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As the school year comes to a close, it is common for educators to reflect on the last ten months and think about how they’ll make next year even better. But as this whirlwind of a year winds down, many of us have not even an ounce left to give - for reflection, improvement, or anything else. Living through this pandemic has been a challenge for everyone… teaching through it, however, has been unbearable.
Instead of sitting down and thoughtfully contemplating this past year, there is nothing more that educators want to do than lock their room up for summer and spend the next couple of months healing from this harrowing experience. Unfortunately, we know plenty will take summer jobs (many in schools), or continue to take part in professional development, or plan for next year and whatever new trend will land for the 2021-2022 school year. But before I embark on summer school teaching and curriculum development, I want to break up with this school year:
Dear The Year From Hell,
Do you remember how things were in March 2020? Those were the good ole days when society was thanking teachers for being quick to adapt to the descending pandemic. Those days are certainly long gone, despite the majority of teachers continuing to go above and beyond. No, instead there are constant emails, comments at school board meetings, social media firestorms, and articles here to remind us that we can never do enough. We have failed students in every way possible (apparently). Well, let’s take a trip down memory lane, shall we?
When the pandemic hit, there was uncertainty for all. For teachers, things are constantly changing. We were often informed at the same time as parents what the districts and schools were planning to do, and more often than not had no say in the matter. Very quickly words like remote, distance learning, hybrid instruction, and the like entered our daily vocabulary before we even had a chance to prepare.
Schools closed in March and some of us teachers were given less than 24 hours notice that everything would be remote. Many of us spent countless hours in meetings to discuss how to adjust the student schedules, deliver online instruction, and how to best support our students and their families through these “unprecedented times”.
With little to no training, hundreds of thousands of educators threw out their lesson plans and started from scratch. Plenty of teachers purchased webcams, headsets, and used their own internet and devices to provide instruction. Some teachers found out how little their admin trusted them when they were required to go to campus to provide remote instruction so their principals could ensure they were working. As the data and politics changed, many unlucky educators were forced to support in-person and remote students at the same time - a task that is as exhausting as it is impractical.
Some schools and districts pretended to care. They sent out surveys for teachers to fill out about if they felt safe returning to campus and what safety protocols they wanted in place. Yet, even with this data many school systems simply checked the box on asking teachers and did what they wanted or whatever the loudest parents demanded. Over the school year, many teachers switched between remote, in-person, and hybrid with little notice and never dropped the ball on helping kids learn. School boards across the nation showed they would rather bow to parent demands than considering health, safety, and staff wellbeing.
This past year teachers have done it all. We have bent over backward to try to make this experience less scary or damaging for our students. We held classes, had office and tutoring hours, called and texted our students, called and texted parents, sent constant emails and announcements, kept progress reports updated, and involved our counselors and admin to try to reach those who never engaged. Sure, we did some of these things all along and always believed our jobs were nonstop... but this year it was somehow much worse. There were teachers meeting students for math tutoring on 6 pm Zoom calls or spending half their weekend making materials that could be used for remote and in-person students.
We did all the interventions we could think of when issues came up but we have still been blamed. Parents are angry their child is failing. Administrators are upset that so many students need to repeat classes. New articles continue to ask why we have been such a colossal failure this year. We have provided around-the-clock service, we have offered our empathy, we have provided resources for families from financial to mental health. We have continued to make sure everyone is taken care of and has what they need.
No one ever asks if we do.
The students have stopped caring. No matter what we do so many have given up. It doesn’t matter if we connect our lessons to their lives, build rapport, or a myriad of other engagement strategies, they barely work. We have tried to lower our expectations and be understanding. But the bar is on the floor and I am out of ideas. Honestly, I don’t blame them. They see the articles and hear their parents. They’re exhausted from the pandemic and many are just trying to survive. I understand how they feel, I feel it too.
So many think this year is a joke. They don’t sign in or show up. They refuse to respond to emails, calls, or texts. They can redo any assignment or makeup what they are missing, yet they don’t even attempt to. They’ve turned in nothing all year. They lie to their parents, they lie to us. Their parents don’t answer phone calls or have a voicemail set up but are furious we “never tried to contact them.” It will always be our fault.
Teacher workloads have gotten out of hand this year. We have taken on so much more with no compensation. Many were laid off and we will see more cuts come this summer. We were already in a shortage, and the class sizes will only get bigger which is peak irony during a pandemic. Parents claim to be homeschooling their students while teachers provide all the materials and instruction. They tell us we don’t deserve raises, that we don’t even deserve our salary. According to them, we haven’t worked all year.This year became nearly unbearable as politics became further ingrained in pandemic rhetoric Click To Tweet
This year became nearly unbearable as politics became further ingrained in pandemic rhetoric. Districts set metrics to tell us when we would be required to go hybrid or in person. Then they fudged the numbers and made it look like it wasn’t so bad. When we weren’t heading back to classrooms soon enough they just threw out the metrics altogether. Everyone demands we go back to work. Unvaccinated. With few or no health guidelines. Without lowering class sizes or allowing for social distancing. Then get upset when teachers are sick and can’t come in. Boldly expect them to still teach from home or a hospital bed while they recover from a deadly virus they picked up at the job that still won’t give them a break. Then we watch the government let the CARES Act sick leave expire while still being required to teach in person without vaccinations.
I never thought teaching would get this low. Think of the kids. Think of the families. Remember their mental health… but what about mine? This isn’t what I signed up for. This isn’t sustainable. This is broken.
What more do you want?
So don’t be shocked when teachers continue to leave in droves. Don’t act surprised when they refuse to volunteer for more unpaid work this summer. Don’t pretend you have no idea why teachers are upset. We have been known to pour from an emptying cup, but this year drained us completely. We have nothing left to give.