Advice & News

May 4, 2021

Show Your Appreciation to Educators by Listening to Them

TimeImage Production/Shutterstock

Staffing the COVID-19 pandemic has ushered in a myriad of complexities for educators whose roles are already difficult. Adapting remote instruction for all learners is an intricate and complex undertaking: from adjusting plans to accommodating both remote and in-person learners, to creating space to include students with various limitations, needs, challenges, and disabilities.

On top of that, educators have been taxed with providing remote instruction to students learning from homes that may be less than ideal educational environments as families struggle to navigate the economic and logistical challenges of a global pandemic. Wi-Fi access, personal safety, mental health support, and food security are not assured. While it's always true that educators have multiple dimensions of student health, wellness, and access to manage, this is further complicated by the global crisis.

These are just some challenges that complicate students' opportunities to focus, learn, and succeed. This makes work difficult, frustrating, and heartbreaking for educators who are also juggling this emergency and these logistics with their own families. Postsecondary educators are also weathering the worry of an industry that is responding to the economic fallout of the pandemic. It's a lot to juggle logistically and emotionally.

Each May we pause and show our appreciation to the educators who shape us. This May, perhaps we honor Teacher Appreciation Day by endeavoring to understand some of what our educators have experienced during the pandemic, so that we can better support and recognize their vital work.

Teaching through the Trauma

Professionals across industries have adapted in real-time, completely altering the way they do business. Educators have been likewise challenged. Unlike other professionals, though, they have the additional challenge of adapting in front of a class. It's hard to learn a new skill this way, and it's taking its toll on educators.

A recent survey conducted by Course Hero, polling nearly 600 full and part-time faculty from a mix of colleges and universities, found that: "Three out of four faculty reported significant stress as a result of challenges transitioning to new modes of teaching -- the largest single source of stress for educators by a wide margin." In fact, the survey finds that more than half of college faculty cited signs of burnout; 54 percent strongly agree that their job is harder now, and 40 percent indicate that they are contemplating pursuing a new job.

Educators also indicate that their concerns have mounted: "Nearly two thirds said that challenges meeting the emotional and mental health needs of students caused significant stress. While stress was high at the onset of the pandemic, the research found that faculty anxiety appears to be increasing, with more faculty reporting peak stress now than at the beginning of the pandemic."

Despite the increased demands placed on educators, some feel that their institutions are not doing enough to support faculty. Dr. Susan Ramlo, senior lecturer and independent researcher, points out that employee support needs to be more robust, considering what educators are taxed with during this time of crisis.

Dr. Ramlo explains: "There has been a lot said about students' mental health during COVID but not much has been said about educator's mental health... yet many of us were struggling with personal as well as professional issues during the pandemic. Whereas universities have created systems to help students, I haven't seen anything about helping employees during the pandemic regarding mental health. I know this is true at my institution. Overall, my research findings indicate that faculty struggled with doing what was best for students while moving from face to face to remote instruction."

Anxiety about the Future of Higher Education

Another cause for stress among faculty is how the pandemic might alter the future of higher education. The survey finds: "Nearly two-thirds expect diminished perceptions of the value of higher education, and more than 40 percent expect an increased economic divide between students who go to elite, in-person colleges and those who attend online or part-time programs."

It's defeating to work so hard to get the institution and the students through the crisis, only to worry that those efforts won't be enough. Educators regularly combat these worries according to the survey, which finds that 60 percent of respondents are concerned that academic courses or programs will be cut.

Dr. Ramlo shares: "There are so many ways in which this pandemic year has been traumatic for educators and their students. Not only have we moved courses online and, then, possibly changed again to a hybrid model, we have not been recognized (truly recognized) for bringing universities through the storm. At The University of Akron, over 100 faculty (both tenured, contracted non-tenure track, and annually contracted visiting faculty) were let go and lost their health insurance during a worldwide pandemic."

Anxiety about the Quality of Education that Defines Higher Education

Job losses, layoffs, furloughs, and cuts to majors, programs, and departments across the industry is not only devasting and educators worry that it changes the complexion of the higher education community. The survey finds: "three quarters of faculty expect changes in class size, teaching modality, or other shifts that make it more difficult to provide high-quality teaching and/or strong relationships to students."

Dr. Ramlo shares: "Students have suffered as institutions did not recognize that to do a good job teaching online, class sizes must be adjusted so that they are smaller. But, instead, class sizes have mostly been maintained or even increased as institutions thought about financial savings rather than quality of instruction. This could have been a turning point, especially for public institutions, to embrace research findings that smaller classes are better for students' learning. So, as students need more individualized instruction during the pandemic and move to online classes, instructors are overwhelmed and unable to comply effectively to that need."

How Can We Truly Show Our Appreciation to Our Educators?

So, what can be done? Dr. Ramlo suggests: "Communities need to better understand the need for tenured faculty; they also need to understand that colleges and universities are not businesses." Taking time to understand the culture on campus, and the expertise that is incubated there is one way to show our appreciation to our educators.

Dr. Ramlo also recommends taking action: "People should consider contacting their federal representatives (congresspersons and senators) about the upcoming reconciliation bill, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Pramila Jayapal are proposing to significantly increase federal funding for higher ed-doubling the size of Pell Grants, eliminating tuition for families making under $125,000, and making community college free." Dr. Ramlo further explains: "Also part of that bill is a mandate that 75% of faculty at public institutions would be on the tenure-track. This is directly related to education equity. Thus, the trend at public institutions about being dependent upon underpaid part-time instructors can be reversed and more in line with upper crust types of institutions."

Use this May as your opportunity to be an advocate for education. Do your research. Get involved.

And then show your appreciation to educators. Check on them. Thank them. They've been doing the heavy lifting. They're exhausted, stressed, and worried. Show the educators in your life that you're there and you're listening.

This website is part of the HigherEdJobs network.