Long Beach is a teacher’s town. The way some cities are built around manufacturing plants or mines, Long Beach is an education city, with schools or colleges serving as four of the nine biggest employers in town, including the biggest: the Long Beach Unified School District.

But the 2020-21 school year put unprecedented stress on educators in the city and across the country, asking them to teach virtually as well as in-person while learning new equipment and systems on the fly—all while dealing with the personal and social ramifications of a global pandemic. Not surprisingly, Teachers Association of Long Beach executive director Chris Callopy says his union, which represents LBUSD teachers, has seen unprecedented levels of burnout.

“I have never seen anything like this year, nor has anyone else,” he said. “It’s been a rollercoaster ride, that noise you get with the clinking going up and not knowing if that first dive is where you lose your stomach or if it’s just a small one. A year ago, everything was up in the air, and there was this palpable anxiety all year.”

Callopy said that TALB’s year-end bargaining survey showed with statistics what he’s seen in individuals.

A question about end-of-year morale showed that just 3.1% of LBUSD teachers have “very high” morale going into the summer, with 59% marking “low” or “very low.”

Perhaps not surprisingly, there’s also a bit of an uptick in retirement from the LBUSD, which is seeing 301 employees retire this year (with a combined 7,648 years of experience, according to a district release). That’s up from the 249 and 247 employees who’ve retired in each of the last two years, and even a bit up from the 283 who retired in 2018. In the six years from 2014 through 2019, an average of 234 LBUSD employees put in for retirement each year.

Part of the rise is because of an aging workforce, but Callopy suspects that the emotional burden of the last 16 months played a role as well.

Callopy said the shifting dates of school reopenings, along with a public fight last summer over whether teachers could teach virtually from home, contributed to the year-long sense of unease.

That emotional burden wasn’t limited to teachers, either. The Washington Post reported that district superintendents nationwide retired this year at an unprecedented rate.

But there’s some hope of normalcy and stability on the horizon, with LBUSD Superintendent Jill Baker recently saying the district will push for full-day, in-person instruction for all students after the summer.

“All directions point to the next school year starting as it did in 2019 and hopefully that’s the case,” he said. “I hope our people really do rest up. I know they’re exhausted—it’s been a real challenge.”

TALB also sent thank-you fliers to LBUSD parents for their help in navigating the last school year, a message that they’re also promoting with a paid advertisement on Facebook.