I am writing this blog post on the day before returning to school after just over a week off for December break. The time at home to relax, sleep, read, watch t.v., get some projects done, and spend time with family has been invaluable to me. It has really given me some time to come up for air and reflect on teaching in 2021. I hadn’t planned on writing this blog post, but the words keep bubbling up inside of me and I know that it is time to share my thoughts on teaching again.
I’ve lost the joy of teaching…
I have lost the joy of teaching. It’s not there – I just can’t seem to find the joy anymore. I thought I had found it again teaching in person for summer school after 9 very long, dark months of remote teaching. Those were the hardest months of my teaching career… or so I thought. I was just so happy to be back with real live children again.
But then the 2021 school year neared closer and decisions kept changing about social distancing and different protocols. The room had to be set up and set up again to handle the updated procedures. I knew that the first day of school would be chaotic with the main issue being snack and lunch procedures that hadn’t been done with the whole school, or myself, since I was remote all last year, ever before. Even when the first day of school arrived, I still didn’t understand what expectations/routines I was supposed to be teaching in 2021 and we just had to go with the flow. I taught it one way, and had to teach it differently the next day. Since then, we’ve had to revisit these expectations about 2 to 3 times a week.
In addition to protocols changing left and right with no real warning, the administration party line (across the country) is that everything is back to normal and we have to make up for lost time. I think we all thought teaching in 2021 would be a normal year, but teachers were very quickly disappointed to realize that it is definitely not a normal year. We are not only still in the midst of a pandemic that won’t seem to go away, but we also are trying to recover from the last two years of the pandemic. The curriculum and assessments are constantly pushing us ahead, when teachers know that the children in front of us are not ready for this kind of work. Whether it be stamina, emotional, behavioral, or academic, the children in front of us have more needs than ever before.
Teaching in 2021 is a constant battle
Teaching in 2021 is a constant battle for what we know is right for our students in front of us and what is being pushed down on us. New curriculums, new materials, new resources, new assessments, new procedures… now is not the time for new. Now is the time to really look at the students in front of us and adapt to meet their specific needs. Teachers have a very hard time adapting to meet the needs of students if they are given new curriculum and resources that they are unfamiliar with.
The students need a slower pace. Their stamina for a full school day just isn’t there right now. How can it be? They haven’t had a normal school day or school year for two years! Some haven’t ever experienced a “normal” school year. Yet, we can’t adjust to what we know is right for our students and their stamina because “time on learning” must be met.
This constant struggle to do what we know is right for our students and what we are told we have to do weighs heavy on our passions and our joy of teaching. This is not the way any of us want to teach. I hate the fact that I have to constantly redirect students for just getting up to talk to another student, but it is not safe to be standing next to each other closer than 3 ft. I hate the fact that I have to constantly interrupt my teaching to tell students to pull their masks up, when they can’t control that they slip down on their small faces. And I hate the fact that I can’t have my students work in partnerships of their choosing.
Teaching in 2021 is my “whack-a-mole” year
In addition to all these internal struggles I am having as an educator teaching in 2021, I am faced with an onslaught of difficult student behaviors. I am calling it my “whack-a-mole year”. As soon as I think I have a student figured out and can support their needs, another student pops up with behaviors or emotional or academic needs. We can’t even go a whole lesson where every student is doing what they are supposed to be doing.
I described it as if you stuck children in their homes and wouldn’t let them out for two years and then just released them on the teachers. Of course, that is basically what happened. For two years, even if they were at school, they were very socially distanced and were not given opportunities to just be kids and socialize with their peers. So of course we are seeing an increase in behaviors. It completely makes sense. They spent more time at home than ever before and parents were trying to juggle work and parenting and schooling all at the same time. Everyone was struggling.
I am not blaming anyone. It just is what it is. We were all in survival mode these past two years. We did what we had to do to get through the day. But now, teachers are left picking up the pieces. Even if the children were at school full time and had that structure and routine, teachers were given a lot more leeway to meet the needs of their students and slow way down. Because we were teaching in a pandemic… then… not now? Now is a “normal year” and we must make up for lost time… I swear if I hear that one more time….
It’s really not the academic gaps that concern teachers, although there are some. It’s the social and emotional gaps that are disrupting our teaching in 2021. We can’t get through lessons without being called away to deal with another behavior or emotional crisis. We can’t meet with students in small groups consistently because we have to constantly be supporting students emotionally or socially.
Teachers are morally injured
I recently heard the term moral injury as a better way to describe the burnout that the health care workers were feeling during this pandemic. I think it really relates to teaching in 2021. “There’s a critical difference, Dean says, between burnout and moral injury. Moral injury occurs when health care providers are “repeatedly expected, in the course of providing care, to make choices that transgress their long-standing, deeply held commitment to healing,” Dean says. The moral injury happens because they’re frustrated and can’t provide the care they trained for and promised to give” (www.webmd.com).
For two years I haven’t been the teacher I want to be. The teacher I know I can be. I can’t teach the way I know is best for the children in front of me. All of this is taking its toll on me. Add on top of that the increased behaviors and emotional needs, ever changing curriculum and assessment demands and safety protocols, and I have no joy left of teaching. And I have to just repeat to myself over and over again that it won’t be like this forever. I know what teaching can be.
There isn’t a single teacher I know that hasn’t questioned whether this career is for them this year. I know many teachers who have left teaching all together, or at least for now. There is a national shortage of not just teachers, but all the staff that make schools run effectively day after day.
Another curve ball…
And as I am writing this there is another curve ball thrown at us – omicron. I feel like I am preparing to walk into battle without any armor. I feel so certain that I will get Covid in January, despite taking pretty much every precaution possible the last two years. The San Francisco Chronicle reported that “If you walk into a room with 25 or 30 people, you can be about 95% sure that someone in there has COVID,” Dr. Robert Wachter, chief of medicine at UCSF, said.” Well… that pretty much describes a classroom. So you can see why getting COVID feels imminent.
I am vaccinated and boosted, so I can be pretty positive it won’t hospitalize me or kill me. However, will I give it to someone else? Will my unvaccinated students catch it? Will I even be able to get a test to see if I have COVID? What happens when I am out for 10 days- or is it 5 now? Do I have to teach from home? Do I have to write sub plans for that many days? What happens when there are no adults left to care for the children? Will they cancel school? Will we go remote again? Do we have to make up these days over vacations or at the end of the year? Will I have what I need to teach effectively at home at a moment’s notice? The questions keep coming and no one has answers.
So… what can we do for the second half of the school year?
I have no answers right now. I’m sorry. We just have to take it day by day and to get through the year. Let’s hope that something changes and soon. Because I know I can’t keep doing this and I know I am not alone. If you are new to teaching in 2021 or last year, please know that it doesn’t have to be like this. It will get better, and I give you so much credit for entering the profession at this time.
Not a teacher, but you feel compelled to do something?
Volunteer at your local school. We need help. Sub. Help with lunch monitoring. Just reach out and ask what you can do.
Advocate for funding for safety protocols like testing, as well as increasing the counselors and social workers in schools. Counselors and social workers are really bearing the weight of all the increased social and emotional needs in children. They are stretched way too thin. We need more counselors in our schools and in our communities to support children outside of school too. I have heard from families that they are on waitlists for counseling support for their children and can’t find a therapist.
Watch out for the red herring fights at school committee meetings on mask mandates and critical race theory. These fights only polarize our already divided communities. They take away from the day to day issues our schools are facing right now.
If you haven’t been in the classroom in the past two years – take a seat. Listen to the teachers and staff who are actively dealing with the issues in the classrooms. Ask how you can support them. Believe teachers want the best for their students and are not just being lazy (oh I’ve heard way worse than being lazy these past two years). Appreciate educators who are literally giving their all just to get through the day.
And please, I am begging you, if your child is sick, even ever so slightly, please do not send them to school. Think about how it can affect the entire school community.
If this resonates with you, please share it with a friend. Let’s help the world see what teachers are dealing with when teaching in 2021. Leave a comment and let me know your thoughts and feelings on teaching in 2021.