DALLAS — In 26 years of teaching, Karla Smith hasn’t experienced anything close to the last two years.
“It’s the toughest I’ve seen for teacher burnout and even kid burnout,” she said.
Smith is an eighth-grade science teacher at Benjamin Franklin International Exploratory Academy in Dallas ISD. Twenty percent of her students haven’t returned from winter break and COVID has crushed staffing across the region.
“You can’t get the lady from office to cover or the counselors to cover which is what usually happens,” Smith said. “You just have any staff member; the hall monitors are covering classes.
This week, several North Texas school boards will meet to discuss COVID policies and teacher retention. Some districts have asked parents to volunteer to cover classes because of extreme substitute teacher shortages.
Smith now mentors new staff that enter the school.
“This is a pretty stressful, tension-filled environment for some,” she said. “It’s not for the faint of heart. I can say that.”
According to data school districts reported to the Texas Department of State Health Service, nearly 70,000 students and more than 25,000 staff tested positive for COVID from Jan. 2 to Jan. 16.
There may be some relief from COVID-19 soon, though. Sunday morning, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House’s chief medical advisor told ABC News that East Coast states are seeing improving trends.
“I believe you will start to see a turnaround in the entire country,” he said.
Fauci added that while some parts of the country are still struggling, with continued masking and vaccination, COVID could become like endemic viruses like flu in just several months.
“We want it to get back to the level where it doesn’t disrupt us in terms of getting back to a degree of normality,” he said.
That still won’t stop the politics, increase the pay or change the test score stress also driving teachers to change careers.
“The kids know if you’re not really invested, and you don’t really believe it’s going to happen,” Smith said. “You cannot fake it till you make it in this field. I don’t believe that you can.”
She stuck with it because of the impact teaching has on lives.
“I tell my kids, 'not on my watch. Nobody’s failing. You’re in my pool, I’m the lifeguard whatever happens,'” she said.
Students and teachers have never faced stress or obstacles like this before. Even once COVID subsides, it will time and effort to make sure both can recover.