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To my fellow teachers:
Stop what you’re doing. Whatever it is, stop. Following up with families whose kids aren’t joining your Zoom calls, providing feedback to students’ work, watching a webinar on Social Emotional Learning, or anti-racist teaching practices, reviewing your lessons and tasks for the coming days…
I know. It is all very, very urgent. But, I need you to stop. Because roughly six months ago a pandemic arrived in our country. So far it has taken more than 210,000 lives. It has decimated millions and millions of livelihoods. It has made our work more essential than ever and rendered it unrecognizable at the same time.
And four months ago the stories of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, George Loyd, and other murders coalesced and ignited a new wave of racial justice uprisings.
Neither of these cataclysms have disappeared. Nor has climate change, the rise of fascism, or the many other crises.
We are being asked to do something that may in fact be impossible. We are being asked to tend to the education of a nation of traumatized youth and to do so without acknowledging our own profound sadness and exhaustion. There are those of us who have lost loved ones, others who are still recovering from the sickness, and many who are struggling to care for children or other family members. All of us are dealing in some way with the steady onslaught of white supremacy on our humanity.
Stop for a moment to consider all that our communities have been through this year. Breathe in deeply, and notice the way the air travels into your lungs, and then out your nostrils.
To stop and recognize this is a small act of resistance. Because our leaders don’t want us to pause for even a second. If we did, we might not be able to hold back our grief and rage, and then what might happen next?
The truth is, this school year is the culmination of years of education policy and funding choices. For years we have been asked to bridge the gap between our society’s care for children and those children’s needs. The gap got wider and wider — an epidemic of school shootings, a wave of racist and xenophobic hatred, students struggling with homelessness and food insecurity — and we were asked to keep going, “for the children.” We were emotionally manipulated into thinking we had no choice.
Now that gap is a chasm. The gap was always the result of conscious choices, and so too is this chasm. We could feed and house every person in this country if we wanted to. We could ensure every child had working internet and a laptop. We could make sure families could stay home safely and care for their children, instead of forcing them to risk their health for low wages.
The choice to prioritize the wealthy and powerful have always fallen on teachers’ shoulders. But for many of us, we were able to leave the weight of this choice in our classrooms if we wanted. But now we’ve been deemed essential. In other words, our lives have been deemed expendable for the good of "The Economy."
And in order to make this work, the powerful are pitting teachers against families, and teachers against other essential workers. They’d rather this than giving any of us the lifeline we need. They need to keep us busy and distracted, and that’s why it’s so vital that we stop.
I am fortunate to be teaching 100% remotely. I find it exhausting and generally joyless. I end my days with blurry eyes and a headache. I take a long walk to take a break from my screen before going back to designing lessons and providing feedback to student work. I am grateful to be employed, but I also feel so sad and overwhelmed, and when I check Twitter I know I’m not alone.
The moments where I stop, and reflect on all that we’re going through as teachers right now, are crucial. They don’t necessarily feel good. In fact, sometimes I feel even more overwhelmed as a result. But still, I need these moments of pause to notice the impossibility of what we’re being tasked with. I realize then that although I feel like I’m failing, I’m not. It is our leaders who have failed us.
I’m doing everything in my power to care for and educate children during a global pandemic and so much more conflict and change. Remembering this allows me to be loving and patient toward myself and others.
Our leaders do not want us to pause for a second. If we do, then we might feel the immense grief and the untempered rage that is only natural in a moment like this.
But, if we do not stop to rest, and attend to ourselves for a moment, I worry about our profession. Our students deserve so much better, and so do we. Let’s not forget it.