I’ve been exhausted and haven’t had the words to explain what’s been going on with this school year. BUT I think it’s time I talk about it. If you want to know what’s happening with teachers (especially in my school district), read on. If not, skip this blog and read the rest of my content as you like.
I think everyone already knows that this school year isn’t much better than last year. I think I was desperately hoping it would be better, but … in some ways it’s worse. I’m not going to sugar coat anything here. I’m going to try and lay it all out. Though please note that I’m not angry like last year. To be honest, I’m too tired to be angry. Teachers everywhere are putting a brave face on it, but the levels of stress are through the roof. I read this article and was blown away by how many other teachers (as well as myself) I recognized.
Last year was a pandemic school year. Teachers had to flex to teach online and then in person (or worse yet, do both simultaneously). We had constant change and stress, not to mention fear of getting sick. Some teachers did get sick and their lives changed forever. Some died. But it was made clear that very few people cared. There needed to be child care (in whatever shape that took) so people could get back to work. I say this with a hint of bitterness, but … it felt like no one cared. SO a lot of teachers quit, either during the school year or they retired when that year was over. Some because of health concerns, others because they were pushed to the limit with an unbearable workload. I suppose those were the smart ones.
Now there is a shortage of workers in schools (NOT just teachers) in every position from janitors, to TAs, to school nurses, etc. Everyone at every level wanted out because they were tired of it all. My hubby (who is also a teacher) and myself helped to interview over the summer for teaching jobs that couldn’t get filled. We saw vacancies across the district and we feared what this school year would entail. We knew there’d be a staff shortage, that we would have to work with skeleton crews, but we had no idea what we were in for.
Last year, we had NO planning time in my school district. We were told this was easier because a) it was a pandemic, b) they made the school day a bit shorter (about an hour was cut off) and c) we teachers could take care of all planning before and after school anyway. We also only had a 30 minute break for lunch (the only break we’d get), no passing time or time allowed for the littles we had to help dress in winter gear, etc. We barely had time to eat, let alone pee. We were all exhausted by the end of the school year and that was only after a semester of that scheduling nonsense in person. I never dreamed of working so hard to get a Master’s degree, only to be treated like a sweatshop worker who doesn’t even get a potty break.
This year is NOT a pandemic year, or so I’ve been told. “We are going to have school this year as if a pandemic has never happened. The only thing we are going to do is wear masks.” It was up to individual teachers to decide what safety mitigations to put in place to keep kids safe. BUT we’re going to have regular school hours, regular sports and clubs, regular everything.
Did I mention that the contract expired for teachers in my school district this summer? There were legal goings on about the schedule teachers were under (arbitration that is still on-going as of this date) and school board members defaming us as lazy on the news. The school district has used every delay tactic in the book to prolong negotiations, and you wouldn’t believe how they’ve been treating us (or what they’re asking for). Before I go into that though, let’s back up to talk about what this school year looks like for teachers.
We are short staffed, even with substitute teachers. There are no subs. So they pull the specialists to cover classrooms and cancel gym or library or whatever. Kids get no break and teachers lose planning time. Again. Preschool and SPED TAs are also pulled to teach. What does that say about all the training and education I had to do to get this job? Basically this: anyone can cover a classroom because the system is desperate to keep it going. And yet, they’ve put strange new rules in place to limit who can apply to be a substitute teacher. A retired teacher could not sub because she didn’t keep her teaching certificate current. 1500 subs were cut from the system and it costs over $100 to apply (after finger prints, and criminal background checks, etc. are completed with the application). Who has that money to get back into the system when they possibly lost their income because of the pandemic?
We are short staffed. So those extra events and duties we need to keep schools running? Let’s just have the teachers cover it has been the go-to plan. Teachers don’t really need time before school to set up or after school to get things done like grading. This has been the district’s attitude.
We are short staffed and teachers have NO time. BUT let’s give them tons of extra trainings to do and tell them we’re watching them to make sure it all gets done “on their own time.” Teachers are also told to teach to fidelity, and there will be walk-throughs by the powers-that-be to make sure you’re actually doing your job. This can be as small a detail as making sure you have the correct alphabet cards on your wall.
And they’re pushing hard core academics for the students non-stop like never before. There was a pandemic and everyone knows kids are behind. Will we pause to catch them up? Nope. We are going to keep testing them, keep teaching them the grade level they can’t handle, and hopefully the 30 minutes a day every day we spend in small groups with intensive learning will work to fill the gap. Some kids didn’t get school last year at all because their families were in survival mode. I have 1st graders who have NO idea how to do school (how to sit in a chair, how to behave with others or their own emotions, etc.), let alone what numbers or letters of the alphabet are, or even how to write their own name. We are in a crisis situation here, but that doesn’t matter. We’re just going to teach the heck out of the children. And Admin honestly doesn’t understand why we’re seeing a rise in misbehavior.
This is insanity. It’s a broken system beyond anything I can hope to fix. Last year I was angry and stepped up to speak up and fight the injustices I saw all around me. This year I’m SO tired. I’m struggling to survive day-by-day and get it all done. The stress and pressure is immense and I’m hopeless that anything about this situation will change anywhere in our country. The machine is too big to fight. It’s not fair to teachers and it’s REALLY not fair to the kids. And yet, I continue to speak up. I continue to say “this isn’t right” in the hopes that someone will listen.
So let’s get back to my specific school district’s negotiations. To prove I’m not making this up, I share a screenshot of bullet points for the proposed contract:
They want teachers to do everything, without pay and without time. They want us to do everything because of the staffing shortage and be on duty the entire day. This will not work.
Some days I feel like Cassandra in the Trojan War screaming predictions and no one listens. I predict teachers striking in my district (if not many places across the country) over all of this. I predict a drastic increase in the amount of teachers quitting, during this school year (because we cannot keep up this pace) AND as soon as the school year is over. I predict an imminent failure of the public school system if we continue in this vein. Teachers are fed up. I’m seeing it everywhere. They’re tired of being worked to death and it becoming the expectation. They’re tired of being asked to be paid less than those in power positions above them (who keep getting raises). Teachers are just plain tired. Who will teach when all of the teachers are gone? There needs to be radical change, but I don’t know if anyone will listen and make it happen. I read this article and it too voiced a lot of what I was seeing and thinking.
Hopeless. I’ve gone from angry to depressed. And then I randomly saw this post on Twitter. It changed my perspective somewhat. I’m trying to find the joys in teaching and in my life from one day to the next. As such, I created this piece (finger painting in procreate) to remind me of that:
I have brand new kitties. I have kids who love learning with me at school, whatever that may look like this year. I’m pressing in to taking care of my own mental health. It’s been … so gut wrenchingly bad on so many levels this school year, but I can still be joyful. I’m making a determination to do that, instead of letting this district chew me up and spit me out. But you better believe I’m still fighting, where I can, as I can. This is NOT okay. Teachers (and all other school staff) are not okay.
If you know a teacher, I bet they are struggling. Be kind to them. Send them your love. They need it so desperately. And if you read this far, thank you so much for listening.