months on end — while many essential workers never missed a day," I retorted on social media. "Including healthcare professionals battling the pandemic under immense stress. Give me a break." I have no doubt that many teachers did experience real stress, just like everyone else. Distance and hybrid learning presented difficult workplace challenges, which also occurred across many industries. Perhaps some educators were especially concerned about their students' well-being, which was being actively undermined and hampered by school closures — which were shamefully extended at the behest of many teachers unions across the country, contradicting and manipulating the scientific data along the way. Union bosses may have been fighting hard to keep children out of classrooms and teachers off the job for as long as possible, regardless of the disastrous impact on kids, but many teachers undoubtedly internalized how terrible this was for their students. These rolling, anti-science catastrophes surely grated on some of them: 

Selfishly enabling these harms has been an abject disgrace, yet teachers unions are now shamelessly trying to maintain a posture of both victimhood and heroism in the public imagination. In far too many places, they have utterly failed their students and their communities, but still feel entitled to public sympathy and adulation. So it should come as no surprise that the "study" that was regurgitated by CBS was bought and paid for by the two biggest teachers unions in America: 

A much higher percentage of teachers reported frequent job-related stress and symptoms of depression compared to the general adult population, in part because they were navigating unfamiliar technology and struggling to engage students, while also having concerns about returning to in-person instruction amid a pandemic.  In January 2021, 78% of teachers said they experienced frequent job-related stress, compared to 40% of employed adults, according to a survey of public school teachers from the Rand Corp. funded by the National Education Association and the American Federation of Teachers  The pressures of teaching during the pandemic weighed so heavily on educators that one in four teachers said they were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the 2020-21 school year, according to the same study.

This is actually insulting. Countless other Americans were forced to adjust and handle all sorts of tasks during the pandemic, including millions of working parents whose children weren't in classrooms. Many of these people were essential workers and couldn't perform their jobs over Zoom. It's nearly impossible for me to muster any real sympathy for a tenured public school teacher who's done his work from his house — with his union moving heaven and earth to allow him to stay home, regardless of the science, even as his students suffered — while the parents of those suffering students were forced to juggle in-person work and childcare, facing potential job loss if the correct balance couldn't be struck, all while a deadly pandemic raged on.  Schools were demonstrably safer than communities writ large, yet many of them remained shuttered. And now that we are moving beyond the pandemic, these unions are blasting out propaganda in an effort to rally support and engender pity. Ridiculous. A fourth-grade teacher wrote a searing essay in The New York Times last week, illustrating how dreadful school closures were for many of the children she is charged with educating: 

Then Covid hit, and overnight these school communities fragmented and segregated. The wealthiest parents snapped up teachers for “microschools,” reviving the Victorian custom of hiring a governess and a music master. Others left for private school without a backward glance...The families with the fewest resources were left with nothing. No child care, only the pallid virtual editions of essential services like occupational or speech therapy. If they could work out the logistics, their kids got a couple of hours a day of Zoom school. If they couldn’t, they got attendance warnings. In my fourth-grade class, I had students calling in from the car while their mom delivered groceries, or from the toddler room of their mom’s busy day care center. Home alone with younger siblings or cousins, kids struggled to focus while bouncing a fussy toddler or getting whacked repeatedly on the head with a foam sword. Others lay in bed and played video games or watched TV. Many times each day, I carefully repeated the instructions for floundering students, only to have them reply, helplessly, “I’m sorry, I can’t hear you,” their audio squealing and video freezing as they spoke.

...I am still bewildered and horrified that our society walked away from this responsibility, that we called school inessential and left each family to fend for itself. Meanwhile nurses, bus drivers and grocery workers all went to work in person — most of my students’ parents went to work in person — not because it was safe but because their work is essential. Spare me your “the kids are all right” Facebook memes. Some children may have learned to do laundry or enjoy nature during the pandemic. Many others suffered trauma and disconnection that will take years to repair.  More of our public school systems should have likewise moved mountains — repurposed buildings, reassigned staff, redesigned programming, reallocated funding — to offer consistent public schooling, as safely as possible, to all children. Instead we opened restaurants and gyms and bars while kids stayed home, or got complicated hybrid schedules that many parents turned down because they offered even less stability than virtual school. Even now, with vaccinations rising and case rates dropping, some families remain reluctant to send their kids back to us in the fall. I can’t help thinking that’s because we broke their trust.

The harm is about students, not adults, but unions are — as usual — inverting that equation. The last year has been a vivid advertisement for school choice. More than a few families are voting with their feet, and legislatures are shifting the paradigm on school funding. Perhaps those are the true sources of the (supposedly) uniquely horrible stress these unions want everyone to believe their members are experiencing. I'll leave you with this: 

I'm not exaggerating about that union, which has repeatedly shamed and embarrassed itself. 

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