Public School Meltdown: Teacher Burnout Edition

In video message, Jason Kamras tells Richmond Public Schools community that teachers are burning out.

by James A. Bacon

A student at a Petersburg public school took a knife to school Tuesday and used it to cut a classmate from his earlobe to his face, reports the Associated Press.

The perp and the victim were six years old.

While that particular horror was unique to Petersburg, fights and violence are on the upswing in many Virginia public schools this school year, especially in schools where the student bodies are dominated by African Americans. Most incidents never make it into the news. But disorder in the schools has become so widespread that it is causing teacher burnout. Most teachers signed up for idealistic reasons, not to disarm knife-wielding six-year-olds.

What we’re seeing is the manifestation of social breakdown caused by the confluence of three megatrends. One is the impact of closing schools last year due to COVID-19 and attempting, largely unsuccessfully, to teach poor minority kids through distance learning at home where many were left inadequately unsupervised. A second is the social upheaval triggered by the George Floyd killing and the spread of the conviction that America’s institutions, including schools, are systemically racist and that White teachers are ill equipped to deal with Black-White cultural differences. A third is the watering down of school disciplinary policies, in which school districts have adopted a therapeutic approach to dealing with misbehavior. The bar has been raised so high for punishing students that more disruption and disorder is tolerated than ever before.

In a recent message to the Richmond Public School community, Superintendent Jason Kamras announced the closing of schools several days in November to create “mental health days” for the teachers.

“Over the last couple of weeks, I’ve heard directly from dozens of teachers, principals, and support staff about how stressful this year has been,” he said. “Many have shared that they’re on the brink of burning out — even leaving — and it’s only October.”

Kamras is not making this up. I’m not terribly sympathetic because I think that Kamras has spearheaded the wrong-headed policies in Richmond schools that have made the situation immeasurably worse. But he’s not wrong about the terrible morale.

For starters, school systems are understaffed. Many teachers decided not to return. Fear of COVID appears to be a big motivator, although some teachers may be leaving to work in private schools or even as home-school tutors. When schools are understaffed, remaining teachers have to double up on classes, adding significantly to their workload. Add to that, especially in inner-city schools, the fact that half or more of the student population was socially promoted. Shocking numbers of students failed to achieve mastery of basic subject matter tested in the Standards of Learning (SOL)) exams — a fact that Kamras calls “heart breaking” — but they were pushed up to the next grade regardless. Now teachers are being asked to help them catch up — in effect packing two years of instruction into one. Meanwhile, teachers are being asked to cope with increasing levels of disruption and disorder. To put it bluntly, some public school systems are in melt-down mode.

Kamras is not about to admit any of this. (Needless to say, we hear no acknowledgement of these unpleasant realities from the Northam administration.) Here’s how the superintendent explained plummeting teacher morale in his letter:

Some of the stressors are beyond our immediate control. Chief among these is the toll that COVID-19 has taken on our community. Many staff members are still mourning the loss of loved ones; others are still caring for those who are ill. In addition, many spouses and life partners of our employees have lost their jobs and are struggling to find their footing.

He went on to state that some stressors are within the control of the schools: doing too much, teachers not having enough time, and students “exhibiting significant trauma from the past 20 months.” To cope, he said, he will curtail new programs, initiatives or changes in curricula. “If something’s not already in place, it won’t be added this year. Period. In addition, I’ve asked the Leadership Team to think through ways we can scale back on non-essential activities. We need to do less better.”

To free up teachers during lunch, Kamras will assign 100 additional lunch monitors, and will ask principals to show more “flexibility” about holding meetings. Further, to address student trauma, he will ask the School Board to reallocate $3 million in federal relief funding toward mental health support.

The last 20 months of COVID have exacerbated the ills of poverty, racism, and gun violence, Kamras said. “Students are exhibiting significant trauma from the past 20 months.”

Those last statements go to the heart of the problem. Kamras and many other educators view the world through a rigid ideology in which poverty, racism and guns are the root causes of social pathology. The changes they have implemented to address “systemic racism” are not responsible in any way for the breakdown. As inner-city schools swirl down the drain, Kamras and his ideological soul mates double down on their disastrous theories, and African-American kids pay the price.

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11 responses to “Public School Meltdown: Teacher Burnout Edition”

  1. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
    Baconator with extra cheese

    I guess the teachers’ version of Restorative Justice is Restorative Respite.

  2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    You consistently make the charge that the problems in school are due, in part, to the (1) upheaval triggered by the George Floyd killing and the

    “spread of the conviction that America’s institutions, including
    schools, are systemically racist and that White teachers are ill
    equipped to deal with Black-White cultural differences”and (2) the change in student disciplinary policies with an emphasis on therapeutic approaches rather than punishment, i.e. suspension and expulsion. The result, you say, “has been that bar has been raised so high for punishing students that more disruption and disorder is tolerated than ever before.”

    Where is the evidence to back up either of these claims?

    I do agree with you that kids should not have been automatically promoted. That never is good for the child in the long run. Due to the weaknesses of virtual education during the pandemic, social promotion will be even more harmful. I realize that keeping a large number of kids back would have resulted in backups in many grade levels, especially the first grade, but the schools should have tried to adjust.

    1. Seriously, Dick, do you think the “anti-racist” rhetoric of the past year and a half has had no impact upon the attitudes of Black school children? How could it not?

      1. DJRippert Avatar

        Of course the pro-racist rhetoric of Kendi and his acolytes in public education has an effect on the attitudes of the children hearing that rhetoric. No doubt it has an effect on the teachers learning the pro-racist nonsense from Kendi and the parents of the children as well.

        If all of US society is systemically racist and behaviors like hard work, objectivity and respect for authority are Whitey’s traits (as described on a display at the Smithsonian) then what would one expect?

        1. Baconator with extra cheese Avatar
          Baconator with extra cheese

          Thanks for not using “anti-racist”. Honest people shouldn’t let these mean-nothing terms enter our lexicon.

      2. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
        Dick Hall-Sizemore

        I suspect that they have felt that the general society was prejudiced against them long before the events of the past year and a half. This charge of systemic racism is not new; just read some of W.E.B. DuBois, James Baldwin, and Ralph Ellison.

  3. and fourth….. everyone has seen how violence and destruction does not warrant any penalty of jail time……except if you’re a supporter of the wrong political party [and you don’t even have to burn, loot, and destroy]. And if done correctly gets you millions of dollars so you can buy three houses in white, gated communities.

  4. James Wyatt Whitehead Avatar
    James Wyatt Whitehead

    God bless those school teachers. Don’t forget about the avalanche of Northam education policies that was unleashed on teachers in August. Parents are very tough on teachers at this time. They are mad as hornets. The news cycle is not helping much. What a confluence of events that have descended on the classrooms of Virginia!

    What worries me the most is this. Our classrooms usually are a reflection of society. If the classrooms remain broken then it must be true that our society is broken.

  5. Matt Hurt Avatar

    Regardless of anything else, Jason Kamras should be applauded for suspending ALL new initiatives. The time of unprecedented disruption in the educational process for students is not the time to roll out new educational initiatives. I sincerely wish that the General Assembly and VDOE would follow his lead. All of the new initiatives being pushed out are causing chaos and are distracting educators from their primary objective- making sure we recover all of the lost learning. I’ve always heard the phrase “never let a crisis go to waste”, but all the chaos surrounding these new initiatives will most definitely negatively impact student outcomes.

    1. I agree with you about that. The return to school is chaotic enough — teachers don’t need a lot of new stuff loaded onto their plates. Kamras did get that part right.

  6. stubby16 Avatar

    I found it interesting that the T-Ds article was not a “bylined” piece but was instead “from staff reports” which was basically a summary of the Kamras video with no new or additional reporting. You would think that a school system making this decision would warrant more reporting. Even the TV stations sought out school board comment.

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