Connecticut schools have been understaffed for years now, and the problem does not seem to be getting any better. While effects of staffing shortages are felt daily in the classroom, the ramifications can often be felt even more strongly around the holiday season.
The holiday season is one of the most stressful times of the year for families, and children are likely to feel the stress as well. As stress and tension increase, attention often decreases and behaviors in the classroom can become withdrawn or disruptive. In my classroom, I often notice that the time between Thanksgiving and winter break has a higher demand for SEL programming for students. Unfortunately, without the necessary support staff in the classroom, these needs cannot always be met.
Changes in behavior and focus don’t only come from stress either. Students are often very excited in the lead up to the holidays and don’t know how to focus their energy. Teachers like myself try to provide spaces for them to express themselves and release their energy in positive and creative ways, but with fewer of us in the school, there is only so much space we can provide. If we had the additional support staff to help us give extra attention to students who need it, while also allowing us to complete our regular curriculum and responsibilities, we could create a more harmonious environment.
Each year, I like to engage my younger students in holiday activities so they can express themselves creatively. But working as a special education teacher for young students means that these projects need a lot of assistance and extra attention. Without the adequate teaching staff to help me facilitate projects like our milk carton gingerbread houses, the environment can become stressful for myself and the students, sometimes taking away from the positivity of the experience.
Additionally around the holidays, teachers often sign up for extra activities in the school, all on top of our already long list of responsibilities. These could be things like attending extra meetings, staffing after school holiday events and helping out with events for families in need. While fun to participate in, these activities are exhausting and add to our never ending list of responsibilities as educators. These additional responsibilities, coupled with the inevitable absences during cold and flu season, only continue to worsen the effects of the staffing shortages in our schools.
As educators, we experience the effects of staffing shortages daily, and our students then suffer because they are not receiving all of the attention and learning resources that they need. According to a recent survey conducted by Educators for Excellence, only 56 percent of teachers are very likely to spend their entire careers as classroom teachers. If we continue on this trajectory, we will only continue to experience staffing shortages in classrooms throughout Connecticut.
The holidays should be a happy and joyful time for everyone, especially the children we teach in the classroom. While the holiday season can heighten the difficulties caused by staffing shortages, the truth of the matter is that our educators are always faced with these issues, no matter the time of year. We need to improve access and pathways to the teaching profession, and we can make that difference in January at the start of the legislative session. Join me in demanding that Connecticut modernizes its teaching certification process.
Agdish is a special education teacher in Hartford, Connecticut, and is a member of the Connecticut chapter of Educators for Excellence.