Wednesday, December 8, 2021

Dear Teacher Near The End Of Your Rope:

It's not you.

You may be thinking that it's you, that if you were better, stronger, a more gifted teacher, a more resilient human being, somehow this year would not be feeling like an uphill slog against a downhill landslide. You may be thinking that somehow you're missing something, failing to catch something, just not getting your best foot forward. 

It's not you.

First of all, I can guarantee you it's not just you. I spend a chunk of my days reading education writing from all across the country and the "I can't do this any more" teacher is currently a thriving genre--and it's just the tip of the iceberg. So you are not somehow weaker than all the other cool teachers who are just sailing through this sea of shit.

Second of all, the list of things you didn't sign up for is now longer than the drive-through line at your local understaffed fast food joint. You didn't sign up to teach next to people who don't take the pandemic seriously or surrounded by the children of people who don't take the pandemic seriously. You did not sign up to be regularly vilified for teaching that thing about race that some folks can't explain but they're pretty sure your commie butt is indoctrinating their children with it every day. You didn't sign up to be jerked back and forth by incomplete and rapidly shifting responses to that pandemic that mostly result in half-assed measures that are not remotely reassuring. You did not sign up to be the default villain in whatever tale of woe is a headline today. (To be fair, unless you've been in the classroom for over twenty-some years, you did actually sign up to teach in a country where attempts to murder your students and you are considered the price of freedom, and while they are actually numerically rare, that possibility always hangs over your head--but none of that, unfortunately, is news.) And of course, you can't take a day off without feeling guilty about all the coverage your colleagues have to do because you're not there.

In educationland it is raining, pouring, drenching tubs of water and sleet and hail, and the administrators who are supposed to be putting a roof over your head are either too swamped by the gaping holes in their own roofs, or they're handing you cute little pep talk tissue umbrellas, or reminding you to go build your own self-care roof, or they aren't even trying (there are some out there getting the job done, and you can tell it immediately by how much less stress their teachers are carrying). Meanwhile, too many other people who ought to build the roof over the school, like legislators and leaders and even parents, are heaving buckets of water at you. And the folks who are rooting for public education to fail, to be smashed apart out of visceral hatred or a desire to sell off the parts or a dream of not having to pay taxes to educate Those People--all of those folks are emboldened by the storm and have set their firehoses to full. 

You already know a lot of this, but you don't dare to breathe a word of it because you know that you'll just be branded a whiner. That and perhaps the gnawing feeling that it really is your fault that you feel soaked to the bone. Maybe you're imagining it. Maybe it's not so bad.

You're not imagining it.

I'm in no position to tell you whether it's time to get out or not--only you know what you can take. I can say this: I am sure that whatever divine spark, whatever ability tempered by experience and sharpened skills, that lifted you through the classroom in better days is still there. It may be gasping for air, but I believe it's still there, mostly because everything that's making it hard to feel that teacher spark at the bone is a big collection of things that are Not Teaching. And I believe that the pendulum always swings, and that there is another side of All This, and at some point we will come out there and we may find ourselves in a place that doesn't look like the Before Times, but that place will still need schools and teachers. Bottom line--this right now is not forever. I hope you don't quit. But, as I said, only you know how much is too much.

Right now, and on the other side, there will be students who need you, who will benefit from your presence (my twins will be among them). I say this not to guilt you, but to assure you that while you may feel as if you're shoveling jello with a pitchfork, your efforts are not wasted. You are not doing this for nothing. Sometimes it takes all your effort and energy just to keep from moving backwards, but holding that line, or even reducing the amount of ground you give up--that's not nothing. Only you can decide if it's enough, but it's not nothing.

I hope the people who love you are holding you up. I hope the holiday break is helpful. I'm not here to offer advice today. Just to confirm that it's not you.





19 comments:

  1. what a truly lovely article Peter Greene. Thank you so much!


    ReplyDelete
  2. 100% to all of this. Thank you. It's why I'm retiring at the end of thiss school year instsead of waiting for my full pension.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. ^^^ This right here.
      Thank you, Peter, for the words we're all feeling. But a little more in my pension is not worth my sanity or the broken heart I'm dredging through the days.

      Delete
  3. Thank you, Peter. You have no IDEA how much I needed to hear this.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thank you. This is exactly what I needed to hear, at exactly the time I needed to hear it.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for this. After 32 years, my heart has never felt so much pain and anger. It's all so much. I understand why for some, too much. For now, I'll keep treading water and enjoying the crazy that is middle school.

    ReplyDelete
  6. I agree with most all of this, but you forgot about the part that while all of this is happening, the POWERS THAT BE in your state legislature in some states (like mine) are actively working to gut teacher pension programs, decrease our health care, and increase our premiums. And that we are being penalized for our students not making "enough" progress during this time based on their standardized test scores. And for an added kick in the teeth, are being required to reduce the number of students in special education while at the same time, updating the guidelines for eligibility, which in the end, will actually increase numbers. Go figure that one out, I dare you.

    ReplyDelete
  7. I hope NOTHING is like the Before Times. We've needed a reboot for a loooonnnng time.

    ReplyDelete
  8. I've always appreciated your words, Peter, because you get it, you've been-there-done-that, and you are an insightful and talented writer. Thank you.

    ReplyDelete
  9. And primarily so some autocratic politicians with financial interest in private schools can stay in power. Besides not giving students the best education possible, some states are making a mockery of the Constitution, throwing Church and State together, with full support of the NRA, emulating Taliban rule here in these United States.
    The People should resist! Where better to begin than with our 'educational institutions'?

    ReplyDelete
  10. I developed cancer this year! I know it’s from the extreme stress of the last 2 years… I considered trying to claim worker’s comp. We all thought this year would be better than last, but it is far worse in regards to health and safety protocols! No Covid restrictions and thanks to teacher shortage, packed classes. This may be my last year as a teacher… depending on how the health coverage pros and cons pan out…

    ReplyDelete
  11. Just to clarify: It's not always how much we can take, but how much we think we have to take. They're very different things. Factor guilt out of the equation, folks. If you know that you can take (and have taken) more but choose not to, nobody can fault you at all for leaving. We know what it's like in this place. If you choose to stay, thank you. But, either way, there is certainly no shame or excess glory to be had. Thanks? Yes, deep thanks for staying. But, anyone who has played their part earnestly and left deserves as much credit and care as those who would stay.

    ReplyDelete
  12. You have nailed it. I hope the pendulum swings back soon.

    You forgot to mention personal responsibility that is needed from parents and students to get it moving the other way.

    ReplyDelete
  13. "While you may feel as if you're shoveling jello with a pitchfork, your efforts are not wasted." My new motto!!!

    ReplyDelete
  14. This. All. Of. This.

    ReplyDelete
  15. We all know this and all believe it but...sure was nice to see it worded well and in public. FYI, I'm in Colorado and just saw that CU has mental health programs set up specifically for teachers trying to navigate this shit storm I would check with your local university to see if something comparable is availabe

    ReplyDelete
  16. How do you get politicians to listen to educators, and change policy? In my state, there are almost no new teachers graduating from our colleges. Almost nobody wants to do this job anymore. I blame no one for not wanting THIS. How do we start the pendulum swinging back?

    ReplyDelete
  17. "Shoveling jello with a pitchfork", love it. Thank you for expressing how so many of us are feeling. As if teaching 7th graders isn't hard enough, I am feeling defeated in this chaos.

    ReplyDelete