The Hope of a New School Year

If you’re a teacher or you know someone who teaches, you know that Covid has multiplied the daily challenges for educators across the globe. In 2020, during our complete shutdown, we experienced a difficult 4th quarter. During this time, we tried to provide classes over Zoom, maintain rapport with our students, and create educational opportunities via the internet. We teachers had not yet lived through a global pandemic, so we were ding the best we could to service our students and keep our own families afloat. Then in the fall of 2020, at least in the elementary school I teach in, we were back at school with very rigid (but in my opinion, important) Covid safety guidelines. We masked; we spaced out; we ate lunch in our classrooms. And though it was hard, we were happy to be back and in person with kids.

Still, teaching in a mask is tough. Kids can’t see your facial expressions, and you can’t project your voice. Keeping kids socially distanced is nearly impossible. For me, a specialist teacher who teaches both library and computer classes, I had to become mobile. I packed my materials (and library books) on a cart, and I pushed into classrooms to teach. My schedule was grueling, as even my principal noted when she subbed a day for me. Homeroom teachers had to move to another room for lesson planning since specials were in their classrooms. Students ate lunch in their classrooms, again booting teachers out of their sacred space, and teachers had to space out during lunch or eat alone. Yes, the 20-21 school year was challenging, yet we were grateful to be back in the building with our students.

Fast forward to the 21-22 school year.  Covid regulations loosened.  Specialists could be back in their classrooms.  Mid-year, masks became optional in my school district, and school was a semblance of normal…finally. However, talk to any teacher in any district, and he or she would say that last year was the toughest year of teaching ever.  This was my experience, yet I don’t really know why.  I suspect, however, that because teachers had been isolated from one another due to workloads and spacing guidelines, we temporarily lost our ability to work together.  We forgot the power of collaboration.

All last year, I felt a plunge in teacher morale, myself included.  Teachers were tired.  As we were working hard to serve our students, some parents decided that we were “indoctrinating” their children and then caused drama via social media and at board meetings.  (Note:  If I were going to indoctrinate my students, the lesson would be to listen quietly and sit still — not any kind of political ideal.)  In the midst of  this challenging period in teaching, many of our Kansas state legislators turned against teachers as well.  Policies were introduced that would add more work to teachers’ already enormous loads or make the daily routine of teaching more laborious.  21-22 felt overwhelming, deflating, and almost untenable.  As the year ended, many teachers retired earlier than planned, and many teachers left the profession altogether.  

I love teaching — even on the hardest days. After all, I have wanted to be a teacher since I was a 4th grader at Robinson Elementary. During the 21-22 school year, I updated my resume and LinkedIn profile and looked for jobs outside of education. I also considered switching positions, schools, and even districts. But then I decided to stay put, and today I’m completely at peace with this decision. Here are four reasons why.

  1. To start with, I’ve always felt grateful to be at my current school.   I pull into town each morning, cross the railroad tracks, cruise through the small downtown area, and feel at home.  Most days, I see students walking to school.  So I roll down my window and say good morning.  I walk into the building and am greeted by staff members I’ve worked with for ages now. If I stop by the community library on my way home, I usually run into some former students.  My school has always felt like a home away from home – even during the challenging Covid years.
  1. I have spent sixteen years building relationships with students and parents.  My book shelver has worked with me for thirteen years now — since her youngest boy was in kindergarten.  I have former students who stop in to see me.  In fact, I have former students who offer to help me with my end of the year inventory and other special projects.  It’s difficult to leave a school where I have such strong connections.
  1. This year I am hopeful that things will improve in my building and in my district.  We have a new district superintendent.  I was lucky to participate in the interview process, and I feel like we’ve selected the right person for this job.  In addition, I feel a change of atmosphere within my school.  I can’t really explain why.  We lost a lot of great teachers and paras last year to job changes and retirement, but yet these positions were filled with new staff members who bring enthusiasm and positivity to the table.  We’re starting the year with a sense of school pride and collaboration.  In fact, I’ve had the best first week of school that I’ve had in several years.  I am sensing that this will be a good school year.
  1. Finally, I just really have a sense of peace about where I am.  I love my students and would be sad to leave them.  I love my content areas.  I recognize that “the grass is not greener” at other schools or in other fields.  After a lifetime as an educator, I tend to think in semesters.  I’m not sure this old gal could assimilate into the business world.  But most of all, I just really like working with kids.  Despite the hardships of teaching, it is still what I choose to do.  

Teachers, I wish you all a happy, healthy, inspired year of teaching.  I hope that you have fewer challenges than you’ve had during the past three years.  I hope you feel fulfilled and appreciated, and I hope you know that you make a difference every single day.  

 I’ll end with this — a song we sing at my church when the kids go to Worship and Wonder.  It sums up how I feel about the potential of the students I serve.

You have the hands that can open up the doors,

You have the hopes this world is waiting for.

You are my own but you are so much more,

You are tomorrow on the wing, child of mine.

Fork the Nonbelievers:  Some 1st Quarter Reflections from an Already Tired Teacher

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To my Fellow Educators, 

I am coming off of a tough week at work.  I am tired and struggling, as many of you are.  As the end of our first quarter approaches, I am realizing that the second full year of teaching during a pandemic will be no easier on us as educators.  Last year we were so glad to be back in person with our students that we happily pushed through a lot of hard things.  But the hard things seem to keep piling up on us.  I don’t care if you’re a homeroom teacher, a specialist like myself, a paraprofessional or a custodian, your job right now is tough — harder than in any “normal” teaching year.  Covid protocol has changed many aspects of our jobs and has added additional challenges.  

On top of the new challenges, Covid has alienated us as teachers and co-workers.  We don’t see each other at lunch or after school, thus we don’t get to share our stories and struggles. Because we don’t communicate like in the past, we forget to empathize with one another.  We forget that each role within a school may look a bit different, but each role has its unique benefits and challenges.  I feel strongly that by working together and supporting each other, we can create a positive learning environment for ourselves and our students.  You see, quite often we teachers learn as much as our students throughout the year.

While dealing with my own personal struggles, I’ve been thinking about the kind of teacher/person I want to be.  I’m not perfect.  For instance, just today I snapped at a class over something that wasn’t their fault, and I’ve been beating myself up about it all afternoon.  Still, I want to be a teacher who goes to work with my head held high, a teacher who tries a little harder next time, a teacher who my students and co-workers respect because I try to maintain my authenticity and my integrity.  I’ll tell you all the truth — teaching is not easy right now.  And yet, teaching is literally all I’ve ever wanted to do.  I knew back in 4th grade, sitting in Mrs. Cruit’s classroom, that I wanted to be a teacher. I am doing EXACTLY what I’d hoped to be doing when I was a kid.  I don’t want to take this for granted.  

So here’s my plan.  Instead of sitting around and listing for you all of the hard things about my job and yours, I’m going to tell you my WHY — my beliefs about teaching.  Then I’m going to print this out and post it in my office.  I’m going to look at my list every day, and I’m going to bust my ass trying to be the kind of teacher that I hoped I could be.  I’m going to take a piece of advice from my father:  Fork the nonbelievers.  (Note:  Language slightly altered to be less offensive.  I am a teacher, after all!)  I think this is what my Dad means by this phrase.  Don’t worry about other people — what they’re doing or what they think of you.  Keep on doing your best and you’ll be all right.  That is what I intend to do.

So here are my beliefs.  I encourage you to sit down and write out yours as well.  I think that in remembering why we became teachers in the first place, we can re-motivate and re-inspire ourselves.

What I Believe about Teaching

2021-2022

  • I believe that my job as a  teacher is important.    What I do has the potential to positively impact lives both in the present and in the future.  
  • I believe in teamwork — teamwork in the classroom, within my building, and within my field.  I want to be the kind of co-worker that people enjoy collaborating with because they know I will work for what’s best for our students and for our school.  I believe in connecting with other teachers who do what I do to share ideas and garner encouragement.  
  • I believe that a strong public education system levels the playing field for all children.  And it’s my job, in part, to help students see the importance of education now and in the future.
  • I believe that I can be a bright light in a child’s educational experience.  I strive to be a person who both shares the importance of lifelong learning and who connects deeply with her students.  
  • I believe in building relationships in my classroom.  Students won’t care about learning from me until they understand that I care about their well-being.  (Thank you Sharon B. for teaching me this!)  I also believe in building positive relationships with my co-workers and families.  Relationships are key in my profession.  
  • I believe that my content matters, but I also believe that my character matters.  How I treat my students every day makes a difference.  I want to be a kind, fair, fun and enthusiastic teacher.  On days when I fail in this department, I want to pick myself up and try again.  
  • I believe that all kids have something in them to be valued.  We all have had tough kids.  But even the toughest kid has something that can be appreciated and fostered.  
  • I believe that when there’s a problem in the classroom, there is also a solution if you work hard to find it.  I believe in talking to other teachers or my principal to find a remedy to a challenging situation.  I don’t want to give up on a class or on a kid.
  • I believe that I have the most interesting, creative, challenging, heart-breaking AND rewarding job.  I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do or be.

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”

Malala Yousafzai