Education Jen Roesch Pandemic

Instead of More Support, Schools Have Upped Demands on Teachers During Pandemic

The pandemic revealed the many ways that schools can be repressive places.
A parent decorates her car while gathering at the Leona Canyon Trail Head before participating in a car caravan demonstration in Oakland, California, on January 7, 2022. Some Oakland Unified teachers called a sickout on that day, saying they don’t feel safe teaching. They’re calling for two weeks of remote learning during the latest Omicron surge. JESSICA CHRISTIAN / THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE VIA GETTY IMAGES

By Jen Roesch / Truthout

In June 2020, when schools across the U.S. remained closed due to the pandemic, Bettina Love, author of We Want to Do More Than Survivenoted how much became possible when the system was forced to prioritize the lives of students, teachers and families. Laptops were distributed and internet access was provided. High-stakes, standardized tests were canceled. In many cases, grades were removed. She quoted a letter from a superintendent in Georgia who told teachers, “We want compassion over compliance.”

Now, Love concluded, “We have to say that we’re not going back. The managing of inequalities, we’re not going back.”

However, with US schools having finished their first semester of full-time, in-person education — and now returning in the midst of a new surge of COVID infections — it’s clear that this is precisely what’s being asked of teachers, as well as their students and families. Throughout the height of the pandemic, there were fears of a mass exodus of teachers. But, almost improbably, most teachers stayed. However, as schools have attempted to “return to normal,” many teachers and other educators are reaching a breaking point.

According to the Labor Department, 30,000 teachers resigned in September 2021 alone, and since January 2021, the educational services industry has seen the largest increase in the number of workers quitting. While this shortage should be a wake-up call to school boards, districts and local administrators, instead it has only led to an intensification of the pressures on educators.

Through the height of the pandemic, teachers worked in unbearable conditions. However, there was the belief that these challenges were temporary. Even more, there was the hope that the pandemic might change our priorities — that we would prioritize the social and emotional needs of students and meet them where they were academically. And that, with an infusion of stimulus dollars, there might finally be money for counselors, smaller class sizes, support staff, supplies and other vital needs.

Instead, educators returned to find that those in charge have doubled down on more of what already wasn’t working. More demands for data and documentation. More testing. More responsibilities on teachers’ shoulders. These demands are being made in a context in which student needs are greater than they’ve ever been, and resources are stretched thin. On top of this, educators are still on the front lines of a pandemic whose continued existence many seem to deny. It is this gap, between the expectation that things would be different and the reality of increased demands alongside a push for “normalcy,” that is driving educators to the breaking point.

Impact of Staffing Shortages

Across the country, there is a severe shortage not only of teachers, but of substitutes, bus drivers, paraprofessionals and other support staff who any teacher would recognize as critical to the functioning of a school. In many places, these shortages are forcing districts to close temporarily or to restructure their schedule.

However, the primary responsibility for making up the gap has fallen on teachers’ shoulders. In a survey of school administrators, two-thirds said that they were responding to shortages by asking current employees to take on more responsibilities. Teachers are taking on lunch duty, hall monitoring, after-school supervision and even cleaning. The most pressing problem, though, is that teachers are being forced to give up their precious prep periods to cover other classes.

With students coming back to school with a wider range of needs than ever before, teachers need even more time to prepare thoughtful, differentiated lessons and to assess students individually. When teachers must use their prep periods to cover an absent teacher or, worse, an unfilled position, they must choose between taking more work home or giving less than they know their students need.

This is why teachers in Portland, Oregon, are demanding scheduling changes to make up for lost prep time and the increased planning needs they are facing. Seventy percent of Portland teachers described stress levels as high or severe and more than 1,000 said they are thinking of leaving. However, the district is resisting teachers’ demands.

“Learning Loss,” Testing and the Demand for More Data

Teachers are feeling the loss of time particularly acutely as they are being asked to make up for “learning loss” and are expected to keep up with pre-pandemic, grade-level curriculum. Instead of adjusting expectations to support students to progress from wherever they are, teachers are expected to bridge the gap between existing expectations and students’ current skills.

The attempt to measure learning loss means that teachers are being asked to collect and document even more data. In addition to the looming pressure of the statewide exams that the Biden administration mandated be reintroduced in Spring 2022, and which are tied to teacher ratings in many states, districts have added even more baseline assessments. For example, New York City is spending $36 million on a set of tests given three times during the year to all students to identify “learning loss.”

These assessments steal precious instructional time, take a toll on students, and add more paperwork to teachers’ responsibilities as they are asked to document and analyze the resulting data. While this might yield some useful insights, many teachers feel that they are better able to assess their students’ development and needs than a standardized test is.

The focus on test preparation also takes away from other aspects of the curriculum that students need as they transition back to in-person learning, such as hands-on engagement, project-based learning and small group work. All of these require skills, particularly cooperative social skills, that students were less likely to practice during remote learning.

Many schools are doubling widely tested core subjects like math and English/ language arts. This means that students can end up spending more than half of a school day on these subjects alone. Electives like music and art are being cut in favor of tutoring blocks and remedial reading programs.

Are the Kids All Right?

Meanwhile, students are returning to school having experienced unprecedented levels of trauma in the span of less than two years. As of July 2021, more than 140,000 children had lost a primary caregiver and, if the trend holds, that number will have risen to more than 200,000 by December 2021. Students have had to watch, and even care for, family members as they fall ill. Many older students stepped in as breadwinners for their families when parents were laid off or too sick to work. And even students who did not suffer these deprivations often felt isolated and lonely.

Students have struggled to adjust to the demands of in-person schooling and teachers have often struggled to support them. The demands to catch-up and return to normal leave little room for the compassion, flexibility and social-emotional support that students so desperately need. Teachers, who are stretched to the breaking point themselves, risk developing compassion fatigue as students in need disrupt their classes or avoid engagement.

School districts have given lip service to the importance of social-emotional health, but there has been little of substance either in terms of material support or changed approaches. Federal funding has not led to an infusion of counselors and social workers. In New York City, the school district rolled out an $18 million, 45-question social-emotional “screener” that teachers were asked to fill out. The screener converted the answers to a single score that tracked whether students were “on target,” “advanced” or “in need.” Many teachers pointed out that they were given just a few minutes to fill out a questionnaire on students they barely knew while they had no way of getting support for students they already knew were in need.

A consistent problem with the approaches to social-emotional health is that they have rarely addressed the role that schools themselves play in contributing to students’ well-being. The assumption is that school is inherently a safer, better place for young people. However, the pandemic revealed the many ways that schools can be repressive places, especially for students of color who find themselves on the receiving end of racial bias. But rather than taking time to adjust expectations and shift school cultures, teachers are expected to impose the same disciplinary norms that alienate so many students. This puts teachers — especially teachers of color — in an impossible situation and makes it harder to develop the relationships that are even more vital right now.

Micromanaged, Disrespected and in the Line of Fire

Amid all these constraints and the extraordinary efforts being asked of them, teachers continue to find themselves micromanaged. They are expected to turn in lengthy, often daily, lesson plans that are aligned to state standards for evaluation. Districts adopt new curricula that teachers are forced to learn and implement — and just as often then abandon them. Extended hours are used for professional development sessions that teachers have little role in choosing and often find disconnected from the issues they are facing in their classrooms.

A study by Education Week reported that 42 percent of U.S. teachers polled say their administrators have done nothing to alleviate their stress and 20 percent say that when administrators do try to help, they miss the mark. Yoga, mindfulness sessions and wear jeans to work days fall far short of the things educators desperately need: time to plan; time to walk away from work and be with friends and family; adequate compensation; health and safety protections; and flexibility and trust. Teachers want more autonomy and to have their expertise and professional judgment valued.

Even when teachers do have administrators who support them, and there are many, they have faced a hostile political climate in which they find themselves on the front line facing parental and community outrage. At school board meetings across the country, enraged parents and community members (many not even parents) have shouted down teachers and local leaders over everything from mask mandates to curriculum.

In 2021, the movement of parents demanding that schools reopen for in-person learning converged with a backlash against culturally responsive curriculum and teaching about the history of racism in this country. Twenty-two states have introduced legislation, and five states have passed bills, banning the teaching of so-called critical race theory. In reality, these bills take aim at any curriculum that teaches about the oppression of various groups. Several teachers have already lost their jobs as a result of these campaigns and many more feel threatened and unsupported.

And There’s Still a Pandemic

One of the most Orwellian aspects of the 2021-22 school year is the way the ongoing pandemic has been systematically denied. Teachers are not only dealing with all the challenges outlined thus far, but they are doing so with inadequate health and safety protections. Nine states have banned mask mandates and only 16 have them. The rest are a patchwork. And even where masks are required, any teacher will tell you that getting kids to wear them consistently and properly is an uphill battle. Meanwhile, ventilation systems in schools haven’t been updated in decades — particularly schools serving high concentrations of low-income students. 

Many districts do not perform regular or adequate testing of students and staff. In New York City, the nation’s largest school district, only 10 percent of unvaccinated students who opt in are tested on a weekly basis. Quarantine rules are confusing and disruptive. Whereas there were centralized plans for remote instruction during the 2020-21 school year, now districts are acting as if this is the rare exception rather than the regular occurrence it is. This makes it nearly impossible for teachers to plan.

As this article was being written, the Omicron variant was creating a new surge of cases, throwing schools into chaos again and potentially putting educators, students and families at risk. At this point, it is clear that COVID will continue to shape teaching conditions for the foreseeable future. There is no “after” in which these untenable conditions are resolved. Instead, the future of public schools is being shaped by what’s happening now. Whether teachers flee the profession in large numbers or decide to fight for an alternate vision for themselves and their students will play a large role in determining the outcome.

Jen Roesch

Jen Roesch is a writer, teacher and activist in NYC. She currently teaches English at a middle school in the Bronx. She’s been a frequent writer and speaker on issues related to sexual violence, reproductive rights, labor struggles and educational justice.


  1. Oh, we saw the writing on the wall, err, 40 years ago. As a college teacher, in Texas, Adjunct Nation, then before the planned pandemic, 75 percent of all faculty on campuses, part-time, without a contract, just-in-time, freeway flyers.

    More BS to go on-line, blended, and then the rot of killing liberal arts in favor of the militarized, financialized, scientism crap of STEM.

    Schools were already bad, K12, but they only got worse and worse, until digital demigods have it. Now, well, let’s see:

    arts outside
    environmental field trips
    working with knowledge in retirement homes
    youth at city countil meetings
    weekend community projects
    Native American led retreats
    schools with food prep
    schools teaching about micro homes, contruction, ecosystems
    real literature, real drama, real real real

    Instead, the cutthroats of hedge funds and social impact bonds and investing.

    The only dynamic education is for rich kids and kids from the Dream Hoarders.

    Here, 8 years ago, and Smith got it right. Pre-corona-crazy days:

    Ahead of its time, and that was pre-corona crazies.

    Last few paragraphs:

    At the behest of the comprehensive and unaccountable web of power that is the state-finance matrix, the role of the state is more authoritarian than ever. Domestically, militarized austerity and sophisticated surveillance and security apparatuses are at its disposal and are part of everyday life for most Americans; and even more so when resistance is deemed too disruptive to financial markets. As part of this, within the last several decades, finance capital and neoliberal states have learned from and adapted to dissent and resistance. Once tried and true tactics and strategies in the pursuit of state protections can now be effectively ignored, dismissed, tolerated, coopted and preempted. This reality, along with the diffuse power of global finance and its proxy authoritarian states render the pursuit of basic human needs and rights ineffective. Combined, these dynamics have extensively neutralized how resistance movements have historically leveraged power. Instead, as the critical scholar Max Haiven describes it, the social order of neoliberal financialization and its advanced surveillance infrastructure, predicts and integrates resistance into its risk speculations, “factored into financial flows in advance as ‘risk’: the present calculus of future probabilities.” Haiven goes on to explain:

    With this hyper-commodification of risk, finance has become a vast, interconnected, pulsating organ fed by billions of local readings of “liquidity” and “resistance” which are constantly coursing through the system, being decomposed and rebundled in patterns… [and] the final result is this: finance as we now have it, as a system that “reads” the world by calculating the “risk” of “resistance” to “liquidity” and allocating resources accordingly, already incorporates “resistance” into its “systemic imagination.”

    From UAW members in Ford plants resisting pension cuts, indigenous revolutionary movements in Bolivia and Venezuela, Black Lives Matter in the U.S., to the groundswell of support for a U.S. presidential candidate campaigning as a democratic socialist; finance capital “imagines” these (and many other) possibilities and their disruptive potentials so as to incorporate associated risks, as Haiven puts it, “into its internal equilibrium.” These calculations can then determine preemptive or subsequent interventions and disciplining actions. Thus, financial speculation is a means of “reading” and “indexing” resistance. Finance is also preventing future resistance through the application of economic performativity, which explains the ways that financial instruments can calculate and construct financial actualities that will shape and ensure the futures on which investors speculate.

    As part of this, based on the logic of derivative speculation, “risk management” creates a paradigm of neoliberal biopolitics that sorts groups of people according to an economic pyramid that demarcates their market – and therefore their social – value. Those who are doing the sorting are the exalted risk-takers who “hedge” their subject position into wealth, power and prestige. In varied degrees everyone else is viewed as flexible workers and debt instruments to be exploited for the purposes of securitization, speculation and predictable cash flows. Those at the bottom of the pyramid are assigned to perpetual austerity and criminalization; their value is derived from being subjugated and rigidly controlled sources of predictable cash flows via government funds – schooling, prisons, impact investing, subsidies, bond markets, etc.

    State-finance authoritarianism and repression through militarized austerity along with far-reaching surveillance and security apparatuses work in tandem with other forms of disciplining. School choice, charter schools, policed schools, standardized curriculum and punitive tests that sort students, determine funding as well as the fate of schools and teachers are forms of disciplining attached to the financialization of education. Finance also disciplines political, economic and social actors more directly. For example, if federal and state governments in the U.S. are compelled to reverse existing policies that serve neoliberal financialization and instead reinstitute Keynesian policies, or dare to move in a more emancipatory direction; financial markets would quickly interpret and respond to these moves by devaluing the U.S. dollar and bond prices while divesting from equity shares in “risky” ventures. This type of financial disciplining can easily lead to larger destabilization within the “house of cards” that is the financialized economy. While its existence is destructive, its disruption can also have catastrophic effects. Therefore, forms of viable “resistance” do not even need to be successful for the state and markets to preemptively intervene and discipline. The mechanisms for disciplining and maintaining social order are also ready-made and built into the founding structures of the U.S. cultural political economy. The hegemony of market ideology is often enough. If not the Constitution’s electoral college, the stacked federalist system of government, the corporate two-party system and its delegate scheme as well as the ability of capital to influence or direct social, cultural and political affairs also effectively mollifies substantive resistance. Additionally, as Maiven describes,

    …firms are increasingly pressured to increase exploitation and surveillance of workers, and attack union and workers rights, in order to improve their credit rating and share price. And local, regional and national governments are, in an age of austerity, compelled to destroy public power (invested in public space, welfare programs, civil services, public employment, and collective projects) in response to financial pressures and massive deficits (caused, in effect, by decades of corporate tax cuts and the massive transfer of public wealth into private hands).

    Financial disciplining also applies to the daily life of families and individuals, where forms and levels of resistance to finance capital is moderated by employment, income, housing, transportation and food insecurity; individual debt; education expenditures; concerns about healthcare; and saving for elderly years. Fears of disrupting any sites where these needs and concerns exist have an understandable chilling effect.

    In summary, this all encompassing Big Data surveillance infrastructure simultaneously reveals and harbors the myth of American democracy, is the engine by which finance capitalism further commodifies our lives and undermines our labor power; intensifies the violence of white supremacy, social inequity, and economic inequality. These dynamics, combined with the nation’s underlying culture of domination, provide fertile ground for the hypermilitarized and authoritarian society that the United States promises to become in the coming decades, if not already.

    1. Your post is all over the place. Quite unhinged. Not saying there aren’t a few decent points, but please, learn to edit your thoughts into a cohesive stream if you care to be taken seriously – at least by this reader.

      1. Oh, now the arbiter of all things written well, Ms/Mr KP? “Unhinged.” That is, “quite unhinged.” Please move on. Just skip my uncohesive streams. And, next time I post something on this ridiculous comments thread (most are absurd, now are then not?), maybe KP will take me seriously.

        Did you reread your response? How patronizing, indeed. Now that I can take seriously!

        Here you go, Edward Curtain for your morning coffee break, reflecting on Satre:

        Satre notebook, August 1942: Novel. Don’t put the “plague” in the title. Put something like “The Prisoners.”

        He instinctively knew that is was not a plague that imprisons people but the mind-forged manacles of those who are afraid to confront it. Those who lack the courage to see the truth and resist it. To collaborate with the Nazis was for cowards. Free people fight back. As editor of Combat, the banned newspaper, he knew that when voices were censored it was because the censors were afraid the truth would prevail. A good lesson for 2022.

  2. Teachers should rebel and garner support but not in that order. Moms are aways first teachers of their children and back in history they were the only teachers but now we expect to have children, hand them over to others while we aid the corporations with making profit off our labor while they teach our children this is the WAY America works. However wrong or right it might be to educate our children in these myths of America and how good we are, we are only as good as a democracy treats its people. I don’t know about you, but I never got the education in school about black people or history that I saw and read in alternative news media in the last two years. I am grateful for the education that our public schools did not give me. There is much I never knew and there’s probably much more. When I think of a history that saw a black man hanged and his pregnant wife defending him and she get hung too and her baby cut out of her belly with a white man stomping that black baby to death, I just see the same kind of shit, not as overt, or that fucking ugly, but it happens over and over again in police shootings and ad infinitum. Teachers who know history know this and they know only by exposing and teaching it, can our nation heal from it. Not suggesting such aforementioned truths be taught to children. But it should be available when they beome adult enough to handle truth. White people got no idea of what indigenous and blacks experienced in this country because our history is white washed in order to keep us duped about who and what we are and where we came from, but also to prevent us from creating a new history, and new outcome, a new and more just world. Some factions simply do not want that for economic and other reasons.

  3. Modern history is needed now too. Why is the defense of Ukraine against a non-existent attack by Russian forces in their own country hemmed in by NATO regarded as a “red line” by the USA? Why is NATO still in existence, let alone expanding, thirty years after the “end of the cold War”, making Russia an enemy by accusations of all kinds with no foundation? Why can the USA keep punishing by illegal and cruel sanctions, any country or group it decides have disobeyed its orders? ALL of the media in the USA, UK, Europe seem to give ONLY the POV of those in power in the USA, with never a possible word about rights of anyone else. I suppose teachers or “parents” mentioning this may be sanctioned in their turn!!!

  4. despite that US teachers paid more than all except in 3 nations, they are failures; their incompetency is well documented by OECD, PERLS, ‘The Dumbest Generation’ Mark Bauerlein
    After Russia per most recent PERLS study, Finnish children do best and their teachers are vigilantly managed. All industrialized nations perform better than USA—Oregon, California amongst the worst, yet they excuse their incompetence and blame a mild flue for their failures. they belong in a Starbucks serving coffee. US Dept of Education now reports 54% US adults cannot read above 6th grade level; 69% US university. grads not English proficient

    1. Their exploitive schemes create crises on many fronts—environmental crisis, health crisis, housing crisis, economic crisis, psychiatric crisis, you name it. The ruling class officially designates a chosen crisis to impose prepackaged corporate “solutions” for more profits, more power grab and readjustment of the capitalist trajectory. In the process, they destroy vital social institutions and reassemble them for domestication. Nothing else matters other than the chosen crisis and the associated corporate schemes. Other crises deepen as the capitalist trajectory is recalibrated and the capitalist hierarchy is readjusted. They will not run out of crises as long as they exploit and subjugate. Crises are not predicaments for those who can buy their way out of anything, they are opportunities for them. And they have nothing to lose in the process. We are forced to do their work of destroying our own institutions. We are forced to do their work of turning them into our cages. They can buy most of anything, and if they can’t, they destroy it, then they can simply buy and sell any remaining elements, repackage them as something else and sell them back to the people.

      See how it works?

      As we further lose our connections to ourselves, to each other, to our community and nature, we are freely subjected to propaganda and indoctrination through ruling class sanctioned entities. Psychology has been applied to adjust individuals to the hardships of capitalist behavioral conditioning. Sociology has been applied to shape collective behaviors within the capitalist framework. Economics has been applied to justify the capitalist domination. Politics has been applied to ritualize the normalization of the feudal hierarchy. Now, we see science being applied to shift the trajectory of exploitation and subjugation.

      Our behaviors are largely based on establishment supplied social relations, facts, culture, and so on. We don’t generally act because we perceive actual events in our lives. Most of us go through our lives on auto-pilot mode within the structurally sanctioned capitalist framework. The Covid event clearly shows this aspect of our lives. People wear masks, social distance and follow lockdown measures when clearly stipulated; however, at the personal level, most of us do not act like there is a deadly plague out there. The masks, very possibly contaminated with the “deadly virus” are thrown away everywhere without being treated as biohazard materials. People wear masks only to enter a restaurant, then take them off to eat with strangers stuck in an enclosed space. As soon as we are born into our society, we learn to perceive the capitalist framework as our guiding principle over our actual perceptions. This makes us extremely vulnerable to top-down mobilization, as we see with the virus event. As soon as we are systemically and structurally forced into following instructions, then facts, our perceptions, and experts’ opinions become totally irrelevant before the decrees coming out of the establishment. The process of colonization of humanity and nature has been ongoing for generations, deeply affecting how we are, and it is accelerating.

  5. Who will educate the educators? “Compassion over compliance?” Industrial schooling has always been about compliance: behavioral conditioning of docile students, salivating to bells for the next round of rote learning and performance of mind-numbing assignments as dictated by the classroom boss, preparing tomorrow’s workers for wage slavery. The (non-)’pandemic’ did indeed reveal just how repressive the system is by turning compliance into torture techniques like lockdowns, masks, and isolation to insure the next generation will be even more fecked up than the usual developmentally damaged products coming off the assembly lines.*

    We don’t need no education. Especially the dumbed down indoctrination into the new abnormal being pushed here with pseudoscientific superstition welcoming disaster capitalism’s movement of the young into greater digital dictatorship with (non-)’emergency’ recourse to (permanent) online learning replacing in-person learning. Yes, let’s “reimagine education,” as put in PR for just such a plan in New York state (Roesch’s home) in partnership with the Gates Foundation. Before teachers know it, they’ll find relief (like so many other workers) from overworked conditions due to staff shortages (thanks most recently to (non-)’vaccine’ mandates) as a result of being made obsolete and expendable. (For a fuller treatment of this agenda of the plandemic, see John Klyczek’s features in Unlimited Hangout.)

    Now the “systematic denial” of the coup that’s out to radically reset our lives is complying with pushing poisons upon children who have effectively zero risk from the covid bogeyman, yet already are showing a marked increase of adverse reactions and death from the experimental injections. If incorporated into the childhood vaccination schedule in schools, this Frankenscience of eugenics will be reengineering generations for biodgitial adaptation to Humanity 2.0, in which the old abnormal’s disciplines for wage slaves will be replaced with automatic, robotic compliance to whatever program is injected into test subjects.

    *Children of The Great Reset:;_ylu=Y29sbwNncTEEcG9zAzEEdnRpZANEMTA0NV8xBHNlYwNzcg–/RV=2/RE=1641833676/RO=10/

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