Teacher Tired: When November Feels Like April

Teacher tired is a real thing. I’m not going to argue the details here – I’ve shared thoughts about why teachers need the summer off, and how hard it is to take a sub day pre-pandemic.

I’m talking about November 2021 teacher tired – an overwhelming, frustration-laden, overworked, and undersupported teacher tired where educators feel like the first eight weeks of school feels like eight months. Where this November, when classrooms typically get into their sweet spot of systems in place, positive vibes all around, we have educators sick, tired, and telling us that they are not all right. That they don’t see how they will make it to the end of the school year intact.

Teachers I know are asking questions they know there isn’t an answer to, like “How can I teach the content when they won’t sit down?”, “Why are juniors in high school running around campus playing tag instead of going to class on time?”, “How can I plan engaging lessons when I’m being asked to sub for classes during my prep time?”, “Why won’t my district pay me overtime to attend professional development workshops after hours”, “How do I teach freshmen high school level curriculum when their reading level is 3rd grade?”, “Where do I even start in the classroom if students are physically and sexually assaulting each other?”, “How do I find enough adults to supervise the bathrooms so they aren’t vandalized?”

Yep, I heard all those questions during a two-hour support visit with one school this week. And I heard them the day before, and the day before that.

It’s the stuff of teacher nightmares, folks. And we’re asking our educators to live them every single day.

Don’t believe me? Think I’m exaggerating? Wondering how I could be telling the truth, knowing that I’m not standing in my own classroom every day? JUST ASK A TEACHER.

I haven’t met one that tells me that this year is better than last year – a year when we couldn’t see our students face to face and were spending hours digitizing, posting, re-creating, and supervising our own family situations while managing to teach to a screen of black boxes for 8 hours a day.

Yep – this year is worse. And teachers are TIRED – and it’s November.

When I wrote my post “The Teachers Are Not All Right” I was expecting that teachers would agree – and hoping that teacher allies would share, that parents would get a glimpse into what’s happening at schools. I was wanting to make this crisis visible.

What I got was all that – and also so much sadness. It honestly leaves me searching for what to do, how to respond to those questions I get every day. As a coach, I’m doing a lot of listening, looking teachers in the eye, and telling them I hear them. Telling administrators that they, too, have a nearly impossible position of supporting their staff without really having a great way to solve the challenges going on.

I just keep thinking of Finding Nemo, when Dory’s solution is ‘Just keep swimming, just keep swimming.’ But Dory wasn’t in a tsunami of trauma.

Are you a teacher? How are you feeling right now?

Opening my Twitter feed I see teachers in such pain, making choices they didn’t imagine: “Well, that’s me done. My 15 years…ending with me crawling away, broken and damaged…I tried, but wasn’t strong enough,” “It’s everything else that comes with teaching that makes me wonder if I want to spend the rest of my life doing it,” and “Teachers are exhausted because we’re trying to uphold and teach humanity during a time of intense dehumanization…there are many things that exhaust us physically and mentally about the job, but that’s the one that’s exhausting my soul and spirit.”

What are we doing to teachers? How is this in any way ok or sustainable?

The answer is, it is not. The teachers are not all right. And folks, if you don’t care about that, or if you think teachers should stop complaining, let me tell you – if the TEACHERS are NOT all right, the STUDENTS are NOT all right.

There’s more – read and really listen to comments from my last post:

“Thank you for writing this. I am in. Year 32 at my school and I am NOT okay, and neither are my colleagues.”

“In my work with teachers, I have had so many of my district’s quality veterans questioning if they will return after this year – some have even suggested Christmas break would be the end for them. It’s a complete mess out there.”

“I don’t know how to get myself out of this cycle. I could go work any number of trade jobs, and probably make at least as much money (and maybe better benefits). I don’t know that I will make it as a teacher after this year.”

“I love my students. I love my colleagues. I love my classroom and I love teaching. And yet, it is hard to focus on these things with the weight of everything behind the scenes that is now getting public attention. No one pulled back the curtain – the behind-the-scenes has just gotten so big it’s spilling out everywhere and is exhausting and overwhelming.”

“My school is a mess. No accountability leaves teachers and students at risk. We had one teacher just give two weeks’ notice…it makes me so sad to see how broken our schools are. It is unfair that teachers are scapegoats. TEACHERS ARE NOT ALL RIGHT! Nail-head. BAM!”

What is it going to take to fix this? It IS going to get worse before it gets better. But seriously, can’t WE do BETTER?

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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