5 Ways to be a Happier Teacher This Year

Target already has their back to school stuff out in stores. Early back to school sales should be considered criminal for the trauma it gives teachers who feel like they just started summer. But as we near August, even I have to admit, we’re getting closer to the start of school. As my schedule starts to fill up with meetings and school prep, I want to also spend some time prepping for how I can support my own mental health this year.

This school year will be year nine of teaching for me. I find that super strange. It still feels like I’m only a couple years in, but turns out I’m knocking on the door of a decade. I definitely don’t have things all figured out yet (spoiler, I never will) and even if I thought I did, COVID taught educators everywhere that there is always more to learn. However, there are a few tips and tricks I’ve picked up along the way, imparted by teachers much wiser than I. So here are five things that I will be striving to do this year in order to be a happier teacher–hope they help you too!

  1. Build routines for you-time

I’ll be honest with this one, if I go to one more PD that makes reference to “mindfulness” or “take time from you” I might roll my eyes and stop listening. Because yes, that advice is great, but I for some reason cannot hear that advice from someone who is not actively teaching. I agree that making time for yourself is important, but I’ll go a step further and say you need to build a routine of time for yourself. This looks different for everyone so I can’t completely prescribe it, but whatever your thing is, make sure you schedule a time to do it every day. Things that have worked for me in the past include:

  1. Reading my Bible each morning. I was probably the most effective teacher I have ever been when I committed to reading a Psalm each morning while my coffee was brewing. Just one Psalm was all it took to recenter my mind on why I was dedicating so much energy into loving students. This is something I really got away from but want to reincorporate this year. I think a tool that I might use is an app called Lectio 365. Each day, they have two devotionals (one for the morning and one for the night) that include scripture reading and a guided prayer. The coolest part? You can just push play and it’ll read it to you with some background spa-like music. It’s super calming and very relaxing. Even if you just push play as you start your commute, starting each day in the Word is a great way to recenter yourself. If you aren’t really religious, maybe find a meditation app that works for you. Something about quieting your mind (aka not running through your daily to-dos and lesson plans) is a great way to get the morning going.
  2. Working out. I have gone through phases of doing this well and also phases of not doing this at all. But when I have a routine that involves some movement, I am a happier person. If you’ve got some coworkers who also like working out, why not play a youtube yoga workout in your classroom after school? A few of my friends and I did Insanity workouts in my classroom a couple days a week and it was amazing! A couple years ago, I actually joined a gym, and I found that if I took my workout clothes to school and changed into them at the end of the day, it almost forced me to stop at the gym on the way home. Otherwise, on the drive home, I would convince myself that I could just head home and take a nap. In What Happened to You by Oprah, I learned that for humans, rhythm is regulating. That’s why a workout makes us feel so much better. The repeated movements help us regulate after hard days. Highly recommend it.
  3. Reading for pleasure. This is one that I wish I had started in my first year of teaching. I was so swamped trying to preview and read books before teaching them, that I totally neglected my own reading. I learned from my dear friend Gloria (my ultimate teaching role model) that she read a little bit of a book each night. If she could, she would try to get a whole chapter in, but even when she couldn’t, she’d at least get a couple pages. I can’t count the number of teachers who wish they had a chance to read more for pleasure and not just for work. So make it a priority. Read just a little bit every night. Make it part of the routine.

Those are a few that worked for me. I’ve done well with them and also really fallen away from them at other times. But the more fun things for me that were built into my routine, the better I felt. So find the things that bring you joy and add a little bit of them to each day.

  1. Set Yourself Time Boundaries

This one is something all first year teachers need to hear. But this is also something that all teachers need a reminder of each and every year. There has to be a point during your day when you turn off school. I read a joke somewhere about how Teaching is one of those weird professions where you have to do work at night so that you have work to do during work. And then you do that work at work so that you can go home to finish the work. The thing is, there is always more that could get done. So as teachers, we have to figure out where to set our boundaries. During the first few years as a teacher, this is harder because you don’t have materials already made. But I learned when I was drowning those first years, that if I could get “enough” ready so that I had an idea of mostly what was on the lesson plan for the next day, then that was good enough. If I had things for students and could make it through the next 24 hours, then that would be fine. We need time to have families and friends and invest our time in them too. 

A related point on this one is about grading. I used to dread grading essays because they would take forever. I also used to get a ton of quizzes all at once and hated how long it took–until I learned some tricks. First, when it comes to essays, limit your feedback. A fantastic colleague of mine, challenged me to rethink the amount of feedback I gave to students. I used to take an essay and a pen and mark up grammar mistakes, unexplained details, poorly cited quotes–you name it. My coworker asked me to ask my class how many students actually read the feedback I left them, and how many students just flipped to the back for the grade and called it good. I had about two kids per class who sometimes glanced at my notes. So I changed my approach. I now dedicate more time to giving feedback in the writing process (we all know that feedback is important, but it is way more important during the process rather than just at the end). This is where conferencing with students works great. Or, if you use Google classroom and assign a blank google doc for students’ essays, you can make a copy for each kid which then allows you to see how far each student has gotten. Giving feedback during the process gives students an opportunity to correct mistakes before they even turn it in. When they do turn it in, you direct students to put a star at the top of theirs if they are looking for feedback. When grading, you just use your rubric and grade the essays, only leaving feedback on a couple essays and you save SO MUCH TIME.

When it comes to quizzes or grammar tests, use Google forms! It takes some practice to get used to them if you’ve never used them, but under settings, you can make it a quiz. This allows you to assign point values and give an answer key. The computer will grade the quiz for you (except for free response or extended response answers, but if you only have to hand grade a couple questions instead of all of them, you save so much time). This is an amazing tool. It even allows you to make it so students can’t have multiple tabs open–yay for stopping cheaters!

  1. Build Relationships with Your Coworkers

This one will get you through anything. Misery loves company, and when you are a teacher, you are guaranteed to have some miserable days. Hopefully not many! But a nasty parent email or a trouble maker you had high hopes for but ends up flopping, might get you down. Your coworkers get it. They’ve been there too. Become friends with the people you work with.  My coworkers have gotten me through my toughest days. Sometimes you just need to be able to send a vent text to the teacher group chat, and on a Friday after a long week, it is always nice to grab a beer with someone who totally understands. Build connections and relationships with your coworkers. Being friends with the people you work with will 100% make you a happier teacher.

  1. Know When to Avoid the Lunch Room

This one is important and totally depends on your school and also depends on the day. I’m also pretty sure that this idea gets brought up in most teacher prep courses. The lunch room can be a great place to build friendships and relax (see point three), but it can also be a spinning vortex of nasty, negative, not-niceness. Be aware of the dynamic in your lunch room and be selective about when or whether you go. You don’t need to be there every day (for some of us, that 20 minutes of alone time is recharging and wonderful) or even at all. Don’t feel pressured to be at lunch. Spend your lunch doing what is best for you. I know of many teachers (myself included) who might eat lunch in a classroom with just a friend or two. I know a couple teachers who open their classrooms to students during lunch because those moments of relationship building are fueling for them. And I also know of teachers who prefer to eat lunch on their own. It’s tricky to navigate and figure all that out, but sometimes, avoiding the lunch room can help you be a much happier teacher. 

  1. Leave Perfectionism Behind and Embrace Improvementism 

This was one of my favorite things that Dave Stuart Jr. published during COVID. I literally printed his statement and taped it to my wall (if you’re a teacher looking for some great practices and advice from an actual teacher, definitely look into his blog). As teachers we want our lessons to be perfect. So perfect that every single student completely understands, learns, and remembers our activities and assignments. During the beginning of COVID, when we were all still unsure of what the school year looked like, Dave Stuart Jr. told his blog followers to leave all that perfectionism behind and embrace improvementism (not a word, but a great concept). I loved it when it came to the last couple years, but I still love it now and wish that I had heard this my first few years of teaching. It doesn’t have to be perfect, just work toward improving a little each day.

So those are the five big tips I have for you. Again, I gained these from some stellar colleagues and teachers. And I don’t do these perfectly at all. But they are great goals for me and hopefully they can help you too!

**Sidenote, if you’d like to support my classroom and students. This is my Amazon wishlist for this year. Every year, a handful of my high-interest books, all of my fidget toys, and many of my decorations get lost or broken. The love and support of family and friends is the only way I could keep my classroom funded. Thanks in advance if you’re willing to help out 🙂 **

10 Books that Teachers Should Read During the Summer of 2021

Or I guess this list could be a list of 10 books that anyone should read this summer. I just default to #teachersonbreak.

As a high school English teacher, no surprises, I love reading. I also love finding a new, fantastic book and recommending it to a friend. So here are the 10 that I think you should be reading this summer, with details and links. I’m going to be linking as many of these books as I can to my favorite Grand Rapids bookstore, but if I can’t, I’ll use Amazon. You can find these at your favorite book store or at your local library. I’ll also preface this list by saying I love a little bit of everything when it comes to genre.

10) The Invisible Life of Addie Larue by V.E. Schwab. Ok so, I wouldn’t rate this as last on my list of top ten, but I wanted to start with this one because I just finished it and it is oh so good. A bunch of the ladies in my family chose this as our summer book club read. So my younger college-aged cousins through my grandma and I are all going to hop on Zoom someday soon to discuss this one. I can’t wait. Addie Larue was born in France in the 1700s. But she ends up being cursed and stops aging. Sounds great and all, until the freedom she asked for also means that no one remembers her. This is such a fun story. It flashes back and forth from present day to various historical events. The plot is so surprising that it honestly kept me guessing until the end. This is one of those books you could definitely take to the beach, or read while you’re hanging by a pool or on a front porch. A very well-written, good read. I will note though, there are a couple steamier scenes. It doesn’t get too graphic but I’ll rate it PG-13. You’ve been warned.

9) In Five Years by Rebecca Serle. THIS is the ultimate beach read. Or maybe the book to go with a bubble bath. I definitely envisioned this as a chick flick while I was reading it. It is a quick read, but isn’t too predictable, which I liked. The main character, Dannie, has her perfect evening. Her job is amazing, her boyfriend takes her to a ritzy restaurant and proposes, and then she returns home to a fantastic apartment. But when she falls asleep, she wakes up five years in the future. She is in a different apartment with a different man. When she returns to her time, it’s a journey to see where things take her. Did she actually see the future? Or was it just a weird dream? Again, total chick flick. If you need a light beach read, this is THE ideal book.

8) Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding the Church by Rachel Held Evans. Ok, this one is a deeper one. This is a nonfiction account of the author’s experience with church. As an intelligent, millennial, feminist, she struggled with her feelings over the importance and purpose of church. This book explores the struggles she had and then the purpose she found. What I loved so much about this book is how real it is. So many millennials ask such similar questions about the Church. I think this is a really relatable book. Millennials and Gen Z are leaving the church at alarming rates. If you’re at all in that boat–not sure about your faith or how important you should make church in your life, I’d recommend this one. This one is thought-provoking and real. Read this one on a rainy day when you’re hanging out inside. Or listen to it as you head off on a road trip

7) Stamped: Racism, Antiracism, and You by Jason Reynolds and Ibram X Kendi. This one is nonfiction, and also YA (you know I’d have some YA titles on here, I’m a high school English teacher!). Throughout the past five to ten years, I have read a lot of books about racism and white fragility. I could recommend so many, but I think this one might be my favorite. It’s a YA book, so it reads much more quickly than a dense history textbook, but it is also so informative! Jason Reynolds adapted Kendi’s nonfiction book so that it would be more approachable for teenagers, so the text itself is not intimidating–the content, well that’s kind of a different story. This book details the history or racism, starting way back in the BC times, and then it traces racism all the way until today. This is honestly a great look at history for anyone who wants to better understand how our country is still plagued by racism–both blatant and systemic. This is a good one for when you have some time to process ideas. The way it is written makes it an easy read, but the content really slows you down. You want to have some time to grapple with the history it explores.

6) Rules of Civility by Amor Towles. This one is for all my Gatsby fans out there. This is by no means a light read, so while you could definitely take it to the beach, just be prepared to be engrossed in a story. Amor Towles writes so beautifully and weaves these deep characters through such intricate plot lines, the story will just sweep you away. As I read it, I was reminded of books like East of Eden that I just didn’t want to end. This story starts with an older couple in an art gallery where the woman sees a photograph of a boy she had known when she was younger. It then flashes back to her life in New York in the thirties. It follows her as she attends parties, goes out with men, meets new friends, and attempts to figure out her life. Again, it’s beautifully and masterfully written. So dive into this one when you’ve got a few hours of alone time to devote to a beautiful story.

5) A Promised Land by Barack Obama. I realize that depending on politics, you might either really love or really hate this book. But I still wanted it on my recommendations list. Politically, I’m very moderate, so I like learning about Democrats and Republicans–as long as they are someone I like as a person. I honestly never voted for Obama, but I like and respect him so I loved this story. I listened to this as an audiobook which I liked so much better than having read it myself. Obama read it, so I loved hearing all of his stories with his voice. I think it is fascinating to learn about how he got into politics and ran for president. This book tells the story of him getting elected and goes up through when the Navy Seals took down Osama Bin Laden. I liked hearing about all of the events that took place during the beginning of his presidency, because I was super busy in college at the time, and I wasn’t paying super close attention to things happening in our government. Even though I know not everyone likes his politics, I still recommend it. It’s cool to hear the human side of the man who was president of our country for eight years.

4) The Lost and Found Bookshop by Susan Wiggs. This is a book that I’d heard of a little bit and then saw when we were at Costco right at the beginning of summer break. I grabbed it right away. I was pretty happy with this one–though it is kind of predictable. It starts with a woman who has a great job. A tragedy happens which sends her home to take over her mother’s bookshop as well as care for her ailing grandfather. She ends up running into two handsome, wonderful men who both want her. So while trying to save the bookshop and take care of her grandfather, she is also trying to figure out if she is ready for a relationship and with whom. Again, the plot was kind of predictable, but that didn’t make it any less enjoyable. This would definitely be a beach read, or one of those books that you just read a chapter or two each night before bed.

3) Girl Made of Stars by Ashley Herring Blake. Here is another YA recommendation. My friend gave me this book for my birthday because she knew the author was great. I loved it. The premise of the story is that there is a teenage set of twins Mara and Owen and they go to a party at the beginning of the school year. Owen is dating one of Mara’s best friends. After the party though, Mara’s best friend accuses Owen of rape and suddenly Mara is caught between the two and not sure what actually happened or whose side she should take. When I started the book, I was worried that it would fall flat–like, it was trying to be too relevant or something. Mara is also bisexual and so I was worried that it would feel too token-y. But it actually ended up being written really well. The plot progresses in a semi-predictable way, but there are enough twists and turns to keep you engaged. This is a quicker read but about some bigger topics. This would be a great beach/pool/rainy day read. You’ll be able to get through it pretty quickly.

2) Firefly Lane by Kristin Hannah. I just freaking love Kristin Hannah. She writes some great stories. Probably her most famous novel is The Nightingale, so if you haven’t read that yet, you should. But I loved Firefly Lane and if you read it this summer, you can then binge season one on Netflix (they changed some major things about the plot. You’ve been warned). This story follows two teenagers growing up in the 70s. One is totally gorgeous and the other is a bit of a nerd. But the unlikely two become the best of friends. This story follows them through high school, college, and into their careers. One becomes married to her career, while the other gets married and has children. I’m not sure that guys would like this book much, but for women, as you read it, there will be so many things that remind you of interactions between you and your best friends. I read this one cuddled up on the couch. It’s definitely one you’ll want to be settled in and comfy for. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, you’ll relate to the main characters. There is a sequel to this novel that I also love, but again, Kristin Hannah always hits the nail on the head.

1) What Happened to You: Conversations on Trauma Resilience and Healing by Oprah Winfrey and Bruce D. Perry. This is a nonfiction book that absolutely blew my mind and opened my eyes to some of the intricacies of human behavior. I recently started a Master’s in Trauma and Resiliency (I’m taking it super slow. I’ve got one under my belt so far and I’m honestly not sure when I’ll take the next class) because I was interested in the way that trauma impacts the brains of students. That was the reason I thought I’d give this one a go, but I was so pleasantly surprised. I found I was applying what I was learning to my students, my husband, my friends, and myself. I listened to this one as an audiobook using my library’s Libby access (your library probably has access with this app too, look into it!) and I would really recommend listening to it. I missed out on a few charts that are in the book by listening to it, but the way it is read, it sounds just like a podcast/interview–I mean, it’s Oprah. This book did a great job of balancing anecdotal examples with scientific studies. Highly recommended listening for when you’re driving in the car, painting that bathroom, or cleaning your kitchen.

Hopefully a couple of those sound intriguing! They’re my current top ten recommendations. Have a wonderful summer, happy reading!

Starting to Thrive During my First Year of Teaching

Welcome back to the insanity that is the story of my first three years as a teacher. In case you missed it, here is how my career began.

And now, on we go! During that first week of teaching, I met my students and realized that they hated me. Ok, a better way to describe it was that they did not trust me yet. Later, they would tell me that they took one look at me in my pencil skirt and decided I wasn’t going to make it at that school. They thought I’d be gone within a couple months. As I came to understand their stories throughout the next couple years, it makes perfect sense that they wouldn’t trust a new person like me. 

I also realized how much the previous teacher (and/or teachers as many of our students came from various other schools) had failed them academically. When I started to ask my juniors and seniors to write a paragraph for me, the response was immediate and nearly violent. I thought they just didn’t want to write, but I came to learn that they just didn’t know how to write a paragraph. And since I did not expect to need to teach them those basics, I hadn’t built in the appropriate support. So I butted heads right off the bat with a number of students because I seemed too demanding–in reality, I was just clueless. I started to learn that there would be strange gaps in knowledge that I would need to find and address. 

One day for example, I was working with my AP class–students who had been hand selected by the school counselor to take a challenging course. We all had packets of Hamlet that I had copied and stapled together one morning at 7:00am since my books hadn’t arrived yet. We were reading through the “To be or not to be” soliloquy and I asked my class if anyone could see a metaphor in it. The class stared at me blankly. I tried to kind of lead them toward an example by directing them to a specific group of lines in the text, but still, nothing. After a couple of minutes, one of the bolder students asked, “Miss, what’s a metaphor?” When the rest of the class looked at me expectantly, ready to take notes, I realized that previous English teachers hadn’t taught them some very basic literary devices.

These were the brightest and best students, who really were brilliant, they’d just never been taught what a metaphor was. I realized I needed to throw out my plans for the week and change directions. I needed to lay a stronger foundation in literary terms before I asked them to analyze literature–while simultaneously trying to plan daily lessons for four other classes and write down a curriculum map that I thought my principal was demanding I have done (turns out very few other teachers even had solid curriculum maps. So I really didn’t need to have prioritized those, but in the end, I guess it was good that I knocked those out early).

The behaviors were another thing altogether. We had an RTC at the school, a responsible thinking center, where we could send students who were being too disruptive or disrespectful. Unfortunately, I had the mistaken understanding that sending a student to RTC was admitting defeat. I wanted to be able to be that teacher who could reach each and every kid and manage each and every behavior. Now that I understand the effects of trauma on the brain more, I understand how wrong I was. Sometimes students just need a break from the classroom. They need to take a walk to calm down. They need to focus their attention elsewhere and step away from stressors. At the time though, I didn’t want to send students out of my classroom because it felt punitive and as though I was admitting I couldn’t teach them. Therefore, I kept some wild kids in my class as they were misbehaving. There was disrespect, yelling, bullying, swearing, throwing stuff across the room–there was no end to the misbehavior.

I specifically and vividly remember my freshmen class that year. I have no idea whose idea it was to give 31 energetic freshmen an English class as their last hour of the day, but I would love to explain to them just how wrong they were. These kids were literally bouncing off the walls. Besides the chatter, the cell phones, the yelling, the graffiti, and the pushing and shoving; this class also broke my sink and opened up a fire extinguisher. I once shooed a crowd of them away from lining up at my door at the end of the day, and one little 14 year old boy tried to tell me I couldn’t tell them what to do because three of them “got records”–luckily by that point I wasn’t intimidated and didn’t care. But these kids were wild, and my class room management was basically non-existent. 

Oddly enough, the things that finally won those freshmen students over to my side was Romeo and Juliet and the power paragraph. More on the power paragraph later, but I was shocked at how much they loved Shakespeare. Something about how he starts Romeo and Juliet off with a bunch of innuendos about male genitalia, and inappropriate jokes managed to finally convince my freshmen to pay attention to English. This was also during our second semester, so by then I think they trusted that I was at least going to stick around for a while longer.

Those first couple months though, were miserable. I would get to work between 6:30 and 6:45 each morning. And I would leave work sometime after 4:30 each day. I’d get home and take a break to make myself some dinner (honestly some nights dinner was a bowl of cereal), and then I would work on my computer making assignments and writing tests and quizzes until around 8:00 or so. Everything I was using I was making from scratch. I checked out TeachersPayTeachers, but honestly, I couldn’t afford to pay for assignments that I wasn’t 100% sure I was going to use. I was so grateful to the random teacher blogs who had full lessons and assignments that I could download and modify. But a lot of what I used I made. If I could head to bed with a plan for what I was doing for just the next day in each of my classes, I would be good. I was drowning.

There was one day in particular that I remember. It must have been early October. I legitimately did not think I could keep going. I didn’t really know how to quit, but I was wondering if I should maybe figure it out. I had met with my principal that day for an observation or something, and I had tried to explain the strain I was under. He’d been pretty unhelpful, something along the lines of “you can’t burn out if you’ve never been on fire”. I’m not sure what constituted being “on fire”, but I was pretty sure I had passed that point long ago. Taking deep breaths, I had to concentrate so hard to make sure I wouldn’t start crying (it was only my plan period and there was no way I was heading back to teach kids with a blotchy face from crying. I was convinced I couldn’t show weakness). I powered through the day, feeling a little like I had nowhere to turn for help.

I had also scheduled a dinner that evening with a friend who was in the area from out of town. This was the first time I had scheduled anything for a school night and I was already feeling overwhelmed and guilty that I was taking time away from my evening prep time. Before heading to dinner, I was venting to one of my roommates explaining that I didn’t think I could do it. I don’t remember her exact words, but it was something along the lines of a kinder way of saying, “Suck it up. You can figure this out.” I found myself again blinking back tears, but I am super grateful for those words.

At dinner, my friend asked me how I was doing. She encouraged me, knowing that I was capable of doing the work, but also suggesting that I consider looking for a different position. Overall, she made it clear that I had her love and support. After dinner, I got home a little late and was feeling guilty and overwhelmed, and like I finally had to give up. I remember sitting on our staircase and calling my mom. I don’t remember all of the conversation but I remember telling her how hard everything was. She told me that it was up to me what I did, but that if I needed to, I could come home and figure it out. She reminded me that I always had a place to live with them and that my parents always had my back. This was the first (and only) time I cried during my first year of teaching.

It was that day that I realized the admin at my school really had no clue what I was doing in high school English. I realized that professionally, I was on my own. But I also realized that I had roommates who were there to remind me that I could take on anything. I realized I had friends who maybe didn’t live around me, but who loved me and were only a phone call away. And maybe most importantly, I realized that I had parents who would do whatever they could to support me. Later on, I found out that my mom was actually so worried after that phone call that she had her Bible study friends start praying for me. I’m super grateful because I’m pretty sure those prayers kept me going.

That was my turning point. Moving forward, I kept the same ridiculous workload. But in my mind something shifted. Quitting was no longer an option. I was going to at least finish out the year. So I dove in and got super invested. 

I started by helping chaperone homecoming. Then, I learned that we had literally no extra curriculars to offer kids for their resumes and college applications, so I applied for an NHS charter and held our first inductions. Students began to trust me and their behaviors changed–well, a little bit. My lessons got better; I started building more appropriate scaffolds for my lessons. I even took a group of kids to a leadership conference. Let me tell you, when you are only 23 years old and suddenly the sole chaperon responsible for taking 15 teenagers on a bus 20 minutes away from school for a conference, you are absolutely terrified! I was looking around for the adult in charge and realized I was the adult. I was the only adult in charge of my group, some of them not even five years younger than me. I just put on my game face and pretended I wasn’t constantly counting my kids making sure I didn’t lose anyone–I didn’t, we returned safe and sound. Later on that year, I was able to even organize a field trip for the entire junior class to Detroit to visit the Holocaust museum.

By the end of the year, I loved my kids. I was definitely still overworking, but I realized how much need there was in my school and I wanted to meet those needs. I had also learned so much about my students, about teaching, and about myself. I ended up helping plan and chaperone prom, and then since the counselor had a vacation with his family planned, I was asked to plan graduation–that’s a lot of trust placed on a first year teacher to not mess anything up. I was honored, a little intimidated, and super determined to make it happen.

It was actually while I was picking up flowers, cake, and lemonade for graduation for the Class of 2015 that I received a phone call from my alma mater. The local high school in Hillsdale was looking for an English teacher, and I would be interested in the position? Eight months earlier, I would have jumped at the chance. But at that moment, when I was about to celebrate a group of my students with their families and friends looking on, I could confidently tell my previous Dean that, “thanks anyways, but I loved my students and I was invested in my school.”

Years two and three were much better for me. And leaving that school is probably still one of the hardest decisions I’ve ever made. More on that in my next post because this one has already gotten a little long. 

Until next time!

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.