Now that the 2019-2020 school year is officially done (as in, "stick a fork in me"), it's time to start reflecting. And here's the thing: Before we left the classroom in March, before the Covid-19 pandemic hit, we really weren't okay.
I've been a teacher since 2001. Aside from the one year I took for maternity leave when I had my son(and the 4 months maternity I took for my daughter), I have been IN IT. I've taught 6th grade, special education, kindergarten and third grade. I deeply care about teaching and growing in my professional skills. I value education and work hard. And....I was utterly drowning.
26 students. Every subject. Differentiating instruction and small groups to plan. One prep a day that could be eaten by a teacher arriving late to pick up her students, a phone call to return, a grade level meeting, a broken photocopy machine (more often than not). Lunch was often wolfed down in the first 10-15 minutes, then back to trying to get the afternoon planned. Bus duty, meetings, tutoring. Then having to dash out of work to get home to take my children to soccer, or acting class, or religion. Homework for them, dinner for everyone, showers, bedtime. Exhaustion. What time was there to look at one of the 26 students' work? What time was there to reflect on the day's teaching to make more thoughtful choices for the next day?
There was none. It was go, go, go and do the best you can. And don't complain that you don't have time to get the work done because, hey- summers off, right? You get to leave at 3:15 each day. The one time I told an administrator I was getting up in the middle of the night to do work, it was kind of like "Yeah- I am up early too."
We are expecting our teachers to be able to thoughtfully and skillfully teach reading, writing, math, science, social studies, technology skills, and character education. We are expecting them to build relationships and deeply know 26 or more students at a time. We are expecting them to to plan and teach multiple small groups a day. We are expecting them to do this with very little planning time.
I know every job has its challenges, but the thing about teaching is the time I am at work I am with children or doing other professional duties almost the entire time. The planning it takes to be prepared for my teaching day is all done on my own time. The grading, the reflecting- it is all done after hours. This was hard when I was a single teacher in my 20's but the truth is it is impossible as a mom to two children in my 40's. I simply don't have the hours to give unless I stop sleeping.
Can we talk about this? Can we talk about the impossible expectations put on teachers? Can we talk about why so many have left the profession to become life coaches who want to help teachers deal with burnout? While we are envisioning a new and better system of education, can we consider that we are expecting the impossible from our teachers and their mental/emotional health is suffering? Every teacher I know (who is tenured and allowed to admit it) has sacrificed physical health, emotional health, family time and more trying to keep up with ever-changing, yet always impossible expectations.
Can we get our teachers off the hamster wheel?
Kathleen Neagle Sokolowski