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A Teacher's Dilemma

Jul 07, 2020

Not gonna lie, I've been a little down lately thinking of prospects for next year.  It seems like in the last two weeks things have really taken a turn away from the general conversation of "things are looking much better, maybe we can just be smart as individuals and all go back to school," to more of "holy crap numbers are trending up and is school really going to be safe?"

Seriously, it's such a bummer.

Although I don't want this post to be a super drain or a pity party for teachers, I would like it to be one that brings a bit more awareness to what teachers are uniquely facing as we enter this school year compared to other industries.  I'd also like it to be a post that empowers teachers within the influence they still have, even given the unprecedented circumstances.

A Teacher's Unique Situation

The process of state's pulling back on what were their stay-at-home orders back in May were very much fueled by the desire to get the economy back open for the summer (and probably everyone begging for the ability to keep at least some of their summer plans).

Plenty of precautions headed by the health department were taken for folks that went back to work - required face masks, lowered occupancies inside buildings, insane cleaning and sanitation requirements, plexiglass barriers between customers and those who serve them, and more.  Everything that could possibly keep employees (and customers) safe was thought of, considered, and eventually implemented.  And businesses who could afford to meet all these requirements, did so... just take a stroll down any mostly commercially occupied avenue in America.  Business is back for the most part.

And these businesses, at least the small ones (and your average consumers) benefited from the largest stimulus plan to ever be passed in U.S. history.  Don't get me wrong, bring on the stimulus money if it will end up doing what it's meant to do - stimulate the economy, baby!

I believe that anyone's priorities are very clearly demonstrated when you look inside one of two things:

  1. Their calendar.
  2. Their checkbook.

Given the amount of money that has been completely slashed from our schools (speaking from our experience here in the state of Ohio) that was announced way back in April, America (and our states') priorities are real clear.  Education is certainly not one of them.

As long as I've been dreaming of having my own classroom back when I was 18 just freshly starting college, all the way up to now when I'm working with hundreds of teachers to build sustainable classrooms so they can be effective (and accessible) with their students but still present at home, I've understood the inept funding our government provides our schools.

This is no news to us.

But, to me, and maybe to you as well, the more recent lack of regard for opening schools safely feels like a fresh blow.

The fact that there are more demands with such minimal financial support on top of the cuts that have already been made while, in some areas as of now, requiring teachers to come back to school when cases of the virus are rather staggering... yea, this sucks.

Seriously, what is up with asking a kindergarten teacher to teach half of her students in one room, the other half in another room AT THE SAME TIME? Yes, it's happening.

What's up with asking teachers to teach many of their students in person while simultaneously teaching students online, and considering it one prep?

I know that administrators are feeling this strain as well, having to make some really tough calls for their schools given the restrictions and requirements, and trying to do what's best for the staff and their students.  You can only do so much when you're handed a heaping pile of crap and asked to make the best of it.

This is not on our administrators.

This is on our policymakers who continue to send the message that education is not important.  Education is not important enough to think long and hard about how we can stimulate its effectiveness this year by adequately funding the training of teachers to lead digital classrooms.  It's not important enough to exhaust all possibilities to ensure the safety of those who have to walk back into those buildings in August, make the best decision possible and then financially back up the decisions that are made.

I'm not saying that those who make decisions about our schools aren't working hard or trying to do what's best for our schools and their students.  I don't think there is malicious intent in any decisions being made.  But I am saying that the funding and attention paid to returning workers to their jobs in every other industry safely, seemed WAY more important, I mean insanely more important, than how we deciding to send our children and teachers back to school.

Amongst it all

I appreciate you sticking with me this far to just here my quick vent sesh, and I hope all teachers get a chance to vent in a safe environment where they won't turn around and immediately be judged for stepping down from their "martyr status" that many perceive we hold and therefore don't have a right to speak up about areas we believe need to be improved upon.

But here's where it gets better.

Amongst it all, we teachers (and administrators)... WE know education is important.

We know that for many of the children we call our students, we are their only advocate.

We know that for many of our students, our classroom is their safe haven.  A place they feel welcome, safe, and encouraged.

We know that our classroom, our role as their teacher, and the education we provide them is THE ticket out of the situation they were born into so that they can independently make a better life for themselves and world for others.

Nothing else in this country, on this globe, can empower a person like an education (well, maybe a job, but guess what you need before you can get a job???  At least some education).

We know this.  And here's the kicker.

When we teachers know this fact, and we act on it with all our might, we remain the number one influence on students' achievement.

Sure their achievement may be impacted by a ton of other factors right now that we have no control over, and it won't be as high as when we can control more of those factors when they're in the walls of our classroom, but my teacher-gut tells me that simply your smiling face, your consistent presence (yes, even online), your encouraging (sometimes incessant emails, it's ok, it shows you care, A LOT), for many students, are just what they need to show up for you and make their education count through all of this madness.

You are Not a Martyr

The meaningful impact you have as a teacher is immeasurable.  Never forget that.

But if you have relatives with compromised immune systems or other situations that make returning to school even more dire, at the same time you're not forgetting your impact, you can also remember that you're not a martyr.

You need to do what's best for you so that you can stay in the classroom over the long haul.  Here at Teach On A Mission we define ourselves by helping teachers build sustainable classrooms.  Everything we do, including write this post, is about sustainability for teachers BECAUSE THEY ARE THE MOST INFLUENTIAL FACTOR ON OUR STUDENTS' EDUCATION.  And because of that reason, do what you need to do to make this year sustainable, and that keeps you in the career longer.  That's what allows you to have more impact.

I'm not saying you should not teach this year, I'm not saying the numbers are so bad that we shouldn't go back.  That's the exact problem, no one really knows the next right step.

But what we do know is that you can have more impact by being in the classroom for your entire career, maintaining the enthusiasm you need to actually have impact, not just show up and go through the motions.

Light at the end of the tunnel

I am so honored to have hundreds of teachers taking my online course, Flipped Classroom Formula this summer, and I have to give them a special shout out.  I am so inspired by their enthusiasm, their tenacity, and their drive to show up for their students in new ways this school year, making sure they are effective, even from a distance.

The amount of time and thought they are putting into their classrooms, even their unpredictable, they-don't -really-know-what-it's-going-to-look-like classrooms, they are here for it, and it's one of the most inspiring things I've seen in my ten years in education.

I have joined a few Facebook groups recently FULL of teachers who are essentially spear heading their own professional development.  From creating entire Bitmoji online classrooms within every facet of their materials, to taking a deep dive into their new LMS, these teachers are researching, building, creating, and implementing strategies they hope will be effective for their students and it is nothing short of amazing.

It is also transformative.

Teachers, take heart. 

The work you are doing now is the equivalent to moving tectonic plates of the earth - slow, but massive.

In all that you are doing right now, you are making education more accessible to a student who wouldn't otherwise know the difference.  You are changing the face of how we educate children, and I've got to believe that once we are back in the classroom, able to make connections with students, and have the impact we were meant to have, we will all be so much better for it.

Even after the dust of COVID-19 settles (I pray that is soon and that our medical leaders do everything possible), teachers will be ready with more accessible classrooms, ones that allow them to be even more effective with their students, no matter the students' needs.  My hope is also that through all of this we also build sustainable classrooms, ones that allow teachers to be as effective as possible, longer.

So my teacher-heart may be heavy (my mothering heart is too because I'm sad at all my young children are missing out on), but we can keep our eyes on what matters most.

And, as the old adage tells us, this too shall pass.

Until next time,

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