Bend-La Pine teachers call for solutions to address workload, burnout


Bend-La Pine teachers say they are burned out, overworked and stressed like never before and the union wants the school district to do something quickly to avert an exodus and ensure kids are getting the best education they can. 

That’s according to a report from the Bend Education Association detailing results of a recent survey completed by more than 1,000 teachers – 82% of the union’s membership.

“Educators are working hard to create a quality educational experience for our students, but the current system is unsustainable,” the report said. “Educator stress and burn-out are at an all-time high.”

The union says much of the stress comes from the systematic changes to education brought on by COVID-19 restrictions.

In a resolution passed earlier this month, the union says teachers are being asked to manage “unwieldy” online platforms for kids quarantined at home while educating a classroom full of kids in-person.

They’re also experiencing trauma daily due to more instances of disruptive students

And while they’re accustomed to being flexible with curricula to meet the needs of diverse classrooms, the current situation asks too much. 

According to the survey:

  • 78.9% of respondents indicated high or extreme workload this year.
  • 65.1% of respondents indicated high or severe stress levels.
  • 82.5% of respondents indicated workload to be more or far more than a typical year using pre-Covid times as the comparison.
  • 86.5% of respondents indicated stress to be more or far more than a typical year using pre-Covid times as the comparison.
  • 61.3% of respondents indicated 6-20+ additional hours outside of their contract day on a weekly basis.
  • 41.5% of respondents indicated they were considering early retirement.
  • 53.9% of respondents indicated they were considering leaving the profession altogether.

Sarah Barclay, the union president, said she wasn’t surprised by the survey results.

“I speak to our educators every day and am aware of their challenges, but reading the stories they shared most recently was heartbreaking,” she said. “We know that our educators prioritize working with students in-person, but they’re struggling with high levels of workload and stress. The way things are currently going, I am worried we’re going to see many good educators leave the profession due to burnout.”

Bend-La Pine School Board Chairwoman Melissa Barnes Dholakia said she also wasn’t surprised by the results, saying we’re two years into a global pandemic that’s forced health care workers and educators to manage in ways other fields haven’t had to.

“I think we talk a lot about kids being resilient and what our staff has demonstrated is the extraordinary resiliency that they have and hold in the work to serve students and families every day,” she said. “They are my superheroes because of that.”

She said the district and teachers will work together to come up with a solution, but right now the community can play a role in the situation by doing what it can to limit the transmission of COVID-19. 

Local teachers aren’t alone in feeling overworked.

A similar survey recently completed by more than 4,500 teachers in Portland showed similar results to the Bend-La Pine survey.

Portland Public Schools is negotiating with the teachers union on a few options to address the teachers’ concerns, including schedule changes that would reduce the time students spend in class in person each week. 

Our Portland news partner KATU reports if the two sides can’t come to an agreement, there’s talk of a student walkout in January to show support for the district’s teachers. 

Meanwhile, according to an analysis by FiveThirtyEight, teachers are most definitely burned out and stressed more than the general public but a mass exodus hasn’t materialized in the profession nationwide. 

U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics data showed more teachers, support staff and professors left the profession in 2019 than in 2020 and so far in 2021, according to the report.

In Oregon, the state’s Employment Department told Central Oregon Daily News all education jobs (K-12, community colleges, state universities) fell 15% in 2020, and there has been a decent rebound in 2021. 

Still, as of November, education jobs were down about 7.3% from pre-COVID levels, according to the agency.

Hoping to stave off an exodus, the union’s resolution calls for “immediate and meaningful solutions” that will stabilize the workforce and increase employee wellness.

The teachers union and school district are both short on specifics when asked about those possible solutions.

Barnes Dholakia said it was a question for Superintendent Dr. Steve Cook and the district’s leadership team. 

On Tuesday, Cook issued a statement.

“Yes, we are looking for ways to address and manage the unique challenges that the pandemic has presented and to find ways to ensure that negative impacts to student learning and experiences are minimized while balancing the load and expectations on all of our staff.”

He said they’d share those plans once they are finalized. 


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