The Middletown Press (Middletown, CT)
Survey: State teachers have COVID concerns, feel stressed
The school year has begun, and still Connecticut educators are worried about pandemic health and safety measures, and questioning their careers, survey results from the state’s largest teachers union show.
The Connecticut Education Association on Friday shared its members’ concerns about the new school year, including COVID-19 mitigation strategies. Nearly 1,000 educators participated in the union survey.
Respondents said their priorities included school ventilation systems, social distancing and COVID-19 testing — but some districts have not been responsive to their fears. Schools are split, for example, on regular screen testing for unvaccinated students.
Plus the stress of teaching during a pandemic prompted a slew of teachers to think about retiring early or change professions, the results also show. More than a third of educators said they would consider leaving their jobs.
The survey released this week queried a random sample of unionized teachers in late August.
“They were excited to be going back,” said Kate Dias, president of the union. “And apprehensive about... safety and security.”
Educators rated their stress levels last year an 8.7 on a 10point scale.
“That didn’t necessarily surprise us,” said Dias. “During a pandemic, we were teaching in lots of modalities, there was a lot of change, a lot of stress.”
But by late summer when the survey was administered, 38 percent of respondents said they are considering leaving the teaching profession — the equivalent of roughly 16,000 teachers, the union estimated.
“It was a little disappointing to see that people are coming back into this school year still at an elevated stress level,” said Dias. “The concern that brings about is whether or not we can sustain working under that sense of stress for extended periods of time: a whole other year.”
“We can’t afford to have 38 percent of our educators leave the profession,” she said.
Many of those concerns are related to school working conditions. A vast majority of the teacher respondents — 97 percent — commented on their schools’ HVAC systems and ventilation.
“(They) said we’re really, really, really concerned that our buildings are old and not updated in this particular capacity,” said Dias.
But despite that widespread consensus, just 27 percent of union members said their concerns about facilities were being actively addressed.
“So we see a disconnect between a priority, a real, considerable working condition, and whether or not people feel it’s being responded to,” she said.
Donald Williams, executive director of the union, said poor air quality and ventilation is an issue not only while a contagious virus is spreading, but also as respiratory problems like childhood asthma are on the rise.
He also pointed to climate change, which has already begun to impact classrooms, particularly during the warmer months.
“There’s a real equity issue as to the districts that can afford to put air conditioning in all their schools and those districts that cannot,” Williams said. “Temperatures get hotter and more extreme every single year.”
And with an influx of federal dollars for Connecticut schools — $1.1 billion that can assist with enhancement and capital improvement — union representatives suggested now is the time to invest in these air quality systems.
“Now that excuse is gone,” said Williams.
Alongside ventilation, educators cited concerns about other COVID-19 mitigation strategies, including social distancing and regular testing for COVID-19.
The union also shared that as of late August, 89 percent of its members had been vaccinated.
“We anticipate that has continued to grow,” said Dias. “So among our members, we really are tracking far ahead of the community at large in terms of vaccination.”
Joslyn DeLancey, vice president of the union, suggested that the state use the survey data to better support educators.
“We need to make an investment in our schools,” she said. “Your teachers’ working conditions are your students’ learning conditions.”