PORTLAND, Ore. — Less than three months into the school year, Portland teachers are already feeling the effects of the daily grind.
"Educators have expressed they're at a breaking point," said Elizabeth Thiel, president of the Portland Association of Teachers.
A survey of more than 2,800 Portland Public Schools (PPS) educators found more than 80% of them report their workload is so high they cannot get it done during a regular work day. 70% of teachers reported their stress levels are either high or severe, and 28% said their stress is so high it is impacting their health.
"It really hits me hard how teachers are giving everything they have up to the point they don't have anything else to give, and it's impacting their own health and their own families and that's not sustainable," Thiel said.
The survey also revealed that more than 1,000 Portland teachers are considering a leave or resigning all together. Another 400 are thinking about retiring earlier than planned.
"If even a small fraction of those educators choose to leave the profession it will have drastic impacts on our schools," Thiel said. "We can't run schools without educators."
Thiel said something has to be done. She said it starts with shortening the teacher to-do list.
"Everything we do is important so we have to prioritize right now," Thiel said. "Are there meetings we can cut down on? Are there projects or new initiatives or new curriculums the district intended to roll out that we can say we need to do this at a different time when we have the capacity to do it?"
Thiel hopes these changes can stabilize the system so in-person instruction can continue.
"Something has to give because what we're doing right now is not sustainable."
KGW reached out to Portland Public Schools about the survey. PPS gave us this statement:
We recognize--and are too experiencing--the start of a school year as one of the most challenging in our collective experience. The consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic have stretched school districts nationally, including ours, with staffing shortages that have had a significant impact on our school communities.
We know that the individual and collective strain of too many vacancies in our allocated staffing, let alone the additional student needs of the year, are substantial.
We know that everyone is doing their part to support our school communities. Our central office colleagues are finding ways to support schools, including attracting new school staff to PPS, serving as extra hands in schools throughout the day and serving as substitute educators. We are also innovating, solving complex problems and finding new solutions so that the experience of every individual--whether that of our students, colleagues and/or families--can improve.
We’ve been in regular conversations with educators in schools and have heard directly from them about their experiences in schools. We hear them. We see them. We are also aware of the survey findings from the Portland Association of Teachers. We continue to be in daily conversations with the teacher’s union leadership and desire to work with them to establish realistic, student-centered actions that better serve their learning, our primary mission, and support the adults that are critical to their learning.