This is my 24th year of elementary classroom teaching. Before that, I did quite a bit of elementary substitute teaching (I worked on a cruise ship after college, before starting my teaching career, and subbing was a great option between contracts). I won’t say the job got easy after two decades, but it definitely got easier.
It’s not easy or easier or anything in that arena this year. Two years ago was the hardest year of my teaching career. Then last year was harder. And this year is even harder.
We can only bend so far before we break.
I have lots of thoughts on why that is and I’ll get to those in a moment. First though, people need to understand that this isn’t sustainable. I’m watching career teachers leave. Not plan to leave, but leave right now, mid year. Some people were eligible for retirement but had planned to do the whole year and now aren’t, others are breaking contract and getting out. I am genuinely concerned that the choices we are making now are going to negatively impact our public (and likely private too) schools for many years to come. I keep saying that I’m glad my own children are almost out of K-12 (the oldest is out, the youngest is in 9th grade).
Now, as to why this year is so hard.
- We’re all heading into this year tired: teachers, administrators, kids, families. We’ve all adapted and bent and accommodated for the past 18 months. That has exhausted us already.
- Many kids are dealing with trauma. There are many different reasons for it and it impacts kids differently, but many, many kids are coping with it and are likely to be doing so for a while.
- Many adults are dealing with trauma. See #2.
- Families are now used to, and likely expecting, more and detailed communication and windows into our classrooms. After virtual schooling, where many families were in our classrooms with our students, that is now what some families want. They want to know what we’re teaching, how we’re teaching it, etc.
- The ‘learning loss’ narrative has everyone on edge. The feeling of needing to make up for lost time is a heavy weight on teachers and the fear that kids won’t make it up is equally heavy on families.
We (educators) are being told some reasonable but conflicting things:
- Focus on social and emotional learning with kids. They need trauma-informed classrooms.
- Catch kids up. They’re behind. Support them and push them forward. Collect data to show their progress.
- Take care of your self.
None of that seems unreasonable. But in the current reality, that is simply not possible. We can’t do all of those things. Just one of those is hard right now. Three is absurd.
And all of this is happening while we are still living in a pandemic. We are all at school masked (and thank goodness for that), a constant reminder of the trauma of the past 18 months.
None of us in education is doing okay. We’re all doing all we can. But all we can is becoming less and less every day.