By Sam P.K. Collins
With the end of the school year just weeks away, many District teachers continue to reflect on an academic year that has tested their resolve and intensified conversation about the institutional support needed for those entering the classroom in a post-pandemic world.
At Barnard Elementary School in Northwest, teachers with less than five years of experience received mentorship and classroom supplies from members of the District of Columbia State Organization, Alpha Chapter of Delta Kappa Gamma Society International – an organization dedicated to fostering the professional growth of female educators.
Sharon McCrea, a teacher at Barnard a member of Delta Kappa Gamma Society who died in January, played an integral role in connecting the two entities. During a recent award ceremony, Delta Kappa Gamma Society honored McCrea’s memory and highlighted the achievements of several early career educators.
Natasha Swinson, a pre-K4 teacher who’s been teaching for four years, counted among those recognized on May 6 during the culmination of Teacher Appreciation Week. After spending half of her career in a pandemic, Swinson said she has developed a deeper appreciation for her students.
“Delta Kappa Gamma has helped a lot as a support system and DC Public Schools is helping in the way they can but there’s still a lot on teachers’ plates,” Swinson said. “It’s hard to navigate the moving parts when we haven’t been through this before. In September, we were losing our minds. Teachers are dropping like flies, so making it to the end of the school year feels great.”
Addressing Teacher Burnout with a New Mindset
Teacher Appreciation Week, which took place between May 2 and May 6, afforded teachers, administrators and staff members at District public and public charter schools the opportunity to celebrate colleagues who navigated COVID safety protocols, tackled learning loss and wrestled with sentiments that their voices had not been heard.
On the evening of May 3, while the Office of the State Superintendent of Education honored 27 teachers at Gallaudet University’s Kellogg Conference Center in Northeast, District educator Teresa Lasley hosted an event at My Cake Theory in Southeast. During the event, she uplifted teachers and fostered discussion about how they could move forward in a career field that hasn’t adjusted to meet their evolving needs.
As the founder of Instructional Gym, Lasley has spent three years creating spaces for teachers to collaborate, highlight their experiences and develop effective instructional models. Lasley has also focused on teacher burnout by supporting teachers so they can better understand their purpose.
She plans to launch a program in the fall that will assist teachers in choosing an academic environment that can suit their needs and help them thrive in their profession. She said it reflects a change in the tide where many teachers are prioritizing their wellbeing.
“A lot of teachers are in buildings that don’t align to their values and it becomes toxic when you’re at odds with the culture of the building and the structure of how things are done,” Lasley said. “It’s another hurdle outside of the lesson and getting feedback to strengthen your pedagogical practice. There’s pressure from [people] in higher positions in the District that comes down on administrators and alters why we’re doing this work.”
Teachers Continue to Demand Support
By the end of 2021, District teachers had already shown signs of exhaustion. A survey of 640 educators across the District conducted by the Washington Teachers’ Union and EmpowerEd last December revealed that nearly 50 percent of respondents from public and public charter schools considered leaving the teaching profession. Out of that group, nearly 15 percent said they would most likely do so before the end of the school year.
Many of the respondents cited frustrations with their school administration for their decision to leave the classroom.
Since its inception, Delta Kappa Gamma Society’s Supporting Early Career Educator Program has established a presence at other District-area schools, including Whittier Elementary School in Northwest and Princeton Elementary School in Camp Springs, Maryland.
In years past, Delta Kappa Gamma Society members, many of whom count as retired educators, have provided tutoring and facilitated a program known as Teacher on Call.
Due to COVID safety protocols, Delta Kappa Gamma members were unable to enter Barnard Elementary throughout most of the school year, which the organization’s president, Dr. Judith Kelly, described as a pivotal time for teachers.
“Early career teachers are leaving the field in droves,” Kelly said. “The pandemic set things back because the support wasn’t there to help teachers become grounded. They’re finding more fields that are more attractive and lucrative. They need that friendly, experienced ear that will help them navigate schools and school systems [for help] on what to do when they’re not meeting the needs of the students.”