Late last week, a guest to our school said something that continued to ring in my ears throughout the weekend. He said, “Teachers who love teaching are finding ways to continue loving teaching during the pandemic.” While it’s true that teachers need supportive environments in order to prosper, individuals must love teaching before they can really blossom.
During the pandemic, teachers have dealt with so many external pressures trying to rob us of the love we had at first, or snatch away our love of teaching before it’s had a chance to fully take root. We’ve viciously battled our school districts about return dates and instructional formats, lesson plans and late assignments, personal protective equipment and vaccines. We’ve argued amongst ourselves about the best ways to do distance learning, whether to rely on print materials or press the limits of technology, whether to embrace new challenges or play it safe. We’ve negotiated with students and families and watched with occasional feelings of helplessness as some students seem to wander further and further away. Very few of us have anything good to say about our current classroom state of affairs.
If we view present challenges with the same perspective as in past years, it is easy to grow weak. As teachers it is very easy to be intimidated by the great hill that stands in front of us. We stand here in the middle of the school year, recently made aware by standardized testing of the work it will take to make up for lost classroom hours. There is pressure to rush remediation from school leaders, students’ parents, media, and even ourselves.
As we sift the data, we forget that it data in and of itself will not help us support our students better. Overburdening our students with an excess of routines and pressure will not save them. Relating to ourselves, our staff, or our students as victims or martyrs will not help us. Ignoring the present challenges we collectively face and scrambling to snatch for control won’t help us meet our students where they are at.
In some ways, we have to accept that we cannot control everything. We cannot control when we are made to come back into school buildings, how many students will show up for class, whether parents are available to supervise students as they do their assignments, or whether we will be forced to return home again. For a profession so gripped by our own need for control, many of us struggle to accept our current challenges at face value without falling into bitterness, anger, or resentment. We didn’t choose this, but these obstacles are smaller than they seem.
Our students’ need us to keep our love of teaching alive. Even now, we are providing tools for them to learn that a year ago, would have seemed impossible to most of us. We have allowed ourselves to be challenged and have learned a bevvy of new skills. This school year, we have been changed in ways that will continue to shape us for the rest of our careers. And in spite of a face-value reading of the facts, many of these changes were good. As Mark Twain once said, “A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way.” While each teacher’s experience of the pandemic is distinct, we as individuals and as a profession have learned a whole host of things we could have learned in no other way.
At just over half way through the school year, we must be careful to center ourselves in the love we had at first. This pandemic will end eventually. We will devise strategic and well-placed interventions to support those who need it. We will fight for students to get the support they need, and just as before, student will learn as a response to nurture. We will return to the days of noisy classrooms, messy projects, and daily misadventures with students. Things may not be exactly as they once were, but they will be similar enough that we will be tempted to forget the things we’ve learned this year, if we haven’t course-corrected already.
In order to conquer isolation, anxiety, and lost instructional time, students need to love what they learn. Our children have what it takes to make up for lost time if we focus on making sure they love what they are learning. YES, we should definitely be giving strategic and high quality supports. But without passion and purpose, our interventions will fail to motivate. Our students already realize that covering lost ground will be a tough climb. We as adults are not the only ones facing anxiety about whether we currently measure up. It matters more that we fan the flames of students interests and relate their passions to current units of study than that we micromanage and over-stress students and their families. There will be a time to hit the ground running, but our students need to be energized to run the race once we get there. Focusing on curiosity and passion will allow us to enjoy the race. They are and ALWAYS will be the perennial starting place.
We as individuals must understand for ourselves how we have grown and how we can still love our jobs during a pandemic. If we are willing to focus not just on what we’ve lost but where we’re going, our love of teaching will continue to shine a light and spark passion in our students. Our love of teaching will give us the joy and endurance for the hill we climb, and we will be okay.