The internet is full of teacher’s video messages to students. Recently, the English department, at the large suburban high school where I am employed, sent out a beautiful, heartfelt, and funny greeting to our students. Despite the positive messaging, there is a deep sadness that permeates the frames, as if teachers are saying:  “This has been one sucky experiment, kids.” Although these types of videos intend to connect with students, they are, if we are honest, teachers’ collective slow goodbyes.  

Make no mistake; we teachers have been waving goodbye to our students since March. However, not every teacher is saying the same farewell. Click To Tweet

For many educators, there is hope and apprehension as to how learning resumes in the fall. You can hear the anxiety in their tones; the teacher’s facial expressions are melancholy. Many are resigned to a world that is crumbling. Some of us cannot even fathom a future that extends remote learning.  

For other teachers, this is their last year. The retirees have much in common with the seniors. Both groups envisioned going “out” much differently. While the seniors looked forward to proms, senior breakfasts, senior trips, and graduation ceremonies, the retiring teachers foresaw their “lasts”– the last lesson taught, the last faculty meeting attended, the last paper graded. Retirees expected the closure to careers that often encompass over thirty years of memories. Retirees, like seniors in high school, deserve celebration. Instead, most will feel like they faded away from an identity that they can never shake. Forever, when asked what they did, they will answer: “I taught.” Two words that carry such meaning, and yet never adequately explain the job.

Some teachers may even be saying goodbye to the profession of teaching. Teachers, already battered by years of ridiculously underfunded and mismanaged mandates, may have been pushed over the edge by remote learning.  

Teachers, when asked the perennial questions, always answer with the same response: “Because of the students.” It is almost like a response to a hymnal.

Q: Why do you remain a teacher, when the pay is lower than you can make elsewhere?  

A: “Because of the students.”

Q: Why do you remain teaching in toxic school environments?

A: “Because of the students.”

Q: Why do you stay in a job that requires such intensity for such little rewards?

 A: “Because of the students.”

The pandemic has exposed why teachers stay. Remote learning may be the straw that breaks that camel’s back. Online teaching is like teaching holograms. The students are out there, somewhere. But, one crucial reason that teachers stay is missing. Face-to-face interaction has vanished. Zoom and Google Meets cannot compare to the ebb and flow of a “live” lesson. Most recorded lessons are flat, one-dimensional representations of why teachers chose this craft.

Furthermore, educators have succumbed to the virus.  Sixty-three members of the New York City department of education have died. 

“Among the education department employees who have passed away: 26 paraprofessionals, 25 teachers, two administrators, two facilities staffers, two school aides, two food service workers, one parent coordinator, one guidance counselor, and two central office employees.”

When a staff member passes away, school communities are devastated. There are countless students in New York City, and elsewhere, who will mourn the passing of these educators. 

Ohio recently joined the other thirty-one states that have shuttered school buildings for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. In New York, where I teach, we survive in two-week increments, the most recent closing schools until May 15, 2020. This extended limbo and expectation of school closure remind me of my chatting with my great-aunt, Lena. Lena would hold a person’s arm when she spoke with them, making sure she had your attention. Speaking with her was a bit tortuous, saying goodnight downright impossible. These teacher greetings videos are like chatting with Aunt Lena–endless, but memorable. Hopefully, in the future, when the pandemic is behind us, we will rewatch these “home videos” with a wry smile and an appreciation that only experience brings. 

Teachers

Text Time to Say Goodbye typed on retro typewriter

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