Teacher absences increase amidst ongoing pandemic



School is back in session for most after the pandemic-related school closures, but some school districts are feeling the effects the Covid-19 pandemic had and continues to have on the education system.


According to a survey by the Nebraska Education Association, more than 1,000 teachers plan to leave the field at the end of the year. The pandemic has highlighted staffing shortages and stressors like filling in for teachers, working long days, and missing out on plan periods.


These shortages have also been making themselves clear at Burke. The need for subs has increased since the pandemic, and the number of subs in the pool has decreased.


We have vacancies in teaching positions and classified positions such as paraprofessionals, cafeteria support, and others,” principal Darren Rasmussen said. “A few of our vacancies have been unfilled for nearly two years. We are competing for workers like many businesses have been since the start of the pandemic. It is very challenging.” 


In response to the staffing shortage, many school districts have implemented one or more remote learning days during the week. Millard Public Schools, Lincoln Public Schools, and Bellevue Public Schools are among them. Some have been asking if OPS will do the same.


“Our focus will be on responsibly maintaining in-person learning for students. Some neighboring districts have adjusted their calendars due to the increase of Covid cases we are experiencing. If OPS determines to adjust our calendars, it will come from our district leadership team,” Rasmussen stated.  


The Omaha Education Association has asked OPS to consider implementing these remote learning days, citing the increased stress and absences among teachers. President of the OEA Robert Miller, says that the pandemic isn’t the sole cause of the staffing issues and career changes teachers are facing. 


“Teachers have expressed that the last two years have impacted their decision to leave the classroom. The pandemic revealed the concern that many had, that the number of individuals going into education as a career, was not going to be enough to replace those who retire or change careers,” Miller said.  


Miller also says that teachers have increased anxiety about being in the classroom, mostly due to frequent and often unavoidable Covid exposures. Some school staff have suggested things that could aid in decreasing their stress and lightening their workload. Public health leave, grade level meetings, and limited staff meetings are among these.  


Staff have been doing what the district has asked when an unfilled absence takes place. The staffing shortage is a problem, not just in our district but nationally,” Miller stated. “They cover it, missing out on their plan time to get what they had planned to be accomplished. We have asked for a moratorium on any new initiatives, PLC’s, Grade Level Meetings and limiting staff meetings to once a month. This will allow teachers the chance to address the needs in their classroom without taking it home and interfering with their family life.”  


Although amidst all the issues, teachers continue to show up for their students, even with their own anxieties. 


“Educators have always stepped up and did what is needed for their students. The pandemic brought a huge safety concern that has impacted the classroom. Educators are fearful of getting their loved ones sick, students taking it back to their multigenerational homes and much more,” Miller added. 


Miller states that teachers agree that the current situation is not sustainable. The staffing shortages and stress of the job itself are taking a clear toll on school staff.  


Staffing shortages have been present for years, the pandemic just made it more clear to the public. Teachers have stepped up time and time again to do what is best for their students,” Miller said. “They are currently being stretched too thin and not sure how much longer they can maintain it.”