If you recall, last spring the internet was FULL of memes about how teachers should be paid more, how parents were learning to appreciate what teachers actually do all day, and how teachers needed to be on the list as essential workers.
By the end of the school year, that appreciation had started to drift off as we all became more and more stir-crazy at home. Especially with the prospect of being stuck at home all summer. And when the 2020-2021 school year rolled around, and school systems across the country were trying to navigate the best plans for COVID-safety, that enthusiasm for teachers was nearly gone. Instead of memes about teachers being great, there were memes about how lazy we are. Emails and social media feeds were flooded with frustrated parents putting the blame on teachers for us not going back in building full time and making them have to figure out what to do with their children each day in order to make sure they were accounted for.
It is amazing to me that so much blame is placed on teachers. I laugh every time I hang up with a parent that thinks I have any control over when we would be returning to the building, why the class times weren’t the same as last year, and why the city decided to do a 4×4 schedule for middle and high school.
I want to let those parents know that I have as much influence on those decisions as I did when I was in the Navy and pulling into the same port for the third time in four months.
I promise you, teachers may have the ability to fill out surveys and let the city administration know what we would like to see, but in the end it is up to higher powers than me to make the decisions.
There was a week this fall where we were finally going into the building for the first time all year. Two days a week for 7th grade, two days a week for 8th grade. We started on a Thursday with 8th graders. The majority of students and teachers I knew were looking forward to the little bit of normalcy that would come with being back in the building. We had two very excited, productive, days in the school and said good-bye to the kiddos on Friday afternoon. The next Monday was a typical teacher work day full of digital meetings. Mid-day I had a parent call me upset that they were just hearing about being pulled back out of school for the foreseeable future due to numbers going up yet. They wanted to know why I had not informed the students of this change on Friday before we left. Why I didn’t send out that information with the weekly progress reports. The answer was simple…I didn’t know! Her call was the first I had heard about the news. Our principal hadn’t even let us know yet!
The students can be just as frustrating as the parents during all of this. I know teaching middle school takes a certain kind of crazy that not everyone has. I love this age level for some reason. But this year, whew. They are a challenge! I’m so shocked at how many students can navigate Fortnite and Minecraft and TikTok and every other game and app with ease, yet months into the school year still tell me they don’t know how to sign into Zoom or how to access the same digital classroom format we were using prior to COVID. I swear some days trying to get a student to interact with me on the digital class was like an old Verizon commercial… ”Can you hear me now?”
But it hasn’t all been bad. I know it is easy to get caught up complaining about the frustrating aspects of the school year. The ones I listed are hardly the only ones that have been encountered as the country tried to figure out how to support the students most in need with limited resources and diminishing budgets. But there have been good things to come out of this chaos.
We have seen in the past year how little the standardized testing and teaching methods are useful. Not to say students don’t need to be held to some sort of academic standard, but it has become very apparent that teaching content and teaching to the needs of the students is far more important than teaching to a test.
We have seen that some students need a digital world to succeed. For students that have a hard time in a traditional school because of bullying, health issues, or learning differences, having a curriculum that adapts to the needs of students at home has been a Godsend. They are still able to have access to schooling in a way that is helpful to them and I don’t see that going away. I know my state is already discussing how to maintain a virtual public school model for the students that thrive that way. It’s closing gaps that we may not have even seen before.
We have seen teachers get very creative. Teachers are already some innovative employees. Always trying to do as much as possible to reach their students with limited resources and tiny budgets. Now more than ever, teachers are going out of their way to engage students, especially digital students, in lessons that will stick. I have seen so many teachers on social media going above and beyond to make sure their lessons are adaptable for all and useable for students when technology inevitably fails during an important teaching moment.
We have seen the need for social and emotional connections be addressed at the school level. While not all schools are placing an emphasis on that yet, many are and it is making big changes in the students they work with. The need for personal connections with students is so important when we aren’t able to lay eyes on them every day the way we are used to. For me, this meant doing some drive-by visits with my dog to students that I knew were struggling. I couldn’t visit every student, and not every student wanted me to do that. But the ones I could reach, they make it quite clear that those visits meant more to their engagement in school than anything else they were getting.
And while the frustrated families of the world may be placing blame on teachers still, I do believe that it has allowed them to see just how vital schools have become and how valuable teachers are. Yes, there will always be people who think teachers don’t do enough and who forget that in order to get paid summers off we actually are just stretching our 10 month paychecks into 12. But I truly believe that this year has allowed people to rethink the value of educators and to me, that is a huge benefit to the chaos we have dealt with.