We Have to Say No to Normal
For the first time in almost two years, the house is stirring at 6am on a Monday.
Our high schoolers emerge from their dens, groggy, grumbling, and, if I’m lucky, they grunt in reply to my “good morning, loves”.
The first day of school rituals commence; breakfast followed by a reminder to take their vitamins with a slight tinge of urgency, backpacks full of school supplies including ever critical hand sanitizer, and pictures, two of them, one with masks off and one with masks on.
Then off they go, into a world I do not trust, into the hands of those I do.
This is normal now.
The Reality of Educators
It’s difficult to remember all the nuances of school we took for granted year after year. Time has been scrambled. We’ve lost the safety of our memories, the anxiety of now seeping into the comfort of then. However, there’s one truth we’re all still relying on.
The infallibility of educators.
When we were students, our teachers only existed at school. They weren’t real. There was something inherently wrong about spotting a teacher outside, in a grocery store, at a restaurant. Was that allowed? Why do they need food? That doesn’t make any sense.
The most telling sign that they weren’t really human? We could always count on them. Our teachers filled the gaps. They understood us in a way our parents couldn’t. They were fearless in the face of teenage angst. They believed in us, always sure we could be just a little bit better than the day before.
On good days, we thanked them with apples. But most of the time, we thanked them by running out the door as fast as we could.
The myth continues. Our educators are untouched by the events of the outside world. Nothing phases them or rather it shouldn’t. They must, in all circumstances, carry on.
And boy, have you all carried on.
The Reality for Educators
I know I’m preaching to the choir here. Nobody knows more than you do what your experience has been since the COVID-19 pandemic started. As the new school year begins, it’s surreal that we’re pressing forward as if everything is ok, as if last year didn’t happen.
That’s the trick, right? Educators only exist in school buildings. You come alive when school is in session and hibernate during the summer. Everything is totally fine in your world so if you could just continue doing what you always do, plus solve all the problems us outsiders are having right now, that would be great, thanks, sorry my kid is annoying.
We owe our educators so much more than this. If you’re (understandably) feeling overwhelmed, hopeless, tired, angry, cynical, burnt out, and/or afraid, the days ahead can only seem heavier. We’re still navigating new territory and the conditions are constantly changing.
I’m not in a position to tell you everything will be alright or dispense any advice or ideas about how to cope with the upcoming school year. What does that even look like?
- Find time for yourself - when you’re not grading papers or making lesson plans or contacting parents or making sure every student is following the rules or comforting a child or picking up more supplies or managing schedules or disinfecting your classroom, et.al
- Ask for help - but don’t complain when there isn’t room in the budget or volunteers don’t show up or the help you’re given is a convoluted plan for you to adhere to that tests the limits of both time and space
- Remember what inspired you - and how none of that exists anymore
Yeah. Probably not what you’re looking for, right?
What’s Really Happening Here?
The disconnect between what educators experience and the monumental expectations placed on them is nothing new, but it’s been laid bare since the pandemic began. What we’re accepting as normal is actually anything but.
Despite challenges continually being lobbed in your direction, you’ve somehow managed to maintain an environment, be it in person or online, that is conducive to learning and engagement.
I remain agog over what I witnessed during the 2020 school year, and the work accomplished by my children’s teachers, friends who are teachers, the teacher’s of my friend’s children, school staff across the board, and one publicized story after another about educators’ heroics.
- A 9th grade English teacher whose primary concern was the safety of his students and his ability to connect and build genuine relationships with them, putting in the extra hours to make it happen.
- A 2nd grade teacher whose voice never waivered while managing 20+ 7 year olds online, aiding them with patience never before witnessed by man.
- A 6th grade Art teacher who made collaborative creativity work amongst students at every skill level despite not being in the same room.
- A Middle School counselor who made the time to check in on students who struggled with depression, giving them an anchor when the world was unsteady.
That’s not even the tip of the iceberg. That’s the world’s tiniest snowflake resting at the peak.
Don’t Go Back to Normal
Everyone working within the education system deserves so much more than the status quo.
Educators are infallible. They shouldn’t have to be. Teachers and staff work with whatever they have, however they can, and they’ve been given too little for too long.
Arriving on the other side of the pandemic will be a relief. But as we navigate our way in that direction, we must take stock of what our teachers need, truly need, from all of us.
Administrators - Lead the charge and protect the time of your staff by ensuring prep periods and cutting down on meetings. Collaborate and communicate frequently. Make sure they never doubt that you’re advocating for them. Give them the tools they need to thrive and that makes their jobs easier.
Parents - Get involved! Pay attention! Ask not what your child’s teacher can do for you. You’re on the same team. Donate time and/or money. Be an active part of your child’s education. Our kids are learning around the clock, whether we like it or not. Create worthwhile lessons.
Community - VOTE.
Brand New School Year
The first day of school is all about fresh starts and becoming better than we were the year before. Let’s turn our current situation into the reset our educators deserve. So, sharpen your pencils, kids. We’ve got a test to pass.