I mentally run through all my inspirational teacher quotes, including the brilliant poem What Teachers Make by Taylor Mali. I can’t wait to meet my students and hit the ground running. Until this year.
This year, COVID-19 is ever present and it has worn me down. Once I found out we would be teaching in-person every day with students while simultaneously teaching students who had chosen to learn from home, my light dimmed.
While I love my students and my job dearly, every day I’m with them in class has an undercurrent of “what if” and anxiety.
I have enjoyed getting to work with them in person after not being able to last spring, but it also means that I worry every day about bringing the virus home to my family, and that I won’t get to see my elderly parents as long as I am teaching face-to-face.
This is breaking my spirit. And I’m not the only one. So, with all due apologies to Taylor Mali, instead of focusing on What Teachers Make, I want to focus on What Teachers Need.
For a few glorious, shiny weeks this spring, the world was praising teachers like I’ve never heard in my 30-year career. Teachers everywhere were feeling the gratitude of parents and society at large. Until late summer – when people realized school was starting soon and all that would entail – and then it all came crashing down.
Then came the endless litany of teacher bashing, with snarky comments about wanting taxes back since parents were now doing a teacher’s job – how teachers don’t really want to teach and are trying to get out of it – how it is a vacation for teachers, and on and on.
In addition, there was rhetoric about how an entire generation of children would be forever damaged and so far behind they would never catch up. Of course, none of this is true. But it hurt. A lot.
Now teachers who faced the impossible choice of whether to go to school in person and risk their and their family’s health – or leave a career they have trained for and probably loved (and assume all of the financial consequences of this decision) – are stressed beyond belief.
And in those districts that made a safer decision and are instituting remote instruction, teachers are still often being asked to make-do and accomplish the impossible.
But still, we do our jobs. Because that’s what teachers do. Even though that means working at least sixty hours per week trying to deliver a strong learning experience under the most difficult of circumstances in a method we were never trained for. We do it because we love our jobs, we love our students, and we are highly experienced and skilled professionals. But it’s a lot.
Here is a brief list addressed to those whom I believe are in a position to help. This is not a rant about our situation, but rather thoughts in hope of encouraging compassion, empathy, and grace toward our nation’s educators and the Herculean task they face.
► We know you understand how risky it is to be teaching in person, but please acknowledge and validate our fears rather than trying to put a forced positive, but not necessarily truthful, spin on the situation.
► Remote teaching is incredibly difficult and much more time-consuming than teaching in person. Whenever possible, please keep our workload beyond teaching at a reasonable level. There is no need for additional professional development this year as we are doing it every single day.
► Teaching both remotely and in person at the same time is nearly impossible, and teachers have been basically set up to fail or burn out trying to do it all, so please manage parental expectations about what we will be able to accomplish under these circumstances.
► Treat us as the professionals we are and understand we are often working parents too. Trust that we will do our work from home so that we may also help our own children and don’t demand that we work from the school building unless that is our choice. And if it is, please let us bring our children with us to avoid our own child care crises.
► Establish the fewest punitive policies possible for students who are trying their best to work through this educational crisis as well.
► Please respect our personal and professional boundaries with regard to our time and requests for communication. Many of us are teaching more hours than usual with little or no break in the day, and it is not possible to return email immediately or take a phone call, but we will respond as soon as we are able. In addition, we have responsibilities at home and with our families, so please allow us our evenings and weekends for this.
► In order for us to have the most accurate picture of your children as learners, please allow them to complete their own work and let them use their own process whenever possible (especially for older children).
► Please respect our expertise. The majority of teachers have an advanced degree and many years of experience. We are doing the best we can at delivering content and trying to make it engaging and accessible for your children despite the unusual format. We appreciate that you understand this and ask that you don’t say negative comments about us or our class to your child as they take their cues from you.
► Teachers, many of whom are also parents, know that parents are under tremendous strain and are stretched thin trying to do their jobs as well as make sure their children have what they need to be successful in school. We truly appreciate the valiant effort parents are making and understand how very exhausted they are. But we would ask that you please don’t bemoan that you are homeschooling your children.
Thousands of parents do so every year very successfully, but it involves developing a curriculum, designing learning experiences, creating materials, and constructing assessments and is different from what is being expected from most parents right now. This is what teachers do on a daily basis and are continuing to do during this pandemic via remote avenues. We are doing our best to make the learning accessible to your children.
► Educators need you to know that they are not the ones making any of the educational decisions about format, schedule, or location of learning. All of that is based on available science and comes from, above and we have no choice but to follow the directives we are given. Please contact our administrators if you wish to see changes.
► Finally, we ask for your grace. After all, we are all on the same team and want the best education possible for your child in a positive atmosphere.
► Teachers, along with everyone else, greatly appreciate what medical professionals have accomplished during this pandemic. But what they do and what teachers do are in no way comparable, and each has its own set of challenges. Please do not minimize our fear at the very real risk we are facing by making comments about how medical professionals are doing the same so we should quit “complaining.” Our working conditions are vastly different from a hospital.
► It hurts us when we see commentary about how we don’t want to work if we are afraid of teaching in person or that we should not be paid for teaching remote classes. Trust me when I tell you we are working harder than we ever have before.
► Please understand the enormous challenge we are undertaking. We are not only trying to build the plane in midair, but we are also manufacturing the tools and parts in many cases.
► Understand that remote learning under a pandemic is not the same as a specially designed online learning curriculum that has been used for decades. This is a stopgap measure meant to make do until school can get back to a more normal situation. It will not be able to replace the kind of education children have received in the past, but it is what we must do for now. We also want to get back to how things were. We miss it too.
To some extent, I speak for my teacher colleagues everywhere. I truly want those who live with or care for a teacher to know how many of us are feeling. But on the other hand, writing this post was somewhat cathartic for me because it reflects my current state of mind, and I don’t mean to put words in the mouth of educators who may disagree with me.
Regardless of one’s personal feelings on the current state of education, please keep teachers in your hearts and minds and let us know you support us and empathize with what we are going through. We’d really appreciate it, and it’s exactly what we need.