I still love teaching. Helping kids find their way in something they're trying to learn, getting to know the future generations as people . . . these are deep joys. Still. After 26 years of classroom life. That's saying something.
But here, four days before my first teacher workday of the new 2021-2022 school year, I am absolutely not ready to go back.
Teaching is always exhausting. Getting through to kids requires huge emotional investment, and the system is set up to undercut teachers at every step of the way: paying us so poorly that we struggle to make basic ends meet, trying to legislate things that should be professional decisions, piling on extra documentation requirements without providing time in the schedule to do the work, blaming us for every problem a child faces without giving us the corresponding credit when a child succeeds.
Luckily, 90% of the time, it's just me and kids in my classroom. Their parents, school administration, and politicians may try, but they cannot really intrude on that relationship . . . not at the level of spending they're willing to do anyway (spies, whether digital or in person, are expensive). They're simply not there when the rubber hits the road. The kids and I are on that journey alone.
Last year, teaching was a whole new kind of exhausting.
One thing I value about the work is the predictability. Kids, of course, are not predictable, but generally, my classes meet at the same time every day with the same people in them studying the same things. I know when I can go to the bathroom and if I'm going to get to eat lunch or not (yes, that is often an "if"). I need those parameters to work within.
Starting in March 2020, there was no predictability. I was sent home from school with directions to prepare for 3 or 4 weeks of asynchronous teaching and didn't start working in a classroom again for a year (and even then, it wasn't "normal" since I had to teach kids at home via zoom and kids in my room at the same time, with all new health precautions and the rules changed roughly every three days about what was and was not allowable).
And 2021-2022 promises more of the same.
I've been handed a set of parameters for 2021-2022. Who knows if these are the rules for three minutes, three months, or three years?
I'm glad, at least, that it appears I will no longer be asked to teach in two environments at the same time (online and in person). Just just looking at this list of restrictions depresses me.
I'm trying to trust that my immunization will keep me from becoming too sick (like hospitalized, life-threateningly sick), but I have little doubt that I or my child (starting high school this year) will catch it this year.
There are roughly 600 kids in my school building, 200 of whom do not qualify for immunization yet. There are roughly 1020 students in my kid's high school, all of whom are eligible for immunization. If county stats average out among children, 78% of them are immunized (Hurray! Last I heard, we only need 60-70% for herd immunity to help, if it's going to help with this).
Our district's year-round elementary school has already had several cases (I'm vague on numbers because there isn't very good transparency: the district is trying to ride that line between sharing information to allow people to protect themselves and avoiding causes panic). A colleague who just put her baby back in day care so she can return to work just found out that her baby (not old enough to be immunized) has caught it (thankfully, a mild case, so far).
I'll do the best I can, of course, to give my students a good experience within these limits, but it's challenging. Finding a spark of joy and enthusiasm is difficult. I already feel snowed under and I haven't started.
I took my summer as slowly as I could, trying to balance taking some rejuvenating opportunities (like seeing my family and attending author events) with self-care. But eleven weeks wasn't enough to find my balance and recharge. I can't even imagine how my colleagues who took on summer work must be feeling (luckily, my husband gets paid better than me, and funds my nasty teaching habit, letting me stay unemployed during summer hiatus).
So, to all the teachers out there, take care of yourselves. Push back when the world pushes too far--you know they'll eat us alive if we let them. Keep working on the balance between dedication and burnout.
To all the kids and families of school children, remember that teachers are people, and when you feel you need to advocate for your children, do so with kindness and a heart to help, not blame.
For everyone else, pray for us, if you're people who pray. Vote for us and policies that support us, if you're people who vote. Remember that these kids will take care of you in your old age--don't you want them to grow up whole, hale, and educated?