being a teacher

Dear Teacher

Dear Teacher,

Perhaps like me, you are sitting behind your computer screen right now wondering what else you can get done tonight? Perhaps, like me, you just drank another cup of tea hoping that the warmth and caffeine will give you the boost you need to get through just a few more things. After all, the list grew today, as it seemingly has done every single day since the first decisions about the upcoming school year rolled in. Perhaps you just promised yourself to get up early, before the kids are awake so they don’t see you working again, but you can get so much done at 6 AM in the dark.

Perhaps this is not how you envisioned your night. Perhaps like me, you had promised yourself that tonight you would make a healthy dinner, you would sit down and listen to the stories your kids had to share, after all, you were gone most of the day working in your classroom for in-service. Perhaps you had planned a movie night but then remembered that one big thing you needed to get done before 9 AM tomorrow and now you sit with headphones plugged in trying to find the words you need to express just how heavy this load feels right now.

Perhaps, like me, you worry about sounding ungrateful, perhaps you worry that it sounds so much like complaining when in reality our situation could be so much worse. I am not forced to go back to teach right now, we go back virtually. I have a job, a roof over our heads, our health. I have resources and support in a country that doesn’t share freely of either. I work in a district that truly cares about not just the kids but also the adults in charge of their learning.

And yet, I feel like I am in pieces right now. Like my to-do list has a to-do list. Like every day something new needs to be done as we try to meet a moving finish line based on how great the educational experience should be for all of our kids despite the global pandemic and a nation filled with rightful protests and anger. Like my emotions are right at the surface, like sleep eludes me and I forget to eat because it is easier to just keep on working. Perhaps if I learn another idea, another tool, if I create another thing the kids that are trusted to me will feel seen, will feel valued, will care about our time in English this year. If I read another article, attend another session, collaborate with someone else, it will make all of the difference. It will make the biggest difference.

And I will reach them all through the computer because they will see my carefully laid out plans, my inviting virtual classroom and know that I am ready.

And my husband tells me to stop. My kids ask me to come play. My own body sends all of the signals that it needs for me to hopefully understand that this is serious. That this is not sustainable. That this is not what we signed up for when we chose to be educators. That it is time for us to raise our voices because perhaps finally this nation, with its emphasis on the perfect teacher myth has pushed us to a breaking point. I am at a breaking point. I know I am not alone.

I have never seen so many educators resign.

I have never seen so many educators retire.

I have never seen so many educators cry.

And you can say that we signed up for it. That we knew what we had to do. That we are in it for the kids and that should be enough. That everyone else is figuring it out so so should we.

That we shouldn’t project our fears. That we need to man up, buck up, pull up our big girl pants, and stop whining so much. Grow a pair, shut our mouths, and finally know what it feels like to have a real job where we don’t get to have the summers off or leave at 4 PM every day.

Or perhaps we should schedule more self-care. Go for more walks. Do more yoga. Take care. Take a break. Take a breath. Take a step back.

But back to what?

Because my brain doesn’t stop churning. My head hurts.

Because I care so deeply. We all do.

Because I want this to be the best experience that I can make it. We all do.

Because when you say that the kids can’t learn as well I want to prove you wrong. We all do.

So piece by piece, I am pushing myself to extinction. Piece by piece, I have blurred the lines between my work and my life. Fed into the American notion that you are your job. That teaching has to be the biggest calling for you to be good. Higher than being a mom. Higher than being a person. Teacher first, everything else second. That if you don’t sacrifice as much as you are asked then you must not care enough. That when we say enough we are immediately suspected of not being in it for the right reasons, for not being innovative, for not truly knowing how to be a teacher.

But piece by piece, I am going to reclaim my own existence. I am going to say it loudly so that I can hear it through my own stubbornness. My own dedication to doing just one more thing. My own crazy commitment to constantly pursue something more, something better. Rest, Pernille, reflect, Pernille, remember everything you already know and give yourself room to breathe.

This is my public plea for others to do the same. To set boundaries now before the year continues. To repeat to me that I will figure it out. To repeat to me that I don’t have to sacrifice myself for 7th grade English to be great. That I am only human and that I cannot and shall not do this alone. That I am only a piece of a larger societal puzzle that needs to engage in deeper soul searching about who and what we value in this nation.

We are all just pieces.

So perhaps, you have already reached this conclusion and you feel better. Perhaps you are not there just yet. Perhaps, like me, you doubt your own words and fancy commitments even as you write them.

Perhaps there are great moments where you know how exciting this year is for growth. Perhaps those moments will last, but they won’t if we don’t notice them.

So dear educators, this is me sending love out into the world, letting you know that it is okay to say no. To say no more. To set boundaries and stick with them. Just like we teach the kids. Just like we were taught so many years ago. Don’t let others make you forget that.

And perhaps, you can let yourself believe that it will be okay. That no amount of preparation will ever truly make us ready. That as we search for that one more piece what we are really looking for is the kids themselves. That once they are with us, we will feel better. It happens every year. It will happen this year too. We just have to believe it.


31 thoughts on “Dear Teacher”

  1. Thank you for your truth! This rings true for me as well and your words capture my feeling exactly… struggling to make sense of my pieces and spending every waking minute desperately trying to fit them back together. 💔 My goal this year is find “big beautiful surprises” in our new uncertain normal. ❤️

  2. Thank you so much for your words as we make sense of what we don’t know. In my desire to make this new normal better my pieces are all over the place. Thanks for reminding us that we will figure it out, because the pieces will come together.

  3. Every. Single. Word. Rings with absolute truth to my experience these past weeks and in this moment. I think I have collected on average 30 new ideas each day for weeks. If I can just know it all then I can do it all and be at all for these kids. It takes an immense amount of effort to stop the collecting stop the doing and to fall back into the grace of letting it go having some self compassion and knowing that somehow it will be good enough. Thank you thank you Purnell for giving us all permission to be honest and to be real with this experience.

    1. Karen,
      Your comment about collecting an average of 30 new ideas each day for weeks resonates with me! I feel like all summer I’ve been frantically signing up for and attending webinars, downloading resources, bookmarking sites, and generally trying to gather as much information as I can about best practices in distance learning and tools for effectively teaching in such a new environment. The spring gave me some information about changes needed, but certainly not enough since the switch was so sudden. I am trying to let some of it all go and to select the “best” materials and information. It’s definitely quite a challenge to keep it simple though. Thank you for your encouragement to be compassionate with ourselves.

  4. Every. Single. Word. Rings with absolute truth to my experience these past weeks and in this moment. I think I have collected on average 30 new ideas each day for weeks. If I can just know it all then I can do it all and be at all for these kids. It takes an immense amount of effort to stop the collecting stop the doing and to fall back into the grace of letting it go having some self compassion and knowing that somehow it will be good enough. Thank you thank you Pernille for giving us all permission to be honest and to be real with this experience.

    1. I am right there with you, Karen and Pernille! Thank you both for your thoughts and words – they give me new hope!

  5. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I needed that tonight. I needed it right now. I read every word out loud as though I were the one writing it because I felt every part of what you have to say. It’s almost 11 where I live, and my wheels are turning b/c I’m trying to fit one more thing in…but I am going to reclaim my existence.

  6. I cried while I read your words. I cried because you expressed what I am feeling. I am sad. I am doing my best to learn new technology tools, to learn new ways to connect to my students virtually, And I am exhausted and realize that this is not like anything I’ve done before. I will give myself grace, just like I give to my students. Thank you, Pernille, for reminding me to stop and breathe.

  7. This week I am bleeding. I am going back to school in person with crazy procedures in place. I can’t wait to see my kids! I am fearful about how long we can stay. Even though I am in person, I am trying to learn new technology and search for one more lesson, too. I just trained hundreds of our districts’ teachers, and, yet, I feel completely unprepared. I never stopped all summer because I couldn’t teach myself enough to be ready for what faces us with kids in class and kids remote. I want my kids to have the best education possible even though they are 6 feet apart and suffocating behind a mask and can’t hug one another. Seriously, how will I ever NOT hug my teens crying over a breakup or heartsick over darkness that should not be part of their lives. Who will hug them if and when we are forced remote? I hope we stay long enough to build some trust. I hope… and hope … but fear and fear. Thanks for your words.

  8. Thank you for this. I do go back in person next week and am tired of being looked at funny or questioned when I express concern. Giving ourselves permission to feel all the things and take a step back is necessary. My best to you and to us all.

  9. Pernille,
    You captured my thoughts exactly. I am paralyzed with trying to figure out how to connect, love, and support the learning of my students given limited time and access. We will figure this out together. Thank you for voicing our feelings so clearly.

  10. Amen. I cried reading this. I start my third week on Monday and have been shredded this year. The plan is not sustainable. And yet…joy is what I try to convey during my class time. It comes at great cost. And the mind-blowing, soul-touching, life-changing moments can’t happen in Zoom. No matter how much I try. And I can’t be present to the physical class and to my virtual students simultaneously. I am breaking.

  11. So true! I‘ve been listening to podcasts from Beene Brown a lot lately and her work around shame. She speaks of how parents live in these feelings so much for themselves and give them other parents. I believe this happens for teachers as well. Give her a listen or read if you get a chance. Hopefully she can help you. We need to take care of ourselves and families always.

  12. Pernille,

    I end my reading of your letter with tears in my eyes because you have, once again, named my feelings so eloquently. This work we do is challenging in the best of times. We are all feeling the pain of our nation and grieving for so much while at the same time figuring out how to smile with genuine enthusiasm as we engage in learning with our students. I think we need their energy, the hope they always give us, the moments in which we watch them learn and grow, and we will be reminded of the reason we work so hard to do our best. We must also be reminded that we will not be our best to anyone if we neglect to take care of ourselves. Above all else, we must remember to show ourselves Grace and compassion.

    Thank you for writing a letter in which each sentence resonates.

  13. Thank you for seeing me, Pernille. I AM back to face to face school and have cried every day for 2 weeks. This is my 33rd year and I feel like total chaos is reigning everywhere. We don’t have a a lot of support, so we’re all flailing around. I so appreciate being seen. ❤️

  14. You can’t imagine how much this meant to me. I relate to every single word you said and keep telling myself I need to do something about it and end of working for hours and hours non-stop in front of the computer.

  15. Thank you. I feel it too. After a summer off that included so many trainings and PDs to get prepared for this year and all of my weekends spent working, trying to be the best that I can be has turned I to keeping my head above water.

    It is amazing to hear someone put into words most of what I am feeling right now. It is nice to not feel alone.

  16. Thank you
    I agree 1000%
    So much is expected.
    I’m teaching in person (16-22 in a class) and live to kids that chose online. It’s clunky. It takes away from truly teaching each group. I’m like a juggler in a circus.
    It’s exhausting.
    What we offered is not easily done or easily done well. But it’s too late. We’re in the quicksand now.
    I know I’m not alone. But it feels like it to my racing brain and my restless nights.

  17. As a retired nurse, who has also had all these experience and live through them. Do yourself a favor: make 3 list of need to do. One labeled ME, second labeled FAMILY, third WORK. Then, write on different color paper for each group write wants/ideas and put them in a bag. Each week, do the needs to be done, than reach into each bag a pick out one extra. When you make your list, make sure the need is a need and not a want. Dong one extra thing a week for each one and giving it a hundred percent of you attention, will give you a sense of accomplishment. Remember the ME is just as important as the rest. If you are a person who religion is part of your life, it should be the first thing on the ME list. The first weeks of school will be challenging, but use common sense, do fun thins like giving “AIR HUGS”, If given a chance, children are already adapting to the changes. We need to relax, reinforce the rules, and have fun. It will work out. Life is always about change. You are allowed to say “NO!”, and the important thing is to let it go and not dwell on not being able to do it. This to will pass, and we will be stronger for the experience. Good Luck.

  18. I have nothing to add; this is beautifully expressed. I, too, am struggling, and I honestly don’t know a single colleague who is not. Thank you.

  19. This says it all. If a pressing family issue comes up – then you feel hopelessly behind. Wait – isn’t the weekend at least for taking care of family and self? When did we say it was OK to consistently work this way? I think communities beside ourselves ( teachers) need to see your post, but that is your decision. Bravo!

  20. I just returned home from a day of PD and testing students at my school. I rushed in to plug in my computer and log on to catch the latest webinar I’ve signed up for and literally wanted to cry — I was feeling so tired. As my computer booted up, a notification of this blogpost flashed up on my screen, and instead of clicking through to Zoom for the 4th time today, I clicked on the link to this instead. I’m so glad I did! Yes! Yes to Pernille and to all of you who’ve expressed your bewilderment, your exhaustion, your worry, your striving. This time does feel like a time of change — and maybe teaching will change with it in some positive way. Know that I hear all of you, and that you are in my prayers.

    We start – virtually for now – on Tuesday, and I know I’ve been feeling these things all summer long. This begins year 32 for me, and I don’t know how long I can sustain this either….

  21. I love your honesty. You said what I am too tired to put into words. At night I dream as though I am in google classroom making assignments and fielding emails. My dreams are a jumble of computer issues in virtual teaching.
    60+ hour work weeks and I am not even doing what I know I need to do to reach every single child. I’m burning myself out fast. It’s up to me to set my own boundaries. It’s up to me to embrace my own family and realize that they are just as important if not more important than my school children. Thank you so much Pernille.

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