As more schools reopen, educators across the United States are having long-awaited in-person reunions with their students. They do so after supporting their students through more than a year of concurrent traumas, from the physical and mental health effects of the pandemic to the continued impact of racism and racial violence, a weight borne disproportionately by Black and brown students. As always, teachers have heroically worked to help students cope with the disruptions of daily life, often putting their own personal and professional concerns aside to care for others.

After helping their students navigate the ups-and-downs of this past year, teachers are at a very real risk of burnout — a risk that not only threatens the well-being of our students, but of the entire education system. They deserve the same level of support that they have provided to their students, and it’s up to all of us to prioritize their well-being.

We all know the impact that a good teacher can have on a student’s life, and on a family’s trajectory for generations. I’ve seen this in my own life: Because a local teacher in Taiwan decided to adopt my father, he was able to set off on a course to college. The consequences of that decision continue to reverberate, decades later, in the life that I and my three young children have the privilege to live.

But increasingly, teachers who could make a difference in students’ lives are being pushed out of the profession. According to a recent RAND report, nearly half of the public school teachers who voluntarily stopped teaching after March 2020 did so because of the pressures of COVID-19, from the unfamiliar remote environment to the longer hours that remote learning demands. Stress was the most commonly cited reason for their departure. However, there is one hopeful sign: we know that many of those teachers hope to return to their students — if we are able to better support them.

How leaders choose to respond will have repercussions that will be felt far beyond this academic year. It will affect whether a generation of teachers and students, fresh off one of the most traumatic years of their lives, will feel supported, or stymied, by our educational system.

To start, school and district leaders can:

  • Offer teachers professional development to help them connect with their students.
  • Use advances in the science behind relationships as the foundation of a healthy and rigorous learning environment.
  • Create intentional settings for staff and educators to reconnect and heal.

Read the full article about how to support educators after the past year by Sandra Liu Huang at The 74.