School & District Management

Chaos. Opportunity. Rewarding. Exhausting. How Educators Described 2022

By Evie Blad — December 28, 2022 4 min read
The word CHANGE spelled out with wooden blocks
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Educators, how would you describe your work 2022 if you could only use one word? Would you even try?

Education Week took to our social media channels and asked our readers to take a stab at it. Their answers—like the year—were full of contradictions.

While some chose “exhausted,” others chose “energized.”

While some chose “chaos,” others chose “opportunity.”

After a year when the nation’s schools were still looking for normalcy amid economic shifts and a global health crisis, it’s quite possible that a single educator could pick very different words, depending on the day they are asked to choose.

Here are some of the most common responses, and how Education Week covered the ups and downs of another year in American education.

‘Exhausting,’ ‘Unsustainable,’ ‘Intense’

Dozens of Education Week readers picked words like “intense” to sum up the year.

Some, like this District of Columbia teacher, opted to use emojis instead of words.

While educators craved “a new normal,” factors like new COVID-19 variants that surged in January 2022 made it difficult to create consistency in schools.

Joan Mast, superintendent for the Scotch Plains-Fanwood Public Schools, speaks with students in a second grade class on March 11, 2022.

March 2022 marked two years since schools across the country swiftly closed their doors and scrambled to stand up remote learning programs.

That month, Education Week explored how one school system, the Scotch Plains-Fanwood, N.J. district, muddled through two unpredictable years.

“More than 24 months [after the first COVID-19 closures], everyone is still scraping and clawing to get back to what was,” Education Week’s Benjamin Herold wrote. “Scotch Plains-Fanwood is just one of the country’s 13,000 school districts. It is relatively wealthy and has borne just a sliver of the damage COVID-19 has inflicted on schools. But even the journey of the more fortunate helps illuminate an extraordinary era of loss and grief, anger and outrage, everyday heroism and surprising innovations.”

But the two-year milestone wasn’t a chance to close the book on COVID-19; it was actually just the start of a new chapter.

‘Unmasked’

One educator chose “unmasked” as his word of the year, reflecting the decisions of most states and districts to lift universal masking requirements they had first set in 2020.

Image of a vivid blue mask with school supplies.

For many administrators, the decision to lift mask rules—the most visible and divisive precaution many school districts implemented—came after federal officials relaxed mask recommendations in February, introducing new COVID-19 metrics that gave districts the green light to end face-covering requirements in a broad swath of the country.

Under new risk metrics, the agency recommended “universal masking in public settings, including schools, only in areas at high risk of serious illness or strained health-care resources,” Education Week reported.

That decision frustrated some parents of students with disabilities, who are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19.

Some school leaders welcomed maskless faces as a visible sign of returning to pre-pandemic norms.

While they didn’t mention masks, several Education Week readers, like this New York social studies teacher, chose words that captured that familiarity.

As 2022 comes to a close, though, some school districts—facing a surge of respiratory illnesses that affect both students and staff—have opted to once again require or recommend masking.

‘Micromanaged,’ ‘Disrespectful,’ ‘Retirement!’

Many responses from teachers captured a strained relationship with their jobs.

“Wow, glad to see I am not alone,” one teacher wrote on Facebook after surveying responses from his discouraged peers.

“Quicksand,” wrote one Facebook user, a music teacher from Kansas.

“Retirement!” wrote a Marysville, Calif., teacher.

Kindergarten teacher Carla Randazzo watches a student write alphabet letters on a white board at Golden Empire Elementary School in Sacramento, Calif., Thursday, Sept. 15, 2022.

Teachers, who often earn lower wages than their professional peers with similar levels of education and experience, felt the strain of disruption and the weight of recovery in 2022.

Findings from a nationally representative February poll of more than 1,300 teachers—conducted by the EdWeek Research Center and commissioned by the Winston School of Education and Social Policy at Merrimack College—painted a picture of an “exhausted, disillusioned workforce,” Education Week wrote.

The survey found that 56 percent of teachers are satisfied with their jobs. But only 12 percent say they are “very satisfied,” down from 39 percent in 2012, an apparent all-time low.

Percentage of K-12 teachers who say they are ‘very satisfied’ with their jobs

Findings about the status of the teaching profession led to concern about teacher attrition, early retirements, and declining interest in the profession from would-be teacher candidates.

As schools started the 2022-23 academic year, researchers debated whether the nation faced a measurable teacher shortage. Many concluded that the shortages are highly local—even within the same district. But that doesn’t make them less real to principals and district leaders struggling to find talent.

“Opportunity,” “Change,” “Energizing”

Some readers selected words with a more hopeful tone.

“Rewarding!” an elementary school principal from Alabama wrote.

North Dakota teacher of the year Ivona Todorovic gave the most positive response.

Among the things educators were grateful for: Previous years’ interruptions to in-person learning brought new public awareness to the important roles schools play in their communities.

While test scores showed historic drops in academic achievement, schools and districts also have an unprecedented surge of federal relief aid to help their students’ recover.

Administrators say that aid has given them a window to experiment with strategies like tutoring programs, afterschool opportunities, and extra mental health supports for students.

U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona urged educators to see the moment as an opportunity to make long-needed changes.

“We must resist the temptation to return to systems that were not serving our students well,” he said in August.

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