Tag: teachers

Why I Left The Classroom During a Pandemic

Posted on March 1, 2021 by

On January 25, 2021, I closed my classroom door for the last time. After 30 years, during a pandemic, I decided to stop teaching junior high.

It wasn’t because I’m retiring, and it wasn’t because I had to. The pandemic itself wasn’t why I left the classroom either. I’m not moving, there’s not been a major crisis in my life or family; nor has there been a major event that would require me to leave a job – a calling – that I’ve dedicated the majority of my life to.

During the Pandemic

March 13, 2020, was the last day students walked into room A-1. They had a substitute that day – I called in sick, challenged to handle the anxiety the as-yet-to-be-named pandemic was causing. I felt vulnerable, unable to protect myself from what I sensed was a bigger issue than my district was acknowledging. They said they were ‘cleaning’, but I was skeptical of the degree that was really happening. I couldn’t risk bringing home any virus. I felt unseen. Unheard. Expendable.

My initial supplies, purchased by me, Ha.

The sad part of that day, for me, was not knowing that it would be the last one I spent face-to-face with my students. We were finally in our rhythm; teachers savor the last third of the school year when we see all our efforts at establishing systems, trust, and building relationships really bloom. It’s the time of year when I feel change is really happening, in a good way.

Gift on the last day from a new student – not because we were leaving, but because she knew I cared about her. I wonder how she’s doing now…

It was a time when 2020 still felt hopeful.

March 2020 calendar quote

Life interruptions happen. We might think we are going with the flow of life, moving in and out of the weather patterns that some days have us throwing our arms wide open to the sun, and others that force us to stay inside, hunkering down, waiting for the sky to clear.

It definitely wasn’t the first time in 30 years that I’d thought about leaving the classroom. When my babies were born, I felt the shift, the push and pull between career and motherhood. I did step away, actually, three different times when L and C were little. But what was different then was that I felt like I’d always come back. The door wasn’t closed on the part of me that was meant to be a teacher.

Pivot?

What made it feel so different this time was not just the pandemic, not just teaching virtually, not being asked to pack it up and turn decades worth of instruction, experiences that relied on the human connection, to magic behind a screen. “Pivot” became an over-used, annoying phrase – how do I ‘pivot’ the eye to eye instincts that develop when I’m greeting kids at the door?

It was all that – yes – and also an affirmation that our country lacks support for teachers. That it’s really a lot of talk, with teachers not in the conversation, and when it comes down to it, many of us are left to improve our craft on our own time. We are forced to just do it, to jump into an educational space without any safety nets. To ‘pivot’ into the unknown. To orchestrate a symphony without ever playing an instrument.

And ultimately, when the notes become off key, and the rhythm breaks, it’s on us.

Pandemic Games

It’s not a team sport, this career of teaching. As we rounded the virtual bases last spring, some of us were greeted with standing ovations, overwhelming thanks and gratitude. It was all over the media, this honoring of teachers. And as the applause faded and pandemic reality set in, grudges replaced gratitude. People wanted somewhere to place their anger, frustration, and yes, grief.

Come September, we were demoted to rookie status again. The star players became the people behind the desks, not the screens – the easy hitters who determined how we would do our work without every picking up a bat. The ones who told us they were doing everything to protect us – everything except coaching us through.

Forget about spring training. Forget about spending the summer cutting our losses and muscling up for the game we knew was coming in the fall – school districts like mine expected that somehow teachers would do it all on their own time. They refused to think outside the box, to support teachers with professional learning and expected that it would simply be ok.

And it wasn’t. Not by a long shot.

I’ve been training myself – and any teacher who would listen – on how to use educational technology in the classroom for nearly a decade. I’ve attended conferences, read, listened, watched, tried, and failed repeatedly. I did it because it was the right thing to do – to continue to develop my craft. My students and I have seen success and challenges with digital integration. And that still didn’t prepare me to accept the heavy workload of teaching virtually.

The Pandemic Teaching Reality

It didn’t prepare me to see the stress, the anxiety, the tears and rage teachers felt.

I saw teachers giving up. Exhausted. Paralyzed with the fear of what they didn’t know.

I saw teachers pounding their desks in frustration, sobbing into breakout rooms and coaching sessions.

I felt the joy leak out of teaching. And consequently, the joy seeped out of my life, too. I’m a ‘do-er’. I like to help, to solve problems, to make life a smoother path for those around me.

And the Universe opened a new door like it always does. I walked through, and into a place I didn’t expect yet always hoped to be. Not in a classroom.

You know how sometimes when you feel everything fall into place? When the big scary things holding you back before somehow melt away, and all you’re left with is what’s right here, right now, and you know exactly what you need to do, and you feel the ease and flow of the world gently moving you along and it is just. So. Right?

And Then, I Was Out

I took a month to close up my classroom – to sort through the memories, to pack the parts of teaching that I wasn’t quite ready to recycle. I smiled a lot. Alone in my room, I walked through thirty years of voices, of words, of emotions and energy and let it ride in and out and through me until I knew I was done.

It was surprisingly easy to let ‘it’ all go. I think when we get still and silent with ourselves, we find our direction. Even when we’re sheltered in place.

Goodbye, Eagles

On the way out for the last time, I paused and snapped one last photo. I didn’t want a selfie – I wanted to remember the door, the space that opened to me and so many others that joined me in love and learning.

Walking down the hallway, I didn’t look back. Not once. I didn’t cry, or laugh, or shout.

Taking a deep breath, I closed the door and walked outside. The sun was starting to set. There was a young man, practicing his skateboard ollies in the parking lot. He looked over at me, and I smiled.

Teaching isn’t about what’s left in there, I thought. It’s about what’s left in me.

And I’m not quite done.

I have a feeling I’ll be writing more about this – leaving a job you loved doesn’t come without it’s own internal power struggle. It doesn’t come without questions. What I’ve done in the last year, like so many, feels still out of focus and unfinished. Dreamlike.

Like being in the same chair, the same space, the same me – with a different Zoom.

Front yard surprise decorations from former students on my last day
http://www.pasta-recipes.com

primark

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

The COVID Chasm: Educators Stuck In The Pandemic Divide

Posted on July 15, 2020 by

Educators, do you feel the COVID chasm?

“The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.” – Nelson Mandela

Since March 13, when my 29-year teaching career suddenly pivoted into unknown territory, I feel the COVID chasm growing deeper in education.

So much of what we always did, what we always knew, what always ‘worked’ dissolved with the movement to online, crisis teaching.

Some teachers literally pivoted over night. Some, like me, had an amorphous ramp-up time, highlighting the literal and physical break in our system.

Four months later, rethinking how we ‘do’ school isn’t a place most teachers thought we’d be. Many of us thought we’d be out of the building for a few weeks at best, just enough time to let the virus blow over. We’d be back for the last quarter, be able to see all our hard work pay off with celebrations, projects, graduations, and promotions – all the best parts of the school year showing themselves off.

When we left our classrooms, many of us never realized we wouldn’t open the doors again for months, not anticipating it would be like unlocking a time capsule that would bring us to tears.

And the most disturbing part is, this chasm, this great divide between what we knew then and what we know now, continues to widen, to separate and fragment, and is leaving all educators – particularly teachers, wondering where to find solid footing.

The COVID chasm divides

This COVID chasm divides the risk-friendly with the risk-averse, crisis teaching with online instruction, parents with teachers, the government with education, people of color with what’s equitable, and what YOU say with what I hear.

It’s the reason why teachers are scared – me included.

Before, the split between education’s early adopters of technology, (the risk-friendly types), and mainstream teachers (the more risk-averse types) was less visible. Suddenly, ALL teachers adopted technology in order to keep the school going – thus exposing students and families to staggering levels of preparedness. Those who used to rely on ‘the way we’ve always done it’ found themselves lost, isolated, and overwhelmingly untrained to execute distance learning.

The COVID chasm exposes

COVID chasm

It exposed a systemic problem in education, a deep, broken and yet firmly foundational system that locked our schools in place – and a system that can benefit from disruption.

When conflict happened pre-pandemic, it was easier for parents and teachers to ‘agree to disagree’. Many times – or most – teachers would breathe deeply and try to remember that they are the education experts, even when parents were telling them how to teach. With teachers planted as responsible for a failing economy if we refuse to support face to face instruction, the chasm between parent and teacher gapes.

As our country confronts the COVID-19 crisis, the deep separation between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots’ reveals the inequity in educational funding. Big business bailouts versus devastating cuts in education pit neighbor against neighbor, political parties against each other. Educators, expected to do more with less, feeling devalued and expendable, wonder if it’s worth it anymore. Why wonder if they can be expected to resume ‘business as usual’ and put their life on the line. Do teachers need to die for their jobs?

And the chasm between BIPOC and whites, between those who are most impacted by the virus, least likely to have healthcare, job security, or choice about sending their kids back into school buildings – including BIPOC educators – perhaps they feel the COVID chasm most intimately.

Educators can tell you what’s best for children – it’s to be surrounded by people who care, people who want to listen and hear what they’re saying, by people who understand that the trauma of being put into unsafe school situations is greater than the trauma of missing one fall or one year of face to face instruction.

Educators know what to do

COVID chasm

Educators are trained to do what’s best for kids – and when you say, “It’s not that bad…kids need to be in school with their friends”, what we hear is, “Your life is less important than mine – otherwise I would be fine hosting all 30 of my kid’s classmates for a play date”.

When you say, “We need to have a Zoom meeting to discuss re-opening ideas”, what we hear is, “The virus is too dangerous to meet in person, but not too dangerous to put teachers in classrooms”.

When you say, “Just put up a tent outside – it’s safe out there”, we hear,”Teachers are babysitters and camp counselors, not educators”.

And when you say, “Distance learning didn’t work for my kid last spring”, we hear you say, “Teachers failed – even though we did our best with little time and no training.”

It’s time to think about Nelson Mandela’s words: “The time for the healing of the wounds has come. The moment to bridge the chasms that divide us has come. The time to build is upon us.”

Bridging the divides

We know better and we can do better. Together, we can bridge the divides before us, and take this disruption and run with it. We can take care of our students, we can figure out solutions – but only if we take the time. The time is now. It’s time for teacher training in online learning and increased government funding for education. We need equitable access to healthcare and collaboration between families and schools. This pandemic shouldn’t bring out our worst – let us work together to heal our wounds and do what’s best for our kids.

Teachers shouldn’t have to be forced to decide between their profession and their life, or the lives of their families. That’s not going to make education better. That’s one chasm that we cannot bridge – but so many of these we can.

What do you say – are you willing to help fix the COVID chasm, or not? Remember – you are what you DO – not what you SAY you’ll do. Time to step up for education.

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

self-care

Saying No As Self-Care

Posted on September 23, 2018 by

Saying No As Self Care

The final bell FINALLY rang last week, and just as I shuttled out my 7th graders and sat down to breathe in and take some self-care time to relish the quiet, a new teacher burst into my room. I use the word ‘burst’ intentionally, as she was quite out of breath and started rambling about something I had agreed to do for her, and how thankful she was because it apparently wasn’t going to be very pleasant.

“Wow,” I replied. “Can you sit down for a minute?”

She stopped mid-sentence, pulled out the white folding chair across the table from me, and sat. I was actually surprised she agreed.

Over the next 40 minutes, I began to understand her breathlessness. She shared her overwhelm with being a new teacher, her desire to do her best, her feelings of being completely drowning in lesson planning and accountability and paperwork and adjunct duties and university coursework…and this is only the fourth week of school.

“Do you have any personal obligations?” I asked, immediately wondering if I’d probed too far. I remember feeling like her – as if the choices I’d made to be an educator were completely wrong, that I’d never have a life outside of school, and that despite all my earnestness and time and devotion and HOURS I gave to my class, I’d never be enough.

She luckily, at this time, only has a dog and some chickens to feel guilty about ignoring.

self-care

And yesterday I found myself in yet again another conversation with two teachers, both more experienced in the classroom yet young mothers. They spoke of hectic schedules, dirty diapers, daycare, and not seeing their spouses. And they talked money – how hard it is to be a teacher and want the ‘American Dream’ of a house AND a baby.

Preaching Self-Care

On both these occasions, I found myself steering the conversation the way I too often do these days – towards realizing you are enough just the way you are, preaching self-care, and the old ‘oxygen mask’ theory. Towards putting your own kids first, and to never feel guilty about moments spent with your own babies over someone else’s. 

Maybe it’s just that with my empty nest, I’m realizing how precious moments with my children were – not for only selfish reasons, but because the energy I put towards them and took away from my classroom meant that my kids would become strong, competent adults. Creating boundaries, saying ‘no’ instead of ‘ok, I’ll do it’ meant that my kids knew they came first.

It wasn’t easy, but it was definitely worth it.

self-care

It just seems that so much of being a ‘teacher-mom’ is about creating a strong work-home balance, and with technology allowing us to be notified every second of the day, finding ways to distance ourselves from what happens at work must become more and more intentional.

Teaching, it seems, is one of the only professions where we feel like we are disappointing a child whichever way we choose. Creating strategies to ‘disappoint’ with grace and ease are crucial to our self-care. I’m hoping these four tips might help you the next time you have to choose between whispering ‘yes’ and screaming ‘NO!’

Four self-care tips:

  1. Start with being aware of the predicament you find yourself in. Say it out loud, write it down, share how it feels. Owning our situations helps us feel in control, and feeling in control helps us respond authentically.
  2. Consider the flip-side. You have so much to be grateful for. There are many worse problems than putting your children first – just ask someone who isn’t able to be a parent. Try to put the situation into perspective, and realize that this too, shall pass.
  3. Find a way to say no. Don’t feel obligated to offer a detailed explanation of why you are declining. “I’m sorry, I’ll have to decline” is honoring the situation AND yourself. Life will go on if you say no. And it will also open up more opportunities to say YES to things you really want to do.
  4. Breathe. Deeply, and from your belly. Slow it down. Take a moment to yourself, to change your state. Making decisions when we are emotionally heightened usually doesn’t bring good (or true) results. Nearly every decision can wait for a few deep inhales and exhales to help you center. Check out this video for more breathing ideas: 

Anna Quindlen said, “The thing that is really hard, and really amazing, is giving up on being perfect and beginning the work of becoming yourself.” I’d bet that if you try these strategies, you’ll find your perfect self right there where you left her.

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

flexible classroom seating chair

Flexible Seating: Something Cool From My Classroom

Posted on October 14, 2017 by

I don’t know why it took me so long to jump into flexible classroom seating. After 27 years of dodging clunky desks, tripping over backpacks and watching kids fidget uncomfortably in their hard plastic seats, I had had enough.

I’ve had classes as large as 38, and it just was too hard to fit that many desks in my small classroom.  I needed more space, and so did my students! This year, my middle school students came back to school with flexible classroom seating, and it’s been amazing! To help you jump in, I created a how-to list for flexible classroom seating.

Step One: Start small.

flexible classroom seating beanbags

When I first began teaching a reluctant reader class years ago, I noticed how physically uncomfortable my students were when I asked them to read for an extended period of time. Middle school kids come in all shapes and sizes, and I figured if I could create a more comfortable space to relax and read, I’d at least get them in a good mood! I ended up purchasing four Big Joe bean bag chairs from Amazon – they’re designed for dorm rooms, and fairly durable.

The first year my kids fought over them every day, so I came up with a ‘bean-bag rotation’ chart which did the trick. At the end of the year, I asked the PTA for funding for a few more and built up my first flexible seating. When other teachers saw the way the kids would relax and focus, they even brought in old bean bags from home that their children never used. I’m up to at least a dozen this year, and they still are the preferred place for reading and collaborating.

Step Two: Look for deals.

flexible classroom seating chair

I started scouring the internet for cheap, functional furniture and seating. I found these foldable chairs for $5 each and discovered these stools on Amazon. My local Goodwill has been an amazing source for items such as clipboards, pillows, and various durable furniture. And since I live in a college town, there are always discards around for free! I’ve heard the free pages on Facebook are a great resource, too. I put an ad out on our Nextdoor Neighbor app and had a few donations trickle in that way.

Step Three: Ask for help.

flexible classroom seating

When I thought about getting rid of 20 desks and replacing them with tables, I got a bit nervous. I knew my students would be more comfortable with tables as flexible classroom seating, but how would I find enough? I started asking family and friends if they had anything they weren’t using anymore or wanted to donate to my classroom. I was surprised by the number of people who had old folding tables and chairs in their garages!

Also consider asking your custodian, the principal, and your students’ families for donations – once you put your wishes public, I know you’ll be amazed at what turns up. Remember, you can always replace a table or chair if something better comes along. I even put contact paper on an old card table I was given and it looks awesome!

Step Four: Watch what the kids gravitate towards.

flexible classroom seating chair

Just like with the bean bags, I started small and watched what the kids did. I noticed who liked stools, who needed a spinny chair, and who wanted to plop or flop on the bean bags. Not only could I determine some learning tendencies (the kid reading on his belly every day clearly needed some tactile stimulation to focus) but I also could see who was assertive (they usually claim the folding chairs) and who was easy-going (they just sat wherever there was space). I have one upholstered armchair that rotates and I’ve noticed certain kids really like to sit there and gently move as they read and write, so I’ll look for more of those. I’d also like more two-seaters for those who like to constantly collaborate.

Step Five: Decide what battles you want to fight, and let go of the rest.

Like anything new, there are going to be challenges and unexpected events – and awesome surprises. Many people thought I was a bit crazy to attempt flexible seating in middle school, but I did it anyway. I established expectations around the beginning of class (students must be at a table for attendance/mini-lesson) and that I would announce when flexible classroom seating was ok. I created a seating chart – I actually let students choose their seats for the first month, and then I’ll rotate them around once I get to know them. I advised that they should try multiple locations and seats.

flexible classroom seating beanbags

I carefully organized the room into learning spaces – I have an AVID college corner, a row of bean bags by the classroom library, boxes of clipboards and headphones near the back, and even turned an old shelf board into a lap desk. I stationed a fan by the spinny chair and let kids sit there and feel the cool air when they need to calm down. At first, I thought I would arrange the seats with certain desks, but I noticed the kids moved them around during the day, so I let that go. Sometimes kids have been under tables, and sometimes they whisper more on the bean bags. Occasionally they crowd too many bodies onto the ottoman, but we’ve made it work. I think on my feet a lot, but I’m also able to really get more connected and it feels less teacher-dominated and much more student-focused since I’ve used the flexible classroom seating.  I’ll never go back!

This post was first published on The Educator’s Room website. Visit The Educator’s Room for the latest and greatest hot topics in education.

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp

Jobs For Teachers – Why It’s Such A Hot Keyword Search

Posted on March 8, 2017 by

Wonder what teachers are really searching for online?

I can tell you – it’s not just lesson plans or decoration ideas. It’s not just how to deal with the unruly child, or how to motivate a reluctant reader.

Those searches would be understandable.

What teachers are really searching for online is this:

jobs for retired teachers jobs for ex-teachers jobs for teachers leaving teaching jobs for teachers jobs for former teachers jobs for teachers leaving the profession careers teachers

good jobs for retired teachers new careers for teachers jobs for teachers other than teaching jobs after teaching leaving teaching for a new career careers after teaching

careers for teachers careers for ex teachers careers for retired teachers non teaching jobs for teachers jobs for teachers who leave the profession careers for former teachers

And the search keyword list goes on and on. Sad, isn’t it? Scary, for sure.

What is happening to our teachers? And is anyone noticing?

jobs for teachers

As a 25-year teaching veteran, I can completely understand. In the 1990s, when I entered teaching, we were in a whole language curve. Middle school ELA teachers like myself were trusted to create curriculum and address the needs of the whole child. I was part of a five-person interdisciplinary teaching team that was responsible for teaching only reading – my partner took care of the writing instruction, and we carefully aligned with each other to ensure  cohesive instruction for each of our 100 students. As a beginning teacher, I was making a decent salary, had 100% of my health benefits paid for, and was offered compensation for professional development.

Forward to 2016: I’m still teaching ELA in middle school, but have navigated through NCLB and am now entering the uncharted territory of CCSS. I’ve been given the standards, but little training, and no materials whatsoever that match what my students are being tested on. I’ve spent money out of my own pocket to purchase lesson ideas from teachers in other states who are one step ahead. I’ve pursued grants, my own training, and read everything I can get my hands on. I’m teaching classes of 36, responsible for all ELA standards. I’m making a higher salary, but pay nearly 27% out of pocket for my share of my health benefits. I make less money this year than I did last year, and am looking at 12 more years of teaching before I can take full retirement. And I’m trying to pay for my own child’s college tuition, all the while I’m educating other people’s kids so they can enroll in college, too.

So I get it.

Jobs for teachers

Teachers today are under more scrutiny than ever before. Their jobs are becoming more and more aligned with test scores and performance tasks. We are expected to do more with less, seek our own education, and somehow grade those papers AFTER our paid work day is done.

Teachers are tired. Veteran teachers are wondering how they can maintain. New teachers are quitting after a year or two.

I believe in public education, and I believe that I am impacting the lives of the students I see every day. I believe all children have the right to education, and I believe there are thousands of teachers who, like me, don’t want to leave their job. But I also believe that teachers ARE searching for something else – something where they can find the balance between doing what the love, and having a life outside the classroom.

And please don’t say we knew it wasn’t about the money.

And please don’t tell me we get summers off.

And please don’t tell me we’re making a difference, we have the hardest job in the world, and that you appreciate us.

We hear that. We hear you. And look what’s happening – we’re leaving.

Something has to change before it’s too late. Aren’t our children worth it?

I originally wrote this post for The Educator’s Room.

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.

More Posts - Website

Follow Me:
TwitterFacebookLinkedInPinterestGoogle PlusYelp