Navigating the New Normal: A Guide for Our At-Risk 50-and-Up Educators
By Carol Henry
As schools gradually reopen, students, teachers and staff are all vulnerable to the lasting effects of the coronavirus pandemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention describes how 29 percent of teachers are at risk from contracting the virus, due to them being aged 55 and older. Because of this, they are more likely to suffer from asthma, chronic lung disease, diabetes, and liver disease. In order for schools and governments to prioritize the safety of at-risk educators, they need to address complex factors related to remote learning, physical and mental health measures and financial plans. Adapting to a new normal will be a highly challenging process for teachers and students alike, and the wellbeing of all parties involved should be thoroughly evaluated before the academic calendar resumes.
Adapting to the possibility of remote work options for educators
For older educators, adjusting to a digital classroom may be a longer learning curve compared to younger educators who will have had greater exposure to recent technological advances. Inside Higher Education predicts that blended learning will dramatically increase in a post-pandemic world. Because of this, platforms such as Canvas, Blackboard, D2L, and video conferencing platforms are likely to be combined with face-to-face teaching methods. Ensuring that senior educators obtain the necessary training to use remote teaching methods will improve their physical safety and give them greater peace of mind until a vaccine is found. However, a Hechinger Report feature on online instruction states that teachers ideally need months of in-depth preparation before conducting an online learning program. Providing teachers with the funding, resources and time necessary to reorient themselves during this process is the key to a smooth transition.
Implementing healthcare strategies to protect at-risk educators
In educational districts that lack government and private funding, access to online education is limited. As a result, many teachers may feel obligated to enter classrooms before they’re ready in order to protect their job security. However, the feasibility of students strictly adhering to social distancing and mask-wearing guidelines is a difficult scenario to imagine. For schools that are experiencing difficulty, implementing remote learning systems and modifying academic schedules to reduce crowded classrooms is a beneficial solution. The Washington Post explores how some schools are thinking about having students report to physical classrooms for in-person learning some days and stay home on others, to encourage more social distancing on campuses. In addition to this measure, teachers who are viewed as high-risk should obtain medical clearance before returning to classrooms.
Ensuring that educators are financially compensated
Teachers’ salaries and benefits need to be prioritized when considering education budgets. Forecasts indicate that these resources may decrease as the economy continues to be impacted by the COVID crisis. In light of this, governments should avoid implementing policies and practices that harm the profession such as recruiting untrained staff and increasing the number of hours. This is especially prudent for senior educators, as those over 50 will be considering their retirement, something the current situation as made much harder. A financial guide from Marcus explains how saving for retirement is just as important as having an emergency fund and should be made a priority. Some retirement plan options they point to include a Traditional or Roth IRA, both of which have tax advantages and allow those who are 50 and older to contribute up to $7,000. These options could help teachers in the future when they leave work. And with the Washington Monthly reporting that the pandemic has led to a huge shortage in the funds needed to pay all future promised pension benefits, there is a greater emphasis on teachers making use of other savings plans. There is no doubt that states need to be more realistic about investment percentage return rates so that they can adjust revenue targets and avoid putting pension systems into further debt. That being said, teachers also need to be aware of the risks of the new normal that could affect their financial future and have an active plan in place.
Proposing mental health guidance for educators
As educators shoulder the increased burden of adapting to a new education system, they’re under greater pressure to spend even more hours at their profession in the midst of great uncertainty. In addition to prioritizing their physical health, methods that address mental health should also be explored to prevent at-risk educators from suffering from stress, depression, and burnout. Education writer Sheila Ohlsson Walker believes teachers should have access to mental health resources both during and after the school day ends. Support groups, mental health providers, wellness days, and coaching strategies can help them balance their teaching responsibilities. For at-risk teachers, especially those over 50, mental resilience is an undervalued skill that can help them find a sense of control and self-regulation during these trying times.
Finally, the relevant authorities should continue to monitor the ongoing situation and ensure that teachers’ voices are heard when it comes to their concerns and suggestions regarding their future. The Global Partnership for Education recommends that educational leaders should develop relevant structures and frameworks to assess progress when schools reopen. Determining the success or shortcomings of trial programs should be informed by teachers’ feedback, especially those who are at-risk when it comes to the pandemic’s effects. Providing teachers with the necessary tools, training, psychosocial guidance and financial support they need to excel at their profession will help them make informed decisions when it comes to ensuring their lasting safety and the continuity of student learning.
About the author
Having two teachers as parents, Carol was taught the value of education at a very young age. She worked as a social studies teacher before she decided to devote her time as a freelance education writer. When she’s not busy reading up the latest news about learning, she enjoys going on a hike with her dog, Milo.
This article was originally published by The Learning Counsel, a research institute and news media hub focused on providing context for the shift in education to digital curriculum.