Remember last year, when we ask you to give teachers grace?
Well, I’m here to remind you that we still need it this year, even more so than last year.
Last year, everyone knew we were teaching in “unprecedented times.” Most people understood that we were doing the best we could despite facing constant change, illness, quarantine, and even loss. We battled the beast that was virtual learning and fought to connect with unmotivated students through computer screens. We cleaned, and reminded students about masks, and cleaned some more.
Despite all of this grace and understanding, when students started failing at the end of the year, the teachers who had been praised as heroes were suddenly blamed for not doing enough.
As we closed out the end of last school year, we heard the phrase “learning loss” echoed over and over again. We knew that many, many students would be enrolled in summer school and others would have to repeat the grade. We knew that this year’s schedules couldn’t be finalized until administrators could determine what credits students were able to recover and just how many students were going to remain fully virtual.
But with the vaccine finally available, we thought (hoped) that this year would be a little closer to normal. We hoped to go back to smiling faces and group projects. We hoped to get back to field trips and pep rallies. We hoped to get back to computers as educational resources, not the sole source of education. Then, as the school year approached, the number of cases climbed, summer camps started shutting down, and the number of available hospitable beds dropped to zero, most notably in the children’s hospitals.
And just days before schools reopened, the Governor issued a state-wide mask mandate, prompting a deluge of mixed emotions:
I’ve seen frightened parents desperately trying to decide whether or not to pull their kids from schools and extracurricular activities. I’ve seen those same parents grow angry when they discovered that the deadline for enrolling their children in virtual school had passed and the school systems were unwilling to reopen enrollment, but the virtual schools cannot accommodate a sudden influx in enrollment. I’ve seen teachers who had planned to return this year suddenly change their minds out of fear for their health and safety. I’ve seen other parents protest mask mandates at school board meetings despite the fact that many of their children are too young to be vaccinated. I’ve seen blatant disregard for the mask mandates, and I’ve heard horror stories of people being bullied for choosing to wear a mask or for not being vaccinated.
And just as we settled in this year, just as we started to think we might be able to get through another pandemic school year, Ida came barrelling through South Louisiana. Schools were out for weeks, and as they reopen, we have to start all over again. We will be expected to be aware of the challenges and losses our students have experienced as a result of Ida, but teachers will also be expected to give 100% every day, despite dealing with their own challenges and losses.
Teachers find themselves again facing a semester of whats and hows, and many of those answers are even less clear this year than they were last year. And we will often face the brunt of these heated emotions. So please remember that:
We were looking forward to a more normal year, but now we have to spend 8+ hours a day teaching through a mask.
We were looking forward to the return of group work, stations, and pen and paper assignments, but now we will have to continue to maintain social distancing and must be prepared to shift all learning to the virtual classroom at a moment’s notice.
We were looking forward to a classroom of faces smiling back at us, but we are faced again with trying to decipher levels of comprehension or confusion when our students’ facial expressions are covered by masks.
We will make every effort to give our students the best education we can, but we will brace ourselves for the criticism that we are once again not doing enough.
We will do our best to be our best for your children, but many of us are dealing with displacement, damage, or loss, and just as your children can’t always leave that at home, we can’t either.
We will make every effort to present fun and engaging lessons and to provide them with timely feedback, but often, when our colleagues are out, it falls on us to fill in, so we lose what little time we have to plan, grade, and reflect.
We aren’t happy about the extended days and lost vacations days. We need that time to recharge.
And we will once again make every effort to be a force of compassion and consistency for a generation growing up in the midst of a pandemic and facing constant upheaval, despite how very tired and overwhelmed we feel ourselves.
So I ask you again to remember to give us grace as we navigate another unprecedented school year. I promise that we are doing everything that we can to help your children succeed, but we are not machines.
And if you really want to show your support, take a minute to send your child’s teacher a quick little note of thanks. We know that positive notes home work wonders to motivate students, but they’re also great at giving teachers the boost they need to get through a challenging time.