A Glimpse of the Front Lines of the First Wave of a Journey to the Barest Hint of Normalcy
A recent plea on social media the other day caught my eye. A teacher was pouring her heart out. Exhausted and stressed, she admittedly was in tears after a trying week of never-ending days, trying to please everybody, maintain a safe environment, teach kids and catch up online. My heart went out to her as I thought of all the things an already overtasked job now entails. Her work day begins a little after 7:00 A.M. and physically ends whenever she shuts her computer off in the evening and ignores her phone. Mentally and emotionally, it never ends. This teacher, like so many others right now, is in a no win situation and it is taking an emotional toll.
I am lucky enough to live in a fairly innovative education area. We have a modified year-round calendar and start school here in late July. After a month, the dedicated teachers here are already overwhelmed with constant change, worry about their kids, teaching online and in person, reminding kids to distance and wear masks and taking criticism from everywhere.
Just a few of their stressors:
Kids have been out of school and are behind. Parents, well-meaning but not versed in the rigor needed to maintain their child’s academic level finally gave in to the kids. Some were incapable, and others let the child set the pace. Kids are off schedule and out of the rhythm of learning more than ever.
No matter what the grade level, kids were socially deprived and keeping them distanced and in masks is not easy. They are tired of it. Some kids have been isolated since March. Many have missed the hugs and play of their friends. They are hungry for in-person play and interaction with their peers and the adult community of educators.
The space and everything in it is different. Just the physical space, how to travel in hallways, playground rules, bathroom rules, cleaning, checking temps, wearing a mask yourself. One of the most difficult is not being able to see a full face because of the mask, a face that reflects everything; learning, confusion, stress, illness, and joy is difficult if you are in a service role.
Teachers are being pushed to up the achievement. How? They have to revisit the year before. Remember this is the longest schools have been closed, ever. Students are returning with varying degrees of academic achievement from their time at home. Five months.
Kids who are quarantined miss school. Teachers in their building quarantined or ill miss school. An online presence as well as an in-person one must be maintained for those who cannot be there.
Teachers are professionals and they worry that they aren’t giving kids what they need, pleasing those above them on many different levels, and on top of that they have their own families to worry about.
Unrelenting governing bodies that are removed from kids are putting on the pressure. Teachers here are at the breaking point. Local, state and national officials have never been in this role and are not seeing the toll it is taking on educators.
Teaching with technology is unfamiliar and difficult and it is coupled with maintaining a physical classroom presence. Teachers are expected to troubleshoot technology for students and parents as well.
I love educators. They have a heart for kids and a calling to make a difference. I can only give them my advice from afar.
- Take the kids and yourself outside for walks a couple of times a day. The air will clear your head and theirs.
- Spend some fun time with the youth and remember what you are most to them is a role model and what they need is normalcy. They won't remember what you taught but they will remember that you cared.
- Turn off the technology when you get home. Let it be until the next workday or end of the weekend. Yes, you can.
- Refresh yourself with useful professional development when you can. It can be a morale and professional boost to you.
- Take time to talk with others about your stresses. Vent. Keep your sense of humor.
- Make sure those in authority know what you and your peers are going through. Write about it, talk about it. Discuss it with the teachers' union. You are needed right now, and your voice should be heard.
- Understand that while you are doing your best this may be a lost year academically. Things will get back to normal and you are on the front lines of the first wave on the journey to that normalcy.
- Stay safe. Take care of your own personal needs. If you don't, you will not be there to take care of the many who depend on you.
Remember you and your fellow educators are the heroes right now. You are in a profession that is respected now more than ever. Take a deep breath and hold your head up. You've got this.
About the author
Dr. Christy Martin recently retired with 30 plus years of experience as an educator in K-12 and higher education and another 6 years in social service for foster youth. She considers advocating for at-risk youth a calling. Since retiring in February, she has returned to her love of writing, currently practicing that craft by writing about child welfare and school issues. She lives in East Tennessee, 15 miles from the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.