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School staff talk burnout almost two years into pandemic

Teachers and school staff have been trying to navigate COVID for almost two years.

STANDISH, Maine — Stress and burnout are words repeatedly heard during the last year-and-a-half, and teachers and school staff are no exception to this feeling.

At the start of the pandemic, many of those people began taking on other responsibilities, including contact tracing and trying to navigate Zoom.

Now, almost two years later, there's no shortage of things to figure out, and many are feeling burnout.

"It's been pretty crazy," Jen Dow, Bonny Eagle High School nurse, said.

For school nurses like Dow, school days have changed a lot since March 2020.

"We still have all of the regular student visits. Then we have all the extra work," Jessi Woodman, Edna Libby Elementry School's nurse said.

A lot of that extra work includes contact tracing.

Staff said they make calls to close contact cases just about every day and never know what they're going to get on the other end of the phone.

"I'd say that 95% of people are kind and polite and understanding. It's the 5% that you remember," Woodman said.

Contact tracing isn't the only challenge for school staff. Now teachers are trying to keep students safe from a virus everyone is still learning about.

"They are responsible for the wellbeing of teachers, and that wellbeing has just increased dramatically," Doris Santoro, professor of education at Bowdoin College, said. The professor has been studying teacher burnout.

Winthrop Superintendent Jim Hodgkin said he's working hard to retain teachers.

"It just became really overwhelming, and we were gravely concerned that we were running our teachers into the ground," he said.

Wednesdays are now early release days for students so teachers and school staff can do other work they don't have time to do, like lesson plans for students under quarantine, or doing paperwork required when there's a positive covid case.

Dow and Woodman want to remind everyone it's important to be kind to staff as they navigate the pandemic. 

"We're doing the best that we can do and that we all just work together to get through this," Dow said.

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