Teaching During a Global Pandemic

I’m writing this on the eve of my last day of school. I assume I’ll publish it later after some editing, but right now I just need to word vomit about this year.

This year has sucked.

But I also think only other teachers can grasp my meaning here. There has to be a more powerful and descriptive word than that it merely ‘sucked’, but I’ve decided I won’t let swear words slip on here, so just know you have to add more emotion and power to the word ‘sucked’ to understand where I’m coming from.

This year has sucked.

[Disclaimer–I realize this statement is true for most of us. COVID-19 flipped our worlds upside down. We’ve all gone through a crazy storm. We’ve all had it really rough. I just want to share my point of view as a teacher during a global pandemic.]

This past year was my seventh year in education, my fourth year in my current district. I am lucky to be in a well-funded district, and I am blessed with a principal who is so good at her job and cares so much about her staff–other teachers had it much worse than me, trust me. But even so, I have never considered leaving education more than I have this year (and that includes my traumatic first three years–that’s a story for a different blog post).

A little extra context, my school was committed to being fully in person for as long as we could be. Of course, the planning for that decision took place over the course of the summer, so although we seemed to have a longer break than usual after schools closed mid-March 2020, it felt as though we spent the entire summer working. When we made it to the professional development days before the start of the school year, many of us had been in meetings for months, multiple times a week, to try to figure out how to manage things this year. It was overwhelming. Here are a couple of new things that we did this year:

  • We took our tests, curriculum, and assignments and converted everything into a digital format. We were as paperless as possible to avoid spreading germs.
  • We learned how to use Zoom. And Google Classroom. And padlet, peardeck, nearpod, kahoot, naviance, etc. etc. I honestly don’t even remember all the google add ons we were told about. We sorted through everything that was out there and tried to figure out what fancy new program would work for us.
  • After learning about new tech tools, those of us 35ish and younger taught our veteran teachers how to use those tech tools.
  • Then we all taught our students how to use those tech tools. Gen Z is phenomenal at cutting a TikTok video with Hollywood level videography, but oh boy do they struggle turning in a Google Doc in MLA format.
  • We reimagined our classes without time for group work.
  • We reorganized our classes so desks could be spaced out. I had 34 students in one hour so we didn’t even come close to the modified 3 feet of separation the CDC recommended for schools.
  • We got rid of the opportunities for students to make up work before and after school.
  • We learned the processes for how to sanitize everything in between each class.
  • We figured out how to explain the rules to our students–how to handle lunch times, and sporting events, and passing times.
  • We then spent an entire flipping year asking students to please cover their noses and just follow the very basic rule of wearing a mask.
  • We tried to build relationships with kids whose faces we couldn’t see.
  • We contact-traced until we were blue in the face because the health department required us to. And then the parents got mad at us and we had to console our students while keeping them caught up on schoolwork while they were home for two weeks.
  • We cancelled homecoming and planned an outdoor prom.
  • We couldn’t bring in home made goodies for our students–if you’ve ever been a student in my class, you KNOW I use my famous chocolate chip cookies to bribe students to behave. This year’s students still haven’t tried my amazing recipe.
  • We modified and exempted assignments for students who were out of school three or four different times for full, two-week quarantines.
  • We cancelled exams because we couldn’t make as much progress in the curriculum as we had in previous years.
  • We then prepared and consoled students to take standardized tests like the SAT. Hold on, read that again. During a global PANDEMIC–a PANORAMA–a PATRICIA–we had our juniors sit for 5+ hours taking a standardized test upon which their goals and aspirations for college would ride. And no, that was not a decision that any educators had a say in. So many things were modified or altered in the world this year. But the departments of education throughout our nation couldn’t take a minute to rethink the necessity of a grueling standardized test?
  • We then watched as the CDC removed the national mask mandate for vaccinated individuals when there were only three weeks left in the school year. Oh yeah, we enjoyed having to navigate those waters with students (we kept the masks for the rest of the year, we just had to fight that battle daily)

It was awful. This list is not all inclusive. There were many, many other changes, frustrations, and unrealistic expectations. I just need to stop dwelling on the struggles so I can move on to my positive-light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel ending of this post. Almost there, I promise.

Nothing we did this year could please all of our parents. Every decision we made upset somebody. We taught a few weeks through zoom (which was essentially talking to black squares with names on them). Some of our students stuck around and paid attention, but we also had a number of students who logged in for attendance and then did anything else. Differentiating between students who needed extra grace and support and the students who took advantage of the situation was literally impossible. So we gave grace to everyone and felt like we were holding no one accountable.

I constantly felt like I was spinning my wheels. I was overworking. I was exhausted. And I was making no progress.

Teaching in a pandemic was a miserable experience. I reflect back on the time a little over a year ago, when suddenly parents and companies realized how much teachers do. For a couple of weeks, we were heroes. But when back to school time came around, we were seen as lazy babysitters who were trying to get out of doing our jobs. The tides turned so quickly and so violently. At the beginning of this school year, before we knew that COVID wouldn’t spread too quickly in schools, I’ll admit I was terrified. I was terrified to spend two hours straight in a classroom with 35 other people, many of whom thought masks should sit below the nose so they would be more comfortable. I figured I would probably be ok if I caught COVID, but I would be devastated to have passed it on to my husband or any of my family or friends. I was scared at the beginning of the year. In retrospect, everything turned out fine. But in my moment of fear, to see the things parents were posting on the internet about how teachers needed to suck it up and do their jobs–it was just a lot.

Sure, parent support may have been there this year, but I don’t think I really felt it much. It was a struggle. And although I never seriously considered a different career path, I did often think, “Why am I even doing this?”

I like to brag that I only cried once during my first year of teaching–the year that is generally the most difficult and emotionally challenging. But I can not count the number of times I cried this past year–though J could probably tell you. I am so glad that this school year is over.

I’m now ready to end this post with some gratitude.

I am SO grateful to my friends and coworkers. I am really close with a number of people I work with, and I could not have stayed in education if it wasn’t for them. I also had teacher friends in other districts who would text me, grab coffee or a drink with me, and we would commiserate. That understanding was just encouraging. I mentioned before, but I am also so grateful to my principal. She gave her all this year, literally working 80+ hours during most weeks. She supported us teachers so well, I always knew she had my back. I’m grateful to friends and family members who donated weird items to my classroom–bins for sanitizing, clorox wipes, ten foot extension cords, extra ipad chargers, and handmade masks (thanks mom!). This year kind of reminds me of the whole ‘it takes a village to raise a child’ phrase. It took a village to get me through this year. I’m thankful for my village.

And I am looking forward to next year. I’m ready to start over. There is light at the end of this tunnel and I am ready to teach again come September.

Until then, if you know a teacher just coming off of a roller coaster of a year, buy them wine. Tell them they are a superhero for educating kids during a pandemic. And then don’t expect them to answer any emails for the next couple months. I think we’re all ready to log off.