Teachers Today Are Not Okay. Here’s Why.

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Your child’s teacher is probably not okay. Teachers in general are not okay.

A part of me wishes I could publish this anonymously, but I am adamant in teaching my students to have opinions. I should practice what I preach.

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I don’t know where and when teachers became so vilified. We have summer vacation! We don’t work a full 40-hour week! A week off for Spring Break! Two weeks off at Christmas! What on earth do we have to complain about?

DREAM JOB

If teaching is the glorious mythical profession of people’s perceptions, why is there such a shortage of us? Teaching now is not the same as it was 20 years ago.

It has transitioned from a structured vocation to an infinite grey area where nothing really matters anymore. While we as adults live in a real world of consequences, it doesn’t seem to apply in the classroom.

You just didn’t want to feed your kids today? Don’t, it’s fine. You don’t want to pay your mortgage or car payment? “No problem!” said no bank ever. We know that is not how the real world works. The real world doesn’t exist in classrooms anymore.

THE REAL WORLD

There are no real consequences in schools anymore. The truly horrifying fact is that most people don’t really understand what that means.

There are no consequences for lack of attendance. A student can miss every single day of class, and if they wanted to hand in all assignments on the last day of school, the teacher is technically obligated to mark all of it.

Failing a class today is hard to do. We must take late work and schedule make-up tests for kids who blatantly skip it because they don’t feel like writing it on a particular day.

I’m not talking about taking care of the kids who have severe chronic illnesses, or the sudden onset of a genuine family emergency. (I once had a student lose about 21 grandparents in the span of a five-month course).

Teachers have always taken care of those kids. That is nothing new.

The pendulum has swung so far the other way though that when a student fails a course, the teacher, insultingly, is required to fill out a report justifying their decision to do so. We need to list the student’s attendance, the work they missed, the times we tried to contact home, and the chances we gave the student.

Most teachers have become so demoralized by the entire thing they just throw a 50 on the student’s report card to avoid the entire process. Adults scramble to find ways to pass these students. Yet no one feels it is necessary to bring the student in and ask them what they need to do differently.

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PIVOT

Not only that, but through the course of the pandemic, teachers have come to learn about the dreaded hybrid format. We have been asked to graciously pivot between in-person and online learning constantly over the last year and a half, and somewhere along the line the best thing that someone came up with was hybrid.

If you are unfamiliar with this, I have a class of 30 students in front of me, but I also have a student, or several, who stream into the classroom at the same time. That sounds simple, but you must re-think everything that happens in a classroom.

When I have a handout, I must make sure there is an electronic version uploaded. When the internet cuts out, I must stop mid-lesson to re-admit my hybrid students. I am required to reformat all my tests to be electronic versions so the student at home can do them (and is no doubt scavenging Google).

If the pandemic taught us anything about teaching it is that remote learning works for a niche of students. Yes, make true online learning available to them, but for most students they need an in-person setting. A real person, surrounded by real classmates. No cameras and microphones you can choose to opt in and out of.

Hybrid learning where teachers are required to teach in two formats simultaneously cheapens the learning experience on both ends.

It should come as no shock, although perhaps it does, that violence is rising rapidly in our schools. This terrifies me not only as an educator, but as a parent.

I remember when Columbine happened in 1999 and many of us were caught off guard. School shootings in the United States have risen to such frequent levels that it is now just a part of the monthly news rotation. We have become numb to them, and we should be terrified at that mountainish inhumanity.

I have students who told me they are afraid to use the washrooms at school. There might be students vaping in it or vandalizing it so they can be stupid enough to post it on social media. Many of my students have said they use the washroom only once a day. And they go at lunch so they have someone else with them in case of a student being jumped.

What happens when a student costs thousands of dollars’ worth of damages to our schools? Well, nothing. Maybe a suspension. They are not forced to give up any time to help our school custodians clean the washrooms they have destroyed. They are not financially required to pay for any of the vandalism either. Nothing happens, and it’s infuriating.

Teachers in the last decade have been forced to take a decisive shift from being educators, which is what we are trained to do, and what we signed up to do, to being society’s triage department.

We have a rising mental health crisis among our students. Yet we have absolutely zero training in how to manage and support these issues. We are not social workers or therapists.

The reality is we need those professions more readily available in our communities and in our schools. Perhaps the millions of dollars spent every year on standardized testing could be re-directed to employ those individuals within the folds of our schools.

If anything positive came out of the pandemic it was a more open discussion about mental health. While this is much more openly discussed and acknowledged, who do you think is baring the front of this in schools? Teachers.

While the entire world has seen a shift in listening to their employees, the desire for flexibility, allowing people to work from home, considering a four-day work week, teaching has gone the other way. The demands on us grow constantly, they are never alleviated.

There is such a shortage of teachers that maternity or sick leave coverages are going unfilled. Those of us working give up our prep time to cover a colleague’s class. Some courses get cancelled because there is no one physically there to teach them.

School boards are begging university students to come into work and groveling for retired teachers to come back. What are school boards doing about it? Apparently, the red flag of sick days and stress leaves is a cry for help that has most people covering their ears in denial.

Teachers are so often not allowed to be human.

We go to work every day, amidst fertility treatments, bleeding from a miscarriage, facing divorces, chronic illness, or caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s or a spouse with cancer.

Even with the pandemic, we have donned our masks, been loyal to our hand sanitizer, have uncomfortably been streamed into your homes during remote learning, and have continued to mitigate our own risks to show up to teach your children every day.

We have been belittled by parents who swear at us or demand that we single-handedly serve the needs of their children while also mitigating the other 30 learners with diverse needs in the same room.

To those of you thinking, why doesn’t she just leave? That’s because I’m damn good at my job. Not every lesson is a hit, and some days I’m boring, but I love being in the room with those kids most days. That’s the core of what it really means to teach, and most kids like me. A lot of them need me.

They like me because they know exactly where they stand with me, and I know how to take a joke. They need me because they know my heart is in the job. And because of that they have an adult who will hold them accountable and have expectations of them. That is love.

That doesn’t mean I’m always okay. That doesn’t mean the balance of my profession weighed on top of my primary priority of parenting can co-exist in equal measure. They don’t. When I find my own children’s needs are starting to come at the expense of other people’s children, I will always choose my own first.

Teachers are hanging on for dear life.

People are leaving or not coming into the profession at all anymore, and I wonder why more of you are not asking why.

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