I wonder if there will ever come a time when I no longer build the routines of my life around the school calendar. Each July visions of school supplies and planning sessions begin to dance in my head. I still clean my home every Saturday morning as though I will be busy teaching during the work week. I might go on a vacation any time of year, but I invariably schedule my escapes in June and July. I find myself searching for a comfortable pair of shoes that will sustain me when I’m on my feet for long stretches of time whenever the ringing of school bells echo in the distance. Teaching and learning are now baked into my very essence. It’s who I am, what I do.
Lazy summer days seem to have become shorter and shorter over time. Surely the classes only ended a few weeks ago, and yet many classrooms will be open for business starting this week. Some have already set routines and settled into the new year since early August. Along with the anticipation that usually goes with those new lunch boxes and freshly sharpened pencils is a kind of anxiety brought on by Covid-19. We’ve had enough of the virtual and hybrid classes of last year and desperately want a normal environment now. Sadly we can’t seem to agree on the best way to make that happen, and before we even begin there are worries added to all of the concerns that usually go with a brand new school year.
We feel fairly certain that many of the students have fallen behind in their learning, but wonder if it really matters to keep up a pace that we artificially created in the past, or if we should just take each child wherever he or she is and continue building foundations from this moment forward without too much pressure on anyone to rush ahead. Somehow we have grown weary of testing and sequencing that often misses the realities of each individual. Is there actually a correct universal pace for learning that works for mostly everyone, or has the pandemic finally convinced us that we’ve too often rushed the process?
How do we protect our students this year and somehow ensure that we can keep moving forward without endangering the heart of our future that lies with our little ones? How complicated should we make the process of being cautious? Perhaps the simple idea of masking everyone is a perfect solution, but there are so many who are opposed to such things. How can we convince as many as possible to get the vaccinations when so many others are worried that the vaccine may be worse than the virus? Do we have the room or the energy to space our students apart? Is it just too complicated to perform contact tracing and keeping parents informed of outbreaks of the virus? Do we have the will to endure all of this once again, and what we will happen if we choose to take chances and be more relaxed? It’s mind boggling and the kind of thing that keeps teachers and administrators and parents lying awake at night in stark terror. If we don’t get this right, the consequences could be disastrous and we know it. Our educator instincts tell us to be prepared for just about anything.
I’ll be homeschooling and tutoring again this year. I know how to teach mathematics, and I somehow believe that as long as my mind is working and my health is good I have a certain duty to help as many students as possible until I am no longer able to do so. I’m mandating masks for my students and I will be wearing mine as well. If the situation with Covid becomes more dire we may switch to Zoom classes again until things improve. They were not perfect last year, but they worked, and my students and I know how to manage them. If anyone gets sick we may all have to stay home for a time until we can be reasonably certain that the virus is not going to spread. These seem to be good ways of being flexible and doing whatever may be dictated by circumstances. I have always operated inside the classroom with an eye toward adjusting to the way the winds are blowing. A wise principal taught me long ago to never create a situation that might paint me into a corner. I would hope that our lawmakers and school districts afford every teacher the same flexibility to address the situation that I will have.
It often boggles my mind when I see how our teachers being taken for granted. Even with advanced degrees their salaries fall far below those of other professions. Substitutes often make only around eleven dollars an hour or less. Retired teachers find themselves working part-time to supplement their pensions, especially when they are single. In spite of these financial drawbacks dedicated educators come back year after year, not because they are incapable of doing anything else, but because they are devoted to the task of preparing our children for the future. In dire times like the ones we face for yet another school year they should be supported in every possible way, financially, emotionally and with the same kind of enthusiasm, that we afford other first responders because that is what they really are. They are the first response to one of the most critical needs of our children.
Where are the freebies and universal discounts for them? Why isn’t there free college education for their children or at least interest free loans and grants? Surely we should be able to create thousands of little perks for our educators that provide them with the rewards that they so assuredly earn. Why should a teacher have to work a second job or live in a state of chronic worry about retirement or healthcare? If ever there was a time to recognize their enormous contribution to society it is surely now.
Best of luck to my fellow educators. Know that you are heroes upon whose shoulders the very foundation of society rests. My hope is that this school year will not be as stressful as last year. I wish you well and pray that everyone will value you the way you so surely deserve.