My kids were supposed to start school August 6. Then, the start date got moved to August 12. And postponed yet again to August 31. They finally started, but a short time later was the Labor Day holiday. And now, this week, we’ve missed two days due to Hurricane Sally. The school situation is driving me insane as a parent of two children. I got to thinking, though, if I’m losing my mind over my measly two children, how in the hell are teachers, who are responsible for upwards of twenty kids, doing this? As a former teacher, I cannot imagine. So, I asked. It was evident in nearly every response that these teachers are grieving. Their responses make my heart ache. I share them with you so that you might gain insight and be reminded to treat them gently. Teachers reading this, I hear you, and your colleagues are hurting, too.
I miss my babies.
One kindergarten teacher, despite logically understanding that it’s time to move forward with the start of a new school year, admits that she still doesn’t have closure from last year’s abrupt school shutdown. She wishes she could have hugged her sweethearts and given them a proper sendoff to big school.
I miss having a break.
Another educator explained all she’d done to reinvent her lessons to be usable for virtual learners on Google Classroom only to be told that her school was switching to another platform. For 3 days, she worked from dawn to midnight. She longs for the time she used to have to spend with her family and to take care of herself.
I miss being the expert.
A former colleague with over twenty years of classroom experience remarked how proud and excited she was to have put together the perfect lesson. If you’re a teacher, you know how amazing it feels to have something that you just know is going to wow your children. That’s the day you hope your principal is going to pop in for an unannounced observation, am I right? But, when it was her time to shine, she discovered that her virtual learners could not access the lesson in that format. She instantly felt defeated and longed to feel confident again rather than like, as she said, “a floundering first-year teacher.”
I miss feeling prepared.
Another teacher explained that after 4 years of being in the classroom, he finally felt like he had honed his craft. He was looking forward to making minimal adjustments as he’d come to master his work. Instead, he had to adjust his expectations as he felt himself pulled between virtual and in-person learners. He missed feeling ready and able to engage his class.
I miss feeling capable.
One teacher, who actually taught me, said that she had finally reached a point in over 30 years of teaching where she was in over her head. She wasn’t necessarily looking for things to be easy; as a seasoned veteran of the profession, she’s seen and done some crazy things. But this year was different. She retired because no longer felt competent.
I miss the noise.
Perhaps the most startling aspect I heard about was how quiet the kids are. My friend teaches middle school and said of both her virtual and in-person learners, “You can tell they’re uncomfortable and that this isn’t what they envisioned. They’re not talking as they enter my classroom.” She longs for “typical kid discussions and asking whose team won over the weekend.”
We think of our teachers as heroes and talk about how, if they make a difference in just one kid’s life, then what they endure in the trenches is worth it. We say things like, “You’re teachers. You know how to be adaptable” and “If you taught after Katrina, you can handle this.” Sure, I understand those sentiments, and I know they mean well. But y’all, we have to hold space for these teachers and give them a minute to mourn. We cannot ask them to simply accept this “new normal” and move forward. These men and women are caring for our children when we aren’t there, often leaving their own behind. They are part of our village, and they need us to be patient, show grace, and act with empathy.