It’s time to talk about what’s going on in school

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.

element5-digital-OyCl7Y4y0Bk-unsplash

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.

seema-miah-gc7hmVBxtBc-unsplashLast 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?

airfocus-K_VeavYEfdA-unsplashWe 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:

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:

Joy

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.

67 thoughts on “It’s time to talk about what’s going on in school

  1. Jena, amen. The pressure to go back to normal is immense. The back to school night, the book fair, the concerts…all of that stuff beyond covering classes in a teacher shortage is just leading to a bigger problem. Thanks for being honest.

  2. I’m a nurse, not a teacher, but I feel like I could have written this article, right down to the failing contract negotiations. I feel your pain, Jena, and want you to know that I appreciate our teachers and all they’ve had to put up with. I hear from my kid’s teachers that they have never seen a year like this–the children are angry, the parents are angry, everything feels out of control. I have no words of wisdom, just that you’re not alone and you ARE appreciated.

  3. I’m so sorry you’ve had to endure so much in the last two years. Teachers have been entirely overworked and under-appreciated! The kids are not at fault. Thank you for recognizing this and at least attempting to bring joy into your classroom. I truly hope and pray things improve for you.

  4. Sending love and solidarity from the UK. Please somehow find the energy to keep putting your health first. Your kids are so lucky to have you. Keep saying no, keep fighting, keep looking after yourself. You’re amazing.

  5. I think one thing that might give u a breath of sanity until the powers that be decide to DO something- if they r cancelling ur specials- put music on-turn off one light- and let the kids draw or read- and DON’T let them bug u for ur prep! If there are 2 teachers w same prep- get the kids aĺl in one room taking their mental health break and u 2 just breathe too! draw! read! tune out! plan if u must! w 2 teachers, one could stay there while the other one copies… and if ur principal comes in- let em know this is ur prep! I think teachers are going to have to just do what they need to to survive, and if admin balks, ts! U gotta get what u need to be okay…and thank u for all u do. They r treating u shamefully…

    • Great idea. I’ve been taking the kids outside for extra recess when they miss PE To get some of the wiggles out. But of course that doesn’t help with my prep time and snow is coming soon!

  6. I’m a retired teacher. ..before the craziness of Covid. ALL TEACHERS ARE HEROES IN MY BOOK!! You are amazing! Hang in there and do what you need to do to get through this. All respect to you!

  7. Hi Jena, Where is your union? Speaking as a former active union teacher, I know you can change the situation as a group with good leadership . None the less, this is a horrible situation, and I’m pretty sure I will have a nightmare about it tonight.

    • Aww! I’m sorry Kathleen. I’ve been having nightmares of my own. It’s been awful. Our union is fighting Through every legal channel possible, but as you know legal channels are slow. We are still in arbitration over the lunch schedule last year. We had a rally on Tuesday at the head shed as well to show that none of the teachers are happy about this contract. It’s been one heck of a ride, That’s for sure.

  8. I feel a sense of responsibility for this. I left at the end of last year, it was all too much. I watch my friends and former colleagues trying to hold it together and I’m angry. I’m sad and angry for teachers and our students. This last almost two years was a chance to change things and make the system better; but it seems the powers that be want ‘normal’ at any and all costs. 😔

    • I completely agree about them wanting to keep things the same, instead of seeing this as a chance for change for the better. But please don’t feel guilt over taking care of yourself. I hold no blame against anyone who quit or retired. You had every right to do that.

  9. Know that I see you and hear you. I’m
    fifth grade teacher and feel all the things. I want to share my voice too for anyone who wants to listen. My dissertation for my Ed.D is on the mental health and well-being of teachers. Continue to share. People are listening.

  10. Here is my fear-filled prediction: administrators will cull a small handful of teachers–two or three per grade level in elementary, the same number per content area in secondary–and have them record lessons. They will then shuttle the students to a gym, a cafeteria, or auditorium to watch the lesson with all the other students who are in that grade/take the class. The skeleton crew of teachers/TAs in the group will be part warden, part tutor. And the anti-education crinies will claim thiscis wjat qe wanted when we asked to teach via zoom.

  11. I couldn’t agree more! I currently teach 1st. Admin and “powers that be”, who keep claiming this is just like any other year, fail to see that our kids are behind, not only academically but socially. Basic self help skills and daily problem solving skills are 2 year behind. We see it across the board, from kinder through high school. Recently, our local high school principal sent a letter out stating that there was a rise in behaviors in 9th & 10th grader. Privileges, such as homecoming would be cancelled if they didn’t “shape up”. Of course they’re seeing a rise in “behaviors”. The last time these children had a “normal” school year, they were in 7th & 8th grade. Has anyone attempted to help address those needs? Or are they all just jumping on the SEL bandwagon and passing the buck to the classroom teachers, once again? So many developmental milestones have been missed, yet we keep pushing forward with curriculum and putting it all on the backs of teachers. Thank you for continuing the discussion…

    • Sadly, they’re pushing hardcore academics this year SO hard, there is no longer time for SEL. There are two different phonics programs, hard core small groups, every minute blocked out. Teachers are told to teach to fidelity (& scrutinized for it—we now have the phonics police making sure we’re towing the line) and not supplement anything. We are not trusted to be professionals or have any content knowledge. Of course behaviors are increasing. Kids are just numbers expected to be robots. Teachers are being treated the same.

      • Our state is also mandating an intensive 18 month reading program for 1st grade teachers to take. It requires at minimum 20 hours a unit outside duty hours. We’re only getting compensated for 50% of our time. The rest we are supposed to do on our own time. In no other profession would this be an expectation…

        • Exactly. It boggles my mind. I can’t think of a single job out there where they expect you to do things “on your own time” or have such a demanding workload. It’s ridiculous. I’m so sorry you’re going through that. What state, if I may ask?

        • Classworks ??? If so we are too. I hate it. The kids hate it. We as adults have trouble navigating it. Now they want first graders to do it and they have never touched a computer in their life. They don’t know how to read or tell the difference in numbers and letters so therein lies the problem. Then to top off the training of it the tier 2 need to spend 60 min in there a week for each subject. The tier 3 75 min each subject. You also teach. Pull small group. Then all the stuff in there as well. We have late buses because we have a shortage. Lord this seems so hard. I’m so stressed. I’m losing hair.

  12. I retired after 33 years of teaching in July 2020. I would still be teaching if I didn’t have a son with a disability and his dayhab closed.
    I understand your pain! It was bad before the pandemic and now it’s ten times worse! Hang in there Jena-like we all do -“for the kids” . Teachers need to be recognized for the awesomeness they have everyday-being a nurse, mom, teacher and so much more!

  13. Amen, sister! Bravo. Thank you for putting it so eloquently. This is gold. I teach first grade and I am so tired and soooo done.

  14. Please consider sending this to the ADN as an Op-Ed. It is so very well written and needs wider publication in our community.

      • I’m so sorry you’ve seen retribution. We have as well but continue to fight on. As you noted, every process is SO SLOW and the districts use timelines to their full advantage. Will you let someone else send your respectful, well written, professional letter in on behalf of all of us? 33 year veteran educator here and union leader. Administrators work together and we need to as well – for ourselves and the kids. This is awful and the stress is the worst I’ve seen. We’re hurting kids and ourselves. We can do this – together.

        • Yes, please feel free. I prefer to remain anonymous (if at all possible at this point), but I’ve seen many teachers responding to this. It’s a message that obviously needs to be heard.

  15. On February 1, 2020, I found out I was pregnant (at almost 40). On March 5th, a few days before my district closed school for what was to be the entire school year due to the pandemic, I quit my job. Mind you, I was “only” a long-term sub in fifth grade, but after teaching for 15+ years, it was the first time I’ve ever been miserable teaching. The admin didn’t support me and all of the teachers were tired of fighting their principal, who just wanted to give parents what they wanted. So I was alone. The teacher I was filling in for left on a mental stress leave (of course I found this out afterwards) because the kids were so bad. I decided it wasn’t worth it. I moved from California to Pennsylvania and got certified here, and thought I would pick up a job easily, but sadly, school districts want younger, inexperienced, less expensive, and more pliable teachers. So subbing for $120 a day isn’t worth having me come back to the classroom and dealing with the BS teachers have to deal with now. I feel for you. I get calls to sub 10 times a day. But I just can’t do it. I love kids. I love teaching. But I hate all the “other” stuff that goes with it, and I’m guessing that’s how so many other teachers/subs who left feel. I wish you and your colleagues the very best. I do my best to advocate for teachers when I hear my friends talking badly. I hate it. I hate that teachers are expected to be superheroes but are treated like the villains. You’ve got this Jena. You sound like an awesome teacher 🙂 keep fighting! Good luck!

  16. I feel like you have just written my story. Last week, I was pulled in by admin and told that they empathize with the 70 hour workweeks because they are doing it, too. However, I don’t get an admin paycheck, so it didn’t make me feel any better about that.

  17. Jena: Thanks for this post. You articulate what I could not during a conversation with my wife last night. An interesting difference for my district is an increase in the amount of SEL but with no real clear way to present this addition to my HS students.

  18. Thank you for this! And you’re spot on, it’s the same situation across the country. I teach high school special education in rural West Virginia. WE ARE TIRED!!! I’ve had 1 planning in over 3 weeks. When am I supposed to hold IEP meetings? Write IEPs? Oh, that’s right…when I’m home and should be spending time with MY children. I’m only 5 years in and I’m exhausted! This year has me questioning if I can do this much longer. I love my students, but I’m not sure that’s enough to keep me in education. 🥺

  19. I retired in 2019 after 39 years in education and consulted for 2 years after that working with educators. I loved everyday what I did and always looked forward to being with my kids.

    COVID has changed our world forever. I can’t even begin to fathom what teachers have had to go through the last two years. Teachers are so valuable and touch so many lives. Just look into the faces of four students and it only takes one to make you realize why you do this. Thank you for hanging in there.

    Please remember to encourage everyone to elect those that can support change in our schools – from school board members to our governor. There are those that can make it happen.

  20. Why not just let it fail? Let the system fail. That’s the message I kept hearing while reading this. What will the district, the government… THE PARENTS… do when there are no teachers and the system has failed??? The parents nor anyone else will care until the teachers mass exodus and the system fails (I think). I think that only then will they be upset and actually take action. So I say don’t fight so hard to fix it…. sometimes we have to let a thing fail so that it can be fixed. That’s just my 2 cents of course. But I feel like you’re putting so much work and energy and emotion into something that seems inevitable to fail so why even bother???

    I’ve pondered for a few years now how we can make education better. As a parent I was asking why my kids only got 1 little recess, 1 day of gym, and why why why are we only teaching to a test? And what about practical life skills? What happened to learning about money and sewing? Why did these things go away and why aren’t my kids outside more?!?!? The system is so broken and as a parent it makes me sick. We moved to Vermont and I’m really thrilled here because the kids get so much more time outside and so much more time to explore and I feel so sad for the kids left in Massachusetts that are stuck with the hardcore school system there. It truly makes me sad for the kids too. So I say let it fail. The system needs an overhaul from what is taught and why to how our teachers/staff are treated. It’s all shameful.

    Married to a SpEd teacher in a district where he has to work in 2 schools as so does the Principal (rural life)… everyone is tired everywhere. I gained SO much respect for our teachers last year that were doing asynchronous teaching – to the classroom AND the camera. I don’t know HOW they did it but I truly felt they were heroes. My feelings haven’t changed. Teachers are definitely heroes and deserve to be treated and compensated as such!

    I’m so sorry you’re so tired and so angry. It’s okay to feel those things but don’t take on the weight of the world yourself. You’ll only make yourself sick and then you’re no good to anyone. Do what you can, where you can. You are a superhero and I hope you see the day where you are treated as such. Sending lots of love and strength your way.

  21. Jenna, I hear you. Down here in Ketchikan, we stayed open most of last year no matter how sick everyone got. So they promised more comprehensive health guidelines. And then CAVED into the pitchfork and torch crowd who said that we need to stay open ALWAYS. Now some members of the School Board are arguing for taking away masks EVEN THOUGH WE’RE STILL AT HIGH RISK. When one of us commented at a school board meeting, the parents got up to the podium and casually stated, “Then go work somewhere else,” to thunderous applause. I go to school each day wondering if I’ll live and any joy I have for teaching is bleeding out of me. Daily. I wish you guys only the best in your struggle with your SB and negotiations. Know that where you all go, we will probably follow shortly.

  22. I belong to a new non-profit Teachers Brigade. We are retired teachers trying to help in the schools but have been blocked for the most part from doing so by the pandemic and by administration for a variety of other reasons. Some of us are volunteering at Schoolhouse Supply to help provide teachers with free supplies. We care about what is happening and has been happening that is putting our public schools in danger. The direct and indirect costs of the mandated testing, the loss of institutional memory as teachers leave the profession, the weakening of our teacher training programs, the lack of wrap around services, the high cost of getting a teaching degree, low wages, etc., etc. When will our leaders listen to the people that really know what is going on in our schools?? 90 percent of our workforce received their ed. in public schools—our system for the better part was working until the privatizers and profiteers and know nothings started taking over. It is time to educate, organize and advocate before it is too late. I’m tired too after 20 years of fighting against high-stakes testing, common core failings, and the deterioration of our wrap around services. So very tired but yet hopeful that this situation can be turned around.

  23. Thank you for sharing… I you can continue to find joy and stick with it – thank you… I completely hear you and could not continue so ended up resigning mid September. I did not feel like admin was ensuring our safety and like you was not following the terms of our contract. It was as if Covid just disappeared – we are all wearing masks – but everything is supposed to be “normal.” Thank you for speaking your truth!

  24. It is not any better in private schools.Taping lessons for those in quarantine, preparing work when they are out, parents thinking we are nothing more than pack animals. Plus now we are expected to do more meetings, training, clubs and more! Feel like a gerbil on a wheel with no rest in sight. Every weekend hours of work and I with no rest!

  25. I’m a retired teacher with 23 years in the classroom, 26 if one counts 3 years of subbing. I have to say that I do NOT know how today’s teachers are doing it. Teaching has never been easy with all of the administrative and government mandates, politics, etc., etc. But with the addition of this pandemic I am SO glad that I am a RETIRED teacher. I repeat………SO glad! Best of luck to those still in the game and God bless all of you!

  26. They’re making it so unbearable for teachers so they will quit or retire because the object of the game is privatizing public education. All the teacher unions need to band together for a massive strike across the nation. Don’t wait until you’ve been replaced. Strike while you still have leverage. Thanks to Covid, you’ve already seen what happens when schools close; parents lose their minds and it impacts businesses. Use it to your advantage. There is power in numbers. Teachers have always held the cards. Time to play them.

  27. Ms. Benton – first – thank you for being a teacher. Thank you from the depth of my soul for sharing this. I plan to include your blog post in the next Clearinghouse edition of Parents for Public Schools (PPS) National. More people need to hear directly from teachers about this and sooooo many issues impacting public schools.
    I am not an educator. I’m the policy analyst for PPS (nat.) and have been a boots-on-the-ground organizer/advocate trying to educate, organize, and mobilize nonpartisan support for public schools in east central Mississippi. Earlier this week I met with a small group of realtors in my community to talk about how underfunded Mississippi public schools are at the state level and some simple actions they might take individually and collectively to act on that issue, especially since realtors would benefit financially from a community that had strong, healthy public schools. They did not want to hear about it. In fact, one realtor said that they were sick and tired of hearing about money problems with schools and that throwing more money at a broken system is not the answer or a conversation they’re even remotely interested in having. He literally said to me, “We’re not interested in hearing anything you have to say about money, so move on. What’s your next point?” I’ve had contentious conversations about public schools before, but this was one of the top 3 worst ones.
    With the influx of historical amounts of funding coming into public schools at the federal level through ARP ESSER funds, public schools will have a golden opportunity to fix some – probably not all – of the challenges they’ve had for decades. I hope teachers – like you and others – will speak up loudly and clearly about how those funds need to be spent to fix the brokenness inside our public schools.
    Please let me know how parents and communities can work with you and other educators to create a strong, diverse, effective voice.
    Thank you, again, for being a teacher. Thank you for using your #teachervoice to speak up.
    – Becky Glover | Parents for Public Schools, Inc.

  28. Amazing! You captured the thoughts and feelings of every educator out there. My husband and I are both teachers; he teachers HS English and I am a director and lead teacher of our districts Pre-K program. Every night we both come home exhausted! Not from a day of fun-filled, exciting classroom experiences but from putting out “fires”. Sure the pandemic affected our learners academically and the expectations do need to be adjusted to compensate for that but I do not feel everything is not because of the pandemic. Entitlement has overcome our current student population. What happened to students respecting their teachers or any adult for that matter? I remember when I I was in K-12 I would never think to disrespect a teacher or any school employee and those who did had a consequence. My husband, who before we were even dating I had this perception of him, is so out-of-then of when it comes to teaching…or at least he was until this year. He planned on teaching until they forced him out…or at least he planned on it until this year. Need I say more. He is just an example of the majority of my family members and friends.who are in education; they want out after this year! I’m not blaming the students; I feel as though society has failed them because we have allowed them to be “entitled” but as an educator our hands are tied. We can only do so much in the classroom and as draining as it is, I will continue to do what I love and know that I am making a difference even if it’s only for a handful each year.

    • I hear you on the exhaustion. I’ve reached a zombie-like state of pushing through it, but I’m forgetting SO many things on a daily basis. I’m sorry you and your hubby’s joy is being leeched away as well. Hang in there.

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