The Teachers are NOT All Right

It’s been eleven months since I ‘closed’ the door to my classroom and left teaching in my public school district. Thirty years of working with middle school kids, sharing my love of reading, writing, and supporting the social and emotional needs of kids ended during the pandemic, during remote teaching and learning, leaving a big hole in my heart.

I left that teaching job because the teachers – including me – were not all right. We were overwhelmed, overworked, under-compensated, and misunderstood, attempting to keep education going in a time when everything else was standing still, when workers were being pushed to the limits everywhere and families struggled to figure out how to keep it all together. Teachers went from being ‘heroes’ in March 2020 after moving from in-person to remote learning basically overnight, to scapegoats for all the stress and disruption kids were experiencing. We were in families living rooms, at their kitchen tables, and, judging from my experience, often left wondering what was really happening behind those black Zoom boxes we taught to.

Sadly, since leaving that teaching job, not much has improved for teachers. In fact, it’s gotten much, much worse.

The media doesn’t see what I see now – and they certainly don’t focus on what’s really happening. Districts aren’t reaching out with praise for educators, they’re not ‘pivoting’ towards innovation that might alleviate stress. In my current position supporting AVID programs in eight Northern California school districts, I see it loud and clear.

The teachers are NOT all right.

So let me take a moment to share what I DO see, and then let’s have educators share what it’s really like to be a teacher in October 2021:

I see OVERWHELM.

I see EXHAUSTION.

I see FEAR.

I see FRUSTRATION.

I see feelings of INADEQUACY.

I see RESIGNATION.

I see teachers leaving the profession they trained for, dreamed of, committed to, and are now wondering ‘What else can I do because I cannot do this one. more. day.”

Teachers are walking out of schools

Teachers are walking out of schools – not resigning with two weeks’ notice, not taking ‘mental health days’ – just leaving.

And teachers don’t quit easily. We’ve shouldered education on our backs for generations, quietly putting in the extra hours, the money out of our pockets, and sacrificing our ‘personal time’ to do what needs to be done.

Pre-pandemic I wrote about the misconception of ‘summers off’ – ask any “TK” (teacher’s kid) about the overtime worked during the school year grading papers during soccer practices or on the weekends, the after-school meetings/conferences/classroom cleaning/lesson prep/mental preoccupation we all battle with. Teachers are NOT quitters – far from it.

But this year, 99% of the teachers I talk to every single day have told me that this year, 2021, is THE HARDEST year of their careers. In June 2021 no one expected school would be struggling with COVID quarantine protocols, lack of subs, job vacancies, and the student challenges of ‘doing school’ again – to say we had an optimistic outlook is putting it mildly.

In October 2021, what is actually happening in education is:

  • multiple classrooms are without permanent teachers
  • A huge lack of support staff – bus drivers, cafeteria workers, yard duties – all the people that make school run smoothly and safely outside the classroom. Districts cannot hire people for these positions.
  • NO subsititutes, anywhere
  • teachers working on their preps to cover classes, or taking in extra students to compensate for the lack of staff
  • administrators, district office staff, counselors ‘teaching’ classes instead of doing their jobs
  • teachers attempting to teach kids who have missed learning for 18 months, leaving gaps that require extreme differentiation in overenrolled classes
  • schools striving to attend to students’ social and emotional needs in order to have a chance at implementing a rigorous curriculum this year
  • students who are suffering from the trauma of COVID, from inconsistency in systems and personnel, and a lack of time and support for teachers to learn, design and implement lessons to meet them where they are.

To be very clear – this is NOT the teachers’ fault. And yet, they are dealing with the brunt of it every single day.

Tragically, I’m seeing teachers apologize for not doing or being ‘enough’. Teachers make choices between their mental health and their students. Sick teachers feel unable to take adequate time off to heal because with no subs, the class coverage defaults to their colleagues and that’s unthinkable.

Teachers battle the same personal challenges as everyone else – parenting, divorce, physical and mental health issues. They’re being asked to plan, teach, assess and perform as normal pre-pandemic expectations, which were unsustainable then, and impossible now.

And they are LEAVING THE PROFESSION.

If this blog post alarms you, then I’ve done my job. We need to acknowledge what is going on, to stop beating up school districts and barraging board meetings with arguments about mask mandates, and we need to protect educators and kids from becoming sick and help them feel safe, happy, and productive in our schools.

We need to do what’s best for kids to be EDUCATED.

The teachers are NOT all right. The administrators are NOT all right.

And most importantly, the KIDS are NOT all right.

I challenge you to speak up, speak out, and share what’s really going on in education right now. Leave a comment and tell us what you see, or what you can do to make a difference.

This work isn’t going to be easy. But it’s going to be worth it.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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