Teachers across the country are trying to navigate a third consecutive school year disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic, one most recently thrown into upheaval by a surge in COVID-19 cases.
The reality is far worse than even parents may realize, according to Danielle Christian, a high school guidance counselor in Paris, Texas.
"If you’re not currently working in the world of education, there’s no way that you can understand what is going on in schools right now," Christian wrote in now-viral Facebook post. "You may hear it, but you cannot truly understand."
Christian, also the mom of a second-grade student, told " Good Morning America" she has worked in education for 13 years and has never seen anything like what teachers, administrators and students are going through now amid the pandemic -- from facing school closures over the past two years to learning loss, experiencing mental health struggles and needing absences due to quarantine and illness.
"I think a lot of people really don't know what goes on inside of a school building, especially now with the pandemic and all the chaos," she said. "Every year we just hope and pray that the next school year will be better, but at this point this feels like this is our new normal for now."
In Paris Independent School District, where Christian works, over 1,100 students and staff were absent from school last Thursday. District officials made the decision to close schools through Tuesday due to COVID-19-related absences, a district spokesperson told "GMA."
Christian said she sees firsthand all that goes into making a school operate each day, and wanted to convey that to others. She shared her thoughts in a Facebook post that now has over 23,000 likes and has been shared more than 46,000 times.
"Yesterday, I watched our secretary and assistant principal try to figure out how to get every class covered and every kid in a room," Christian wrote. "Somewhere along the lines this thought crossed my mind: Probably 95% of parents drop their kids off at school, no matter their age, and don’t even think about what’s going on in there to make it all work right now."
"They have no idea that teachers are giving up their conference periods to watch other teachers’ classes because they are out sick and there are VERY FEW subs. The librarian, teacher aids, anyone who is available may be put in a classroom because there is no one else," she wrote. "They have no idea that when there is no way to get a class covered, another teacher volunteers to take on a whole other class of kids in their room, while they are still trying to teach their subject area to their current class."
She said teachers are still teaching their content and preparing their kids for standardizes tests, despite the uncertainty of everything around them.
"They may teach biology but also have a class of theater kids in their room while trying to do so. The school nurses are inundated with kids and calls. This isn’t just what my campus looks like, this is what every campus looks like right now," she wrote.
Teachers are exhausted and wiped out
"Teachers are exhausted and wiped out. The education world is tired. It’s just the truth," Christian added. "But we all keep showing up and pulling together to keep our schools going and take care of our kids. Teachers are freaking rockstars. The administrators at your kid’s school are, too."
Christian ended her post by encouraging people to send a special message of thanks to educators, writing, "They deserve it."
According to Christian, since writing the post, she has received countless messages of thanks from her coworkers and from complete strangers on Facebook.
She said she hopes the attention her post received puts a spotlight on the need to support schools, especially teachers. She said she herself has stepped in as a substitute teacher when the school has lacked other options.
Recent jobs reports have showed a decline in employment in public education, according to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, while the Department of Education reports a teacher shortage in every state.
And school districts across the country are reporting a triple whammy of not only a shortage of teachers but also substitutes and school support staff, like bus drivers.
"Education I think is a calling and it just scares me that people right now are seeing how tough it is and not going that direction," Christian said. "We need people who love kids and who feel like it’s their calling to work with kids to look past the hard things that are happening right now. We need people to educate kids; they’re our future."
Althea Dixon, assistant superintendent of curriculum, instruction and accountability for the Paris Independent School District, said teachers are "going above and beyond" in this moment, and are "exhausted."
"Danielle’s post is what every teacher in our district, state, and country is feeling at this current moment validated by the fact that it went viral," she said in a statement. "We are proud to have a bunch of Danielle’s in our district. Our teachers are going above and beyond to meet the needs of students, they are exhausted, but they keep fighting."
"We sincerely couldn’t do it without them. They're all in," Dixon added. "Educators around the world are definitely a part of that “unsung hero” group."