I tend to look on the bright side of things when it comes to education, to try to find the time to savor the small moments, relish in the growth, look at our successes before lamenting all that is lost. I tend to be a person that “eats the elephant one bite at a time.” Who feels fairly empowered by a thought out to-do list, a well-planned unit, and who tries to look for answers or steps forward rather than dwell on the impossibles. And yet tonight, after endless meetings and navigating all of the information that is coming furiously at us as we prepare to be live with students again in February, I am spent. I am drained, beyond exhaustion but with a restless mind and words waiting to be spilled.
Because the truth is I, along so many others, have innovated my heart out since March 13th, 2020. In fact, probably for a lot longer than that. I have taught from email to email, directive to new decisions. I have risen to the occasion, done all I can, tried to bring my very best every day in order to reach every child, despite knowing that it will never be enough for those who measure our current success against what school was for some before Covid.
And I have worked too many hours, missed too many moments in my family’s life, pushed aside the needs of my own kids, kept my chin up, put on a brave face, and swept my fears and feelings of inadequacy under the proverbial rug because in this nation, the home of the brave, teachers are likened to superheroes who are always supposed to be in it for the kids. And if we falter, if we show fear, if we say enough, well then surely our intentions were never as noble as we claimed. Imposters all along who do not deserve the chance to work with children.
And it’s killing us. Quite literally, as I am confronted with another Facebook post talking about that special teacher, who reached all of their students, dying from Covid. What a world we live in now where it is the very act of being together that can ultimately end our lives. Where going against so many of our teaching practices is what can be the difference between staying safe or not. It used to be guns that killed us.
This post is not a cry for help, don’t worry I know how to take care of myself. I have the links to the meditation apps, the mindfulness moves. The new apps and tech tools that will make it all worth my time. I have the sign ups ready for all of the webinars, the professional development from experts who have not actually taught through this pandemic but speak to those who have. I have self-cared into oblivion, yogaed in the morning, walked in the afternoon, made time for doing nothing, and also those new covid hobbies I was supposed to do. I have worked my way through it all to see the road ahead so that I can get a night of quiet, set boundaries, left affirmative post-it notes, looked for the positive, and stepped away when I could. I have laughed about it. Cried about it. Refused to think about it. Spoken about it. Kept quiet about it. And also just taken it one step at a time, as if I was going out for a jaunty little hike; new adventures await!
I have raised my voice, offered my help, asked questions, offered solutions and reveled in the fact that the district I work in is 100% committed to inviting teachers to the table and keeping us there for the entire discussion. I shudder at what happens to those who don’t get to say that.
And yet, again, despite this, my creative energy is nearing its end, my drive to educate under these circumstances is near extinct, despite the amazing students I get to teach, despite the importance of what we do, despite loving so many things of what it means to be an educator and not knowing whatever else I could possible do in my life that would bring me so much professional joy, I am exhausted. Because let’s face it, we can all continue to try to fold in the cheese, but who invented the recipe to begin with?
Because it’s not us, the educators, who need to put on our capes. Who need to step up as selfless superheroes who will give everything we have in order to save the future. We have been doing that for decades and it hasn’t been enough, it never will be. The change has to be sweeping. Has to start within our classrooms but go to the far reaches of society. Our voices, those of people within the walls of school and those attached to it, must be lifted as we once again push back against what the superhero myth of education really does for all of us. It robs us of our humanity. It takes away our right to say no. It removes the ability to advocate for real change because if we advocate for other possibilities, for work/life boundaries, for hard conversation and more importantly actions, then we are seen as sacrificing children in order to better our lives. Yet that is not true, and we all know it, but nothing works better at silencing educators than a swift “It is best for the kids…”
So tonight, I will once again spend some more time checking in on assignments, tweaking lesson plans, perhaps read a few pages of a book before I fall asleep. I will hang up my cape that I never wanted to begin with and go to bed knowing I did the best I could today but also knowing that this is not sustainable and that we have to continue to say that out loud. That this is not normal, that we are still trying to teach and learn during a global pandemic, and that our best will just have to be good enough. Because that is what’s best for kids, not educators who have nothing left to give.
We will offer ourselves grace and try again tomorrow, with our voices raised. Right after we start our self-care routine, of course.