VIRGINIA, USA — Author's Note: The video above is on file from October 18, 2021.
Teachers have never had it easy, but this last calendar year has been harder than ever due to the COVID-19 pandemic and virtual learning.
Educators from all across Hampton Roads are speaking out about the extra stress on both them and students, while schools are struggling to even find enough teachers to fill their classrooms.
Now, school division administrators are coming together to discuss and implement solutions to the ongoing shortage and burnout among teachers.
School divisions in Chesapeake, Newport News, Norfolk, Portsmouth, Suffolk, and Virginia Beach have all made changes to their schedules and procedures.
In Chesapeake, a teacher was quoted during a school board meeting, saying "Staff morale is at a low I didn’t know existed."
Another teacher came forward and made a similar statement. She said that pre-pandemic and pandemic requirements have been combined for the employees, with nothing taken off of their plates.
The school board said they are down 66 teachers, so now, they're making changes.
The school division is partnering with a tutoring service for the elementary school to help keep kids on track if they have to quarantine.
There are also some changes to the division's COVID-19 plan. Teachers who have symptoms can request an at-home test from a nurse.
If the test results are negative and the student has been fever-free for 24-hours, they can return to school.
The Newport News school board approved calendar adjustments during a meeting on November 9.
The division's changes include an extended Thanksgiving break, which will give kids and teachers off from November 22 through November 26.
In February, two days have been changed to half days with additional academic support for students before mid-terms in the morning, and teacher planning in the afternoon.
The school added two professional development and planning days for teachers, and two half days in the spring.
Norfolk Public Schools announced schedule changes on Tuesday, including an extension to Thanksgiving break.
"I’m aware that our teachers are tired. I’m aware that they need some type of relief," said Norfolk Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Sharon Byrdsong during a school board meeting.
The division is also adding teacher workdays in January, February, and March as well as extending the Memorial Day weekend.
"It’s a good balance of maintaining the integrity of the instructional day and letting our teachers know that we have listened," said Byrdsong.
School leaders are going to start paying teachers who use their planning time to substitute as well.
When announcing changes in Portsmouth schools, the school division said they understand that this year has presented multiple unique mental health stressors and concerns. That's why they re-evaluated their academic calendar.
Similar to Norfolk schools, teachers and students in Portsmouth will have a longer Thanksgiving Break, from Nov. 23 through Nov. 26.
The school division has changed five school days to asynchronous days, and they have also changed two teacher workdays to telework days.
A unique change is coming to Suffolk schools beginning November 10. From that day on, Suffolk students will be released early from school every other Wednesday through the end of the school year.
This early release will give teachers more time to plan, while still getting out of the building at a decent hour.
Under this new schedule, middle schoolers will be released at 11:25 a.m., high schools are 12:25 p.m., and elementary school students will go home at 1:15 p.m.
"If the planning time is not there, student achievement will suffer, classroom management issues will go up, teacher burnout is there, you name it," said Superintendent John Gordon.
In Virginia Beach, there are 100 instructional positions unfilled. Now, the division is making adjustments to accommodate the staff they do have.
Administrators with teacher licenses are now serving in classrooms on high-volume days as substitute teachers.
Additionally, the school board proposed a series of early release days for students in order to give time for teachers to prepare.
This measure was approved for several Wednesdays from November through January.
The school board said they are considering other recommendations and initiatives as well, including compensation adjustments.