- Why I Microwaved My Strawberries: An Analogy for this Entire School Year - October 19, 2021
- Setting Boundaries for Type A Personality Teachers - September 13, 2021
- A Letter to My Seniors: The Class That Conquered the Pandemic - June 30, 2021
- Mental Health Awareness for the Teacher's Soul - May 11, 2021
- About Me, By Me Assignment: What Happened When My Students Spoke - April 20, 2021
- Always a Scapegoat, Never the G.O.A.T - March 4, 2021
- Online Learning: Headaches and Heartbreaks and Whispers of "You're Lagging" - December 7, 2020
- Teamwork Makes the “COVID-Dream” Work - November 5, 2020
Setting the Stage
It’s Tuesday and I’ve just closed my classroom door so I can eat my lunch. I have pulled apart students in two separate fights already in the first part of the morning and I’ve heard rumors of others happening through the building. My first-period lesson didn’t happen because the technology wasn’t working. Also, half of my students were either out due to illness or appointments they were pulled to in different parts of the building. I have a mountain of reports to finish by the 20th of October, but my planning was taken over by meetings.
As I pull my lunch out of the fridge, I brainstorm the list of things I can get done during my lunch. As I mindlessly toss my lunch in the microwave and put the time on to heat my food, I think I really need to get my grades updated because five-week grades and comments are due soon. A friend I eat with will tell me that I need a break though, so maybe I’ll do that…what’s the weird smell? Oh my gosh…my strawberries…are in the microwave. And now they’re warm mush and the room smells weird.
Oh, what a metaphor for my life right now.Why I Microwaved My Strawberries Click To Tweet
I know the mushy strawberry metaphor isn’t only speaking to my life as a teacher. So many of my fellow colleagues who I’ve spoken with feel like mushy strawberries themselves because what is even going on this year?! It’s like this everywhere. My teacher friends in other districts report the same craziness happening in their buildings and districts. I even walked into my therapist’s office this past week and opened with, “do your other teacher clients hate life right now too?”. Now, “hating my life” is a bit dramatic, but that’s how I felt at that moment. I truly love my outer school life. There are great opportunities for fun, I have amazing friends and family. I have my health and food on the table and a roof over my head. But my goodness, my inner school self doesn’t even know how to handle herself.
To get some uninterrupted work time, I get to school earlier and earlier each day. Those IEPs and reevaluation reports won’t write themselves and they’re not happening during my planning periods. I’m here juggling mountains of paperwork with deadlines looming in the near future, emergency meetings because other teachers are not at work because of quarantine, and a number of other non-essential, non-student-focused responsibilities.
As I juggle all of the extras this past month and a half has thrown at me, I realize that I can’t even focus long enough to heat up the proper part of my lunch, no wonder my room stinks like hot fructose.
Leading and Supporting Characters
Why does this school year feel so much more disjointed than others in the past? My motto every year is “I can’t wait for October”. September is notoriously a mess of confused kids, overwhelmed and overworked staff, and the school wi-fi remembering what it’s like to have 3,000 people using it at once.
When examining the chaos of the beginning of the year, I started looking around the building to see what is different from the previous years. This is the year the upper administration decided we’d close our 9th-grade building and bring all of the high school students together into one space. This years-in-the-making plan began far before Covid was on the radar and they decided to charge full speed ahead even in the midst of the pandemic. We now have over 2,200 students plus all of our staff in one building. That includes grades 9-12, with 9th graders last being in a physical classroom in a typical year of school in 7th grade.
As a teacher who has taught 10th-12th graders for four and a half years, the 10th graders were always a struggle for me because of the lack of maturity when they arrive in our building. There is a magic that happens the summer between 10th and 11th grade and the students return as young adults. They have had the time to be around their same-age peers and mature and function socially as such.
Unfortunately, this year we are seeing more and more students who have been out of school for a year and a half and have not had the opportunities to grow socially and to mature. Many of our 9th graders are still stuck back in the mentality of 7th or 8th graders (through no fault of their own) and they’re trying to function in a school setting with other students having the same struggles.
This is leading to more unrest in the hallways, more confusion following schedules, and a lack of understanding of the grade-level content material they are learning. Our students are lacking the social-emotional support they need, pure and simple. We were lucky enough to add another few counselors and social workers to our staff, but their schedules are packed already and we’re only in October.
We. Are. Tired.
The first week back to school was incredible because we finally had our students in front of us and felt like it might be back to a normal year. We weren’t dealing with teaching students in front of us and having to be on a Google Meet screen at the same time. Our lessons didn’t need to be recorded and uploaded daily to make sure the students who were virtual who didn’t come to our Google Meet had access to the curriculum. Our eye fatigue had lifted and we didn’t even realize how amazing it would feel to be back.
That luster has quickly worn off. Covid is wiping out the adults in the building with either positive tests or ten-day quarantines. Our sub list is dwindling and many of our retirees from last year have found themselves temporarily un-retired as they come into the building every day to cover for teachers who are at home due to Covid. Within my department, we have a number of Special Education teachers as well as close to forty Teaching Assistants. Since the beginning of school, we have juggled subs and covered classes for each other during our planning periods and lunch. We have been spread so thin that the only way to get any of the work done for those deadlines mentioned before is to work every night and every weekend.
I found myself so buried because of the number of reevaluations, annual reviews, program reviews, new to district meetings, trying to plan, grade, write reports, and then prepare for my observation all due by mid-October that I used a sick day to stay at home and just work. During this uninterrupted day, I worked from 7:00 am until 4:00 pm with a quick break for food. I was able to write a nine-page reevaluation report, two IEPs, make two-parent phone calls about CSE prep (both lasting around 30 minutes each), and field a huge amount of emails. I finally returned to school the next day able to focus on teaching my students and creating lessons to support them, rather than be bogged down with a ridiculous amount of paperwork.
No amount of money could be given to me to be an administrator right now. We are in unprecedented times where our administrators are dealing with such outlandish behaviors on such a larger scale that they don’t seem to be able to do much else. The number of principal and superintendent hearings and the number of suspensions this year has to be at an all-time record. Never mind having the daily job of leading a building and all of the staff in it.
There are many times as a teacher that we don’t know what is happening behind closed doors. The day-to-day in and out the craziness that our administration is dealing with is often kept from us. Sometimes, though, as a teacher kept from “the room where it happens”, I sometimes feel like the issues happening right in front of their eyes are just swept under the carpet.
What our buildings as a whole need now is love and some social-emotional intelligence. We’ve heard for the last nineteen months that our students were going to need support coming back after being secluded at home and regressing in their skills. We need to really look at the priorities we have as teachers and administrators and what we can do that is best for kids.
The mounds of paperwork are taking me away from creating lessons and connecting with my students. Continuing with plans from before the pandemic and pretending nothing happened doesn’t support what we need as a building. And plowing right along as if our students haven’t been in isolation and not around their peers as a way to continue to grow over the last nineteen months isn’t supporting their needs.
Instead of being yanked in 1,000 different directions that are not student-focused, we should be focusing on the well-being of our kids. That’s what schools are for. They are to help our students learn and grow into the best versions of themselves. They are not a business, they are not a corporation. Students need to be supported socially, emotionally, and academically and the teachers need to be given the time and support to do that so we don’t accidentally microwave any more produce.