I learned whose fault the pandemic is. And who’s responsible for the students and their well-being. It’s the teachers. It’s my fault. How do I know this? Because someone told me. Let me rewind a bit….
I’m to Blame
During our mid-winter break, I had a scheduled annual EEG appointment for my migraines. This is the first in-person appointment for a doctor that I’ve had since the beginning of the pandemic. I drove into the city for my appointment on a beautiful, sunny, snowy Wednesday. I had my recent book in my purse to entertain myself as I waited for the doctor. As I sign in, I find a seat in the small waiting room in a spot of sunshine. I’m not alone, there is another woman sitting opposite me. I pull out my mindless reading material and try to drown out Savannah Guthrie on the Today Show. I get about halfway through a page when I hear, “psh, these teachers”.
An Outsider’s Opinion
It’s not until she begins her diatribe about how “teachers are the reason our kids are falling behind and that it’s the teachers who have made this so much worse for the kids” that I realize she’s talking to me. Ms. Guthrie is, I realize, running a story on what the pandemic has done to our children. Specifically in regards to them being students. As the woman in the waiting room continues to try to engage me in the ripping of our nation’s teachers, it reminds me that unless you live the life of a teacher daily during this mess, you don’t actually KNOW what is going on.
It reminds me that unless you live the life of a teacher daily during this mess, you don’t actually KNOW what is going on. Click To Tweet
I know that sounds ridiculous, but that phrase “you don’t know what you don’t know” has been tossed in front of me so many times during the pandemic. I come back to the present long enough to hear her say “these teachers don’t want to teach, they just want to keep our kids at home and force the parents to teach. They’re so lazy”. Thankfully as a result of the pandemic, I’m wearing a mask because I’ve never had a particularly stellar poker face. Instead of engaging I simply purse my lips, raise my eyebrows in acknowledgment, and thankfully her husband wanders out so they can leave and I can go get my 23 electrodes attached to my head.
“Must Be” Nice
Teachers have been the butt of jokes and nasty comments for as long as I can remember. Even growing up, I remember people talking about how nice it “must be” to be a teacher. Must be…like it’s not a job that we go to college, take a number of certification exams, complete student teaching, interview, then continue to pay off student loans for. I chose my profession much like how others chose theirs. People who feel that it “must be” nice to be a teacher could have become teachers if that’s what they felt they were called to do.
Even people close to me joke about how it “must be” nice to have summers off. Yes, it’s nice to have summers off. It also “must be” nice for us to then work on curriculum during the summers, plan for next school year, and not get paid for two months. A number of teachers work summer jobs to supplement their bills. I feel like it “must be” nice to have a job that you can leave at your job. A job that you aren’t expected to be doing in the evenings and on weekends but that’s not a job I chose. Nor do most of us get into teaching for two months “off” a year.
Education is Everything
After listening to the woman in the waiting room, I realized that the preconceived notions of what happens in school buildings are skewed. Even the people close to me don’t really know what it’s like to be in the classroom during this pandemic. We hear what’s on the news and read the nasty comments on social media. It’s so very easy to get sucked into the spiraling swirl of negativity and forget that we don’t need to blame someone for everything.
I now wish that I had responded to the woman in the waiting room and asked her calm questions about her assumptions. Then I could have let her know what is going on behind the doors of the districts. I could have told her that I have been at work every day, in the building, five days a week. That our school sends students to school every day with the exception of Wednesday (which we actually began this week). That I am teaching online and in-person at the same time, trying to support my students in all of their classes along with their ever-growing emotional needs. I wish that instead of attacking teachers and believing that we are the problem, people would ask questions, make inquiries, and see how they can help.
Always a Scapegoat
I remember last March, about three days into the shutdown when my Facebook newsfeed was filled with hilarious memes from parents who had been home teaching their children for a few days. The memes praised teachers, joked about suspending their own children, and immediately needing a vacation. As I saw these posts, I laughed along with them but thought to myself “this won’t last long”. And how right I was. People got amnesia and quick.
As the end of the school year approached and the beginning of the current one got underway, the new models we as teachers have had to develop have been under siege. Between schools trying to figure out virtual learning vs. hybrid, as teachers we’ve begun taking our curriculum and morphing it into something we’ve never been prepared to do. I now use online learning platforms and apps instead of paper and pens. I now not only teach to students in front of me physically, but to students who are in their living rooms and bedrooms. And now my lessons are recorded and posted online for students and parents to access if needed.
Now that I’m live-streamed into your living room, I’ve learned just what an expert you are in the field of teaching. I have had parents interrupt my lessons, yell at me during lessons, and report me to the administration (all the way to the Superintendent) because they misconstrued what I was teaching. In that instance, a quick phone call conversation between myself and the parents cleared up their concerns, but the damage had already been done. I’ve seen posts on social media with “mama bears” pumping their fists about how they “dug their claws” into their child’s teacher because they didn’t like the tone of the teacher’s voice. And naturally, that post has a number of comments egging that parent on.
Teachers are tired. We are trying. And now we are on display for everyone to see us trying to make the best out of an exhausting situation. I don’t come into your office, your meetings, your nurse’s station and criticize what you do. Stay out of my classroom.
Never the G.O.A.T
As I pull my emotions back into myself, as a teacher it’s really hard lately to feel like the “greatest of all time” (or G.O.A.T for those of you following along with my wordplay). This post has become more discouraging and has gone off the rails a little more than I had intended. I could backtrack and edit. I could rephrase or reorganize, but this is authentic. This is how we are feeling.
I work for a district that, although they don’t always do a seamless job rolling things out, has tried to keep their teachers safe and keep the well-being of the students in the front of their minds. We currently have most of our Special Education population returned to the building for in-person learning five days a week and our general education population back three days a week. We are trying. And I have to say, the number of times I feel like a great teacher is dwindling.
My students continue to be the highlight of my day. I see the struggles they face every day whether it is online or in person. So many teachers are doing so much to try to meet the needs of our kids both academically and emotionally. My kids come to me crumbling because of the stress and overall insanity this pandemic has created in their lives. For the moment they are with me, I am doing all I can to make them feel safe and in control.
Well, if you’ve made it this far without closing out or being offended, I’d like to offer a different view of who’s fault all of this is: it’s no one’s fault. The pandemic has ripped through our lives taking a year of jobs, paychecks, travel, food, and in-person learning away from us. It has ravaged lives. People have died and suffered immense emotional struggles. We are all doing the best we can. Is everyone perfect? No. Will you always have a great day crushing all of the pieces of your to-do list? Absolutely not. It’s time to give each other grace and help one another rather than pointing fingers and laying blame.
Stop throwing the educators under the bus who are trying to get your children back on track. If you are a parent who feels that your child’s teacher is to blame, instead of ripping them apart, reach out and help be part of the solution. You may not believe that that’s your responsibility, but if it involves your child it is. Get involved at School Board meetings, make proposals on how to best get students back to school in a safe way.
Instead of joining the trolls on the internet or being the parent who uses their “mama bear” claws to scream at the teacher in front of the class, educate people about what is going on or ask questions if you have them rather than making assumptions. Send an email to the teacher or call them. I’m always happy to help out parents who reach out to me in an appropriate manner rather than attack me in front of my class.
If we remember that it’s about supporting our students in the best way we can and team together, our kids will have a much better chance of coming out of this stronger than when they went into it. It’s time to start being the example that we hope our children will one day be.
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