It’s the end of Covid-teaching-year and on behalf of all teachers everywhere, I want to say, not the usual “cut us some slack” but people, salute us everywhere we go, buy us lunch at Panera, donate your beach vacations to us, put us in your wills, and in honor of our dedication to risking our health in order to hang on to the potential greatness of your children, please read aloud to your most precious every single day this summer.
I can’t even describe how tired I feel as a part of a collective fatigue that began when we were abruptly shut down a year ago, told to isolate ourselves from the only support-system we really have (other teachers at our schools) and move our classes online indefinitely. Some of us thought “Zoom” was just a sound little boys made when pretending to drive matchbox cars when this state-of-emergency happened. Some of us thought not attending church was always a bad decision brought on by spiritual drought or disgust at egotistical church leaders, not something to be praised and encouraged. Some of us, the English teachers, thought masks were the things of Metaphor, something donned as a costume so deep, baritone ballads could be performed.
How the world changed since March 2020, how social life diminished, and how pizza boxes became something to be feared, and yet, how the demands of teaching did not diminish at all. In fact, the demands of our profession increased in height and breadth like an adolescent giant on magic beans. While the demands increased as we, the teachers, began to dream about personifications of stress, our approval ratings and public rhetoric about our chosen profession (which already were not so great) began to morph from disgusting to absolutely terrible.
Some of us taught online and some of us went to our classrooms and most of us engaged in a weird hybrid form of the two extremes all the while grappling with what it would feel like if we contracted Covid- 19 on that one day when we couldn’t bear it any longer and let a child hug us or come within two feet of us and talk or hand us a germ-ridden paper to read. And worse yet, what if we contracted Covid and we had no symptoms but we then passed it to another loved one in our family who ended up on a ventilator. Or, what if we ended up on a ventilator for a job that feels more like a mission field, especially when we try to plan our retirements.
I sometimes felt empathy leap from my heart across a six-foot span where I tried with all my mental might to propel it toward a struggling student in a mask whose words I could barely understand and whose eyes I could barely see. During Spring 2020, I actually assembled care packages and mailed them to my Composition I students because I felt so bad about the learning situation that had been thrust upon them. My students were so gracious, but this year, that grace has hurt.
It seems that everyone, everywhere has an opinion about what we, the teachers, should have been doing better, sooner, longer, faster, higher. It’s a strange profession, where we inherit students who have never been read to, who have come from homes who have not prized learning and thinking and eating meals together, and we are expected to take advice from these same adults about what is best for our current generation of students. The same society who won’t pay teachers as though teachers are “essential workers” wants to play the “essential worker” card and thrust us into unsafe environments so their kids can play sports.
Teachers, everywhere, are deeply tired. Most of us, despite everything, love our jobs and wouldn’t choose to do anything other than what it is we do. This summer, if you see a teacher sitting on a beach towel somewhere with eyes closed, remember that the fundamental question in education that has emerged from this pandemic isn’t “Do you respect teachers?”. It is, do we respect you? I have learned and earned a certain resiliency through this pandemic. My best is good enough, and more importantly and I am putting this in all-caps for emphasis MY BEST IS ALL YOU ARE GOING TO GET. Don’t be an unteachable public with unyielding ideas about what teachers aren’t doing enough of. Or go ahead and be that, if you must. For those who wanted schools to open, whose big idea was it not to put higher ed. on most priority lists for the vaccine? I’ll be somewhere in the sun, on a beach towel, with ear buds playing my favorite music and a fruity drink in my hand for as long as it takes.