I get it. Nobody is okay. Everybody is working from home with kids underfoot. Everyone is trying to figure out why a single multiplication problem takes up an entire page in Common Core math and why suddenly telling your child to “carry the one” in an addition problem meets the gasps formerly reserved for the F word. We’re worried about our kids’ social and academic development, we’re worried about whether we’ll keep our jobs, we’re worried about whether we’ll get sick, and we’re worried what will happen if we do. But teachers are extra not okay right now, for a variety of reasons.
Some of us are teaching in person, which comes with fears for the health and safety of our families.
Yes, all essential workers face those fears. Yes, doctors and nurses and the bagger at my local Kroger are heroes for continuing to keep the country running in the face of a pandemic. But their situation is different from teachers. For one thing, they’re not shut in a room with thirty other people for hours at a time. Thirty people who are known for hands in their mouths, fingers up their noses, and not washing hands after they go to the bathroom.
Not to mention the fact that schools previously known for throwing spaghetti-strap wearing girls out of class have inexplicably decided that they “can’t force kids” to wear masks. These teachers have to return to work knowing minimal precautions will be taken to ensure their safety. They’re forced to cut off contact with family or at-risk friends, which often leaves them in a bad situation regarding care for their own children.
Other teachers are instructing virtually, which comes with its own set of issues.
“Google Classroom, honey. Not IXL. Close out of IXL. Can you share your screen? Okay, that’s still IXL. I can’t hear your question if you don’t unmute. The microphone at the bottom of your screen, remember? Okay, push that. Uh oh, now you’re frozen.” I hear this conversation repeatedly in my elementary schooler’s virtual classroom. And sure, teachers are known for their endless patience and ability to problem-solve creatively. But our state just found out we’re not getting a waiver for standardized testing. Teachers’ jobs are on the line based on whether they can prepare students for a high-stakes standardized test when we can’t even get them to class half the time.
Worse than that is the emotional toll of virtual instruction. A fifth grade teacher at my school described watching a student administer her baby brother’s albuterol breathing treatment during class. Another teacher opens class every day and asks her students what they’ve had to eat, because some of them don’t have food. We watch our students sit at home—often alone or while caring for multiple siblings—and try to deal with the frustrations of difficult schoolwork, internet lag, and distractions with no adult support. And there’s nothing we can do about it.
Then there are the teachers facing some unholy hybrid of online and in-person learning.
They get all the risks of face to face AND the crushing sense of failure that accompanies online instruction. They are tasked with working two full-time jobs simultaneously, usually without the resources or equipment they need for either one. They’re supposed to give 100% of their attention to two completely different populations, 100% of the time.
And no matter what kind of teaching we’re doing, one thing is constant. Somebody is always there to tell us we’re doing it wrong.
Maybe it’s the people who think virtual instruction is basically a “paid vacation” for teachers. Or the ones who complain about the workload on social media but never actually tell the teacher that their child is struggling. Or the many, many armchair quarterbacks who know exactly how teachers should be managing this situation, if only they were smarter or more dedicated.
Look: we’re teachers. We’ll manage. Managing ridiculous situations with absurd expectations and a complete lack of resources is what we do. But check in on your teacher friends. Because all this “managing” is taking a toll, and teachers are not okay.
How are you feeling? As teachers are you not okay? Share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE Facebook Group.
Do you think it is okay to ask a teacher if they’re doing well? If so could you write an email example to help me out?
Great idea, Hannah. We’ll work on it.