I have been teaching for 15 years. I’ve learned to expect little annoyances as a teacher: no significant raises, and the little raises we receive going directly to the insurance increase; spending my own money every year for things a district should provide such as paper towels and soap in a science lab; having to explain that teachers do not in fact get 2 months of paid vacation; and the fact that some people just assume teachers are incompetent. I mean, those that can-do, and those that can’t-teach, right?
Those things bothered me less and less the more and more I fell in love with my craft. Don’t let anyone tell you that teaching is not a craft. How else could you explain one little woman who is 5’3 holding a class of 32 teenagers in thrall with an explanation about the experiments of Stanley Milgram and relate it to how ethics are important? For any teacher worthy of their craft, it is the students that mean the most. We love talking to them, laughing with them, seeing their ah-ha moments, being there when they need to get something off their chest, advising them for future career choices, and watching them go on to be productive members of society.
COVID and quarantine stopped that special time for us in March 2020.
March 16, 2020, I wish I would have known that it was going to be the last day I saw students in my class. I was playing the radio and ‘Lean on Me’ came on. The kids were doing an assignment, but all started signing while they worked. I remember thinking to myself how much I loved them, and how precious that moment was to me. The next few days were a whirlwind, making the switch to online. It wasn’t until I caught my breath a full 3 weeks into quarantine that everything hit me. I sat outside on my front porch one day and cried for several hours. The neighbors probably thought I was nuts. All the things I had planned were over and never to be, and worst of all, I didn’t get to tell them goodbye in person.
Then something totally unexpected happened: Teachers everywhere were being hailed as heroes. Many people were reaching out, wanting to ‘adopt’ teachers for appreciation week, sharing how important teachers were to children, and how no one could do as good a job of instructing children as their current teacher. It probably shouldn’t have been, but it was amazing to me how quickly society went from ‘teachers are heroes’ in March to ‘get back to work you lazy so and so or I want my property taxes back’ in July. I think it was the emotional equivalent of whiplash.
We started back hybrid the second week of August during a spike in COVID cases in Texas. We started with no plan in place, no consistent air conditioning or phones which were in the midst of an overhaul, a new grade book program that hadn’t been debugged, and 3 days to plan. Hybrid teaching involves teaching as usual with the added bonus of also teaching online and adjusting each and every thing you do in class to satisfy the requirements of students who are working remotely. As a high school science teacher, that means that I have to make demo videos of every lab, construct and post audio recordings of what we are doing in class, and still meet everyone’s needs including special education and 504 students. This is on top of lesson planning, grading, meetings, and trying to live my own life. I worked about 72 hours the first week. On that Friday, I broke down and cried at my desk after school because I couldn’t get the new grade book program to scroll. Like snot bubble, runny mascara, barely able to catch your breath crying.
And I kept thinking to myself, ‘This is not sustainable’.
Before you ask, let me tell you; I am not a slacker. No one I work with is a slacker. This is hard; it’s the hardest thing I have ever done in my life related to a job. It’s the equivalent of working 2 full time jobs at the same time with no extra time in a day, no assistance, no compensation, and little support. I used to plan 3-4 weeks in advance. Now, I’m doing well if I’m a day ahead, and to get that way, I have to work roughly 12 hours a day.
I asked my coworker the other day how she was as she sat with swollen eyes from crying the day before. ‘I used to love this job,’ she said. ‘Now, if it weren’t for that fact that I love my students, I would have walked out yesterday’. Our lunches consist of everyone in the department sighing, asking if anyone has heard any information about changes that occur daily, usually not to make our lives easier or offer a reprieve. We discuss how our online students, for the most part, aren’t doing any work despite our greatest attempts. It feels like we are just treading water. Every. Single. Day.
I walked in this past Friday after grading work for 5 hours the night before instead of spending time with my family. I saw that my room was 78 degrees because the AC was broken again and I sat down and cried. That’s the point that many teachers are at: the last nerve, the last straw, being broken by the smallest problem. At some point, it’s going to be a decision of what’s best for our mental health. Our Superintendent said we should all stop working at 5 pm. If that happened, nothing would get done and who would suffer? The students. That goes against the whole core reason for teaching.
How much longer can I go, working 60-70 hours a week? The jury is still out. Trust me; we want to be back at school with ALL our students. Teaching is not the same when you can’t make the connections that being together for a class period 5 days a week can bring about. Remember to show kindness the next time you meet a teacher. We are as broken right now as the educational system that asks us to be super human. We are here for your kids; please be here for us.