There are people out there who seem to understand teachers right now. “You’re really on the front lines”, “I cannot believe all that you have to do”, “It’s like there is no end to your school day”, “You just keep working.” I have a friend who is a psychologist who treats several teachers in her practice and remarks regularly to me that “You’re not alone. Teachers are really struggling.”
But many people have no idea. This is a time of crisis, and everyone is focused on how to plow through, survive this chaos with their jobs (hopefully), mental health, and physical well-being intact. This is especially true of parents.
It is a relentless existence right now, focused on management and survival.
But some of what is out there about teachers is woefully lacking in terms of respect and compassion for what we are enduring. The bottom line: this situation and the level of attention, time, and emotional energy it is taking is unsustainable and in truth unhealthy for teachers.
I loved this school year. I can actually say that it was the best one I’ve had in a while. The students have been lovable, engaged, kind and funny. They are a respectful group who greets me with a smile (mostly), a whispered hello (the shy ones) and a willingness to try and learn. They stay longer after class ends (making them late to lunch) just to keep connected, tell personal stories, apologize for mistakes, ask for help.
Teachers want to do right by their students
These kids, the ones now sitting at home on computers, are why I get up and go to work each day. I adore them and want to do right by them. That’s what everyone needs to know first and foremost. Every decision we are making as teachers right now is trying to do right by the students we’ve come to know and love in the seven months of this year that took place in a school building.
What many parents aren’t recognizing, though, is what is coming at teachers daily and what our responsibilities include. Each day starts at 7:30 a.m. and lasts well into the evening when it should be family time. I’ve started to take a long deep breath as I click on my work email. I’m averaging 40-50 a day. I have a student load of 78 students and my primary goal and responsibility is to educate them while always keeping a close eye on their emotional well-being.
I am reading their work daily. I am providing comments and suggestions most days. I am grading their work. I am planning their next day’s instruction. I am creating new units and materials because the planned ones just won’t work. I’m scanning materials, searching for new text to read remotely, learning new resources. I am being trained in Google Meets, Peardeck, Designing Differentiated Digital Activity Lists, Designing Executive Functioning at Home, extensions and add-ons.
I am recording videos to say hello, explain things and connect. I am recording myself reading aloud to students, pausing to point out important ideas, asking questions, bringing stories to life so they don’t miss out on the beauty of that experience. I am holding live sessions, having department meetings, faculty meetings, attending IEP annual review meetings.
I am having phone conversations with individual students who need a little extra support, planning and communicating with my co-teacher, talking to worried parents who are finding their kids depressed and anxious and “not themselves.”
I am reaching out to kids who’ve lost grandparents in the outbreak. I’m spending 1-2 hours a day emailing with parents about missing work and trying to establish strategies for students who aren’t tracking what needs to be done. And now, as of this week’s new directive, I’m creating a document for our administration that “proves” what I’m teaching, what standard it meets, and what day I’m teaching it on.
There are some thing I’m not doing
Here is what I’m no longer able to do. Sleep. I wake up nightly, usually from about 1-3 a.m., thinking about what I forgot to post for the morning or the couple of parents I’ve heard from who are complaining or accusing or remarking with hostility about what we are not doing. I think about the few students who are emboldened in this environment to speak to teachers with disrespect, to make demands, create surveys about how much they like or don’t like what we are doing, who are recording sessions they’re not allowed to record or sending rude and disrespectful messages to classmates during instruction.
I lie there and think about how a handful of complex and complicated situations are impacting the best year I have had in ages and interfering with my ability to appreciate the majority of my students. I think about the kids who I know are having such a hard time and I want to help them and don’t know how. I craft projects to offer and emails to write that will help them relax and just be.
I no longer get outside for a break mid-day because I don’t have time. My dog whimpers and cries at my feet and I work through lunch. I don’t laugh. I can’t remember laughing once this week. If I’m lucky, I stand at the kitchen counter for a few minutes and speak to my college age son. I try to get my finger on his pulse, open the door to conversation, give him space, focus on what is most important in my world – my own kids’ well being. There is too much coming at me, too much heaviness and tension and anxiety that I feel it is my job to quell.
This is the world that teachers are living in right now.
Today I’m focusing on me and my students
But here is what I woke up with today. Today, I’m looking forward to tomorrow when I have a live session and get to see and talk with this group of kids whom I’ve loved and appreciated so much. I’m hoping that interacting with them face-to-face, hearing their voices, seeing them smile or if I’m lucky giggle…will infuse this time that has come to feel burdened and unsustainable with a bit of laughter and lightness.
We all need to start to take better care of ourselves, go on more walks, take more breaks, breathe more air, spend more family time. We need space. We really need a little space. We need to protect ourselves and we need help in doing that. We love these kids. They need us at our best.
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