Teachers Are TIRED, Yo
This is not a post about Sean, but he's going to serve as my visual aid because I need illustrations and he's captive to my camera.
Sean is a high school English teacher. He's been teaching a long time, and he's really good at it; he cares hard about his kids. That's a given about most teachers, I think, or else they wouldn't be in the profession, because it's hard as hell in an ordinary year. You're performing all day long. You're working with kids and you're working with colleagues. You're working with administrators and you're working with parents. You go home after your weekly department and faculty meetings and you grade papers and tests and you come up with new ideas for tomorrow, because you're working to reach every single kid every day, on an educational level and on an emotional level, and you think you're a failure if you can't. Ah, but there's summer break to look forward to, right? Sort of--you need that time to recharge, because you're getting yourself physically and mentally ready for another group of kids. You're always looking for new materials to pique not just their interest but your own, so you can be fresh, exciting, dynamic, entertaining enough to whittle your way into their world and leave behind a spark, a glowing ember, for learning.
So, all of that in regular times, but then this year-plus: something else entirely. For the whole world, yes. But teachers have had it particularly hard. Like many others, teachers have been on the front lines since the beginning. If anyone thinks it was straightforward to teach from home during lockdown last spring, they weren't paying attention. I know I don't need to enumerate the myriad platforms teachers had to learn on a dime, the retooling of entire curricula, the shifts they made in order to reach the kids intellectually and spiritually, the limitations and quagmires of technology. And then, in the fall, they returned to remote and/or hybrid and/or in-person teaching, with the virus still rampant, with students who brought widely varying degrees of presence and preparedness, and, increasingly, with public opinion against them.
Yes. Everyone has had it hard. But if you want to know really, truly impossible, step into the shoes of a teacher as she goes about teaching in a mask (or two) and a winter coat with all the classroom windows open, unable to pull down the mask to get a drink, juggling two computers and a smartboard and a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, trying to direct information to and elicit participation from both the kids in the classroom--who may or may not have done their work, who may or may not be attentive, who may in fact be asleep on their desks--and the kids at home who may or may not turn on their camera, who may or may not log on and then go back to bed or off to play video games. Will there be state tests this year? Maybe, so try and teach to the tests, just in case, although that requires yet more recalibration. Will there be professional evaluations even in these alien times? Yes, and not all of them are scheduled, so you'll need to go in every day with not just the lesson that you've prepared but also a backup plan because your Wi-Fi might cut out on you, or some genius might decide to hijack the meet with porn. Will there be professional development requirements? You bet, because you're not already learning enough new stuff. Will you be prioritized to get your vaccination? In New York, yes, but will there be anyone to help you secure an appointment? No, so you're scurrying around online for availability along with everybody else.
And here's the part that breaks your fucking heart: Will there be a lot of students failing your class because so many of them are lost in the woods? Yes. And that is not just a terrible shame but a national crisis that we will need to address as a nation immediately after we get the pandemic itself under some semblance of control.
Guess who will bear the brunt of this crisis? The teachers. They are bearing it right now, as schools struggle to safely bring all the students back to the classroom five days a week with little to no input from the teachers, as parents get understandably desperate to have their kids in school full-time and seek a target for their ire and their fear. Teachers are being asked to continue to teach some students virtually even as they readjust to teaching the majority of their students in the classroom. And teachers are being asked: How can you, in what's left of this school year, with what's left of your flagging energy, bring all these students up to speed?
It won't be just this year. In the future, too, our teachers will bear the burden, as administrators and legislators endeavor to address the inconsistent learning, the widening education gap between the haves and have-nots, and the emotional fallout for everyone, teachers and staff and students and parents alike.
So I implore you all: Have empathy for the teachers. Consider ways you can help--financially, imaginatively, physically, emotionally. Have you thanked your child's teachers lately? Going forward, do you have ideas to help the administrators think outside of the box? Write to them and let them know. Rest assured, they already know about the problems. Be constructive. Please, let's try to figure this out together.
But first and foremost, we can start here: As a nation, we must agree that teachers are our bedrock. It's very simple. Teachers educate the children, and the children grow up to run the world. Teachers are our heroes. Tell them.