Burnout could reduce the number of teachers in our schools.
55% of teachers say they are thinking about leaving the profession early because of the stress of the last two school years, according to a recent survey from the National Education Association.
The number is higher among Black (62%) and Hispanic (59%) teachers.
"I've thought more than I ever have in my career about leaving education," said Kevin Adams, a 16-year veteran of the Denver Public Schools system who teaches a mix of high school and middle school social studies classes. "Some of the work feels unsustainable."
Adams' story is a common one. 90% of teachers reported "burnout" as a serious issue for educators, according to the same NEA survey from early February. Other issues included low pay and a lack of support staff.
Adams said educators of color are dealing with an added stressor: Racial battle fatigue.
"It feels like there is a lot of pressure, particularly on Black educators, to solve problems with kids of color," Adams said. "We are seen as the experts when it comes to kids of color. Oftentimes, we are given a heavier burden when it comes to dealing with the issues and challenges facing kids of color."
Adams said those fights happen in places beyond the classroom.
"Black educators are criticized and critiqued for the way we present ourselves," Adams said. "For being unapologetically and authentically our Black selves. Sometimes it's, 'I didn't appreciate your attitude in the meeting when you brought stuff up.' But if we're talking about how our kids are oppressed, we're going to bring that up in a passionate way."
The lack of diversity in U.S. schools is a problem that spans decades.
But it's gotten worse in the last few years.
In 2018, 15% of public school students were Black, compared to only 7% of teachers.
"We are absolutely concerned with the diversity of our teaching profession," said Becky Pringle, the president of the National Education Association. "It's not just teachers going into the profession. Teachers are leaving the profession at disproportionate rates."
Several grassroots organizations have emerged recently to address racial disparities in the teaching profession.
The list includes the Center for Black Educator Development, whose mission is, in part, to "rebuild the Black teacher pipeline."
"Students are seeing this," said Mimi Woldeyohannes, the director of strategic partnerships for CBED. "It's playing out right in front of their eyes. They're seeing teachers leave for a variety of reasons, or they're seeing that teachers are not lifting up this profession as much as they used to."
Woldeyohannes and the team at CBED are focused on addressing educational inequities. The group is working to get more teachers of color into the classroom, and to keep the teachers who are already there.
"We're trying to get our educators to understand the true impact they can have," Woldeyohannes said. "You may not see the fruits of your labor in a year, or in a few years, but they will never forget the kind of long-lasting impact that you had."
Adams, the Denver teacher, agreed, calling the students the top reason he keeps clocking in for work.
"When I see the kids connect and be silly and be themselves," Adams said, "those are the things that bring me joy, and pull me through the harder stuff, the racial battle fatigue. Those are the things that tell me, 'This is why I'm doing the job.'"