What it Feels Like to Be a Teacher These Days


I’ve tried to write this piece five times in the past three days, but words keep failing me. Emotions rise up, my fingers tremble and I find myself thinking, “What’s the point of even saying anything?” And I delete everything. Then I try again.

This time I’m not going to think too hard. I’m going to just let it flow. I may need to apologize to some people, so I’ll do that right up front. I’m a teacher; we tend to be polite.

I’m retired now, but I was a teacher for three decades. My daughter is a public school teachers. I count many educators among my closest friends.

In my teaching career, I’ve heard that teachers are lazy. I’ve had many people write or say that teachers have the job so they can work those short days and have lots of vacation time.

In those same years, I’ve arrived at work in the dark so I could meet with a parent who had an early morning job. I’ve stayed at work until well past dark, eating a sandwich at my desk, so I could be available to parents who worked late. I’ve stayed at school so my class could perform a play for their families, show off projects they’d created, share books they had written.

All meaning that I wasn’t with my own kids at the time.

I’ve known colleagues who spent 2 full days of school “vacation” working in their classrooms. I’ve seen veteran teachers enrolling in extra classes so they could learn about new techniques for behavior management. I had a colleague who spent a weekend learning about deafness when she was informed that she’d have a hearing impaired student in her class.

During years of contract negotiations, I’ve had members of the public tell me that teachers are “greedy” because we wanted a 3% raise. I’ve been told that educators are overpaid because they only work 182 days a year. I once had a local man tell me that it was “ridiculous” to expect a salary increase when “the job is the same every year.” This guy lived in a house that I could only dream of, drove a car that cost more than the house I do live in, and vacationed in Europe with his family every year.

I’ve known teachers who bought soccer shoes for kids who couldn’t otherwise play. When I retired and started packing up my stuff, I realized for the first time just how much money I’d spent on supplies, furniture, books, toys, decorations and appliances for my class. Almost every teacher I know has had a stash of snacks for kids who don’t have one.

I recently saw a social media comment saying that “Unions are for teachers and school committees are for students.” As if TEACHERS are not there for STUDENTS. I’ve been told that teachers should learn to “put the kids first.”

I’ve known teachers who have gotten children medical help when parents were unwilling. I’ve known teachers who have gone in early every day for months so that a kid with school phobia could get to the classroom and get settled before the other kids. I can name teachers who have missed lunch twice a week for a year in order to give extra support to a child who needed it. And teachers who have pushed and pushed and pushed until their students were given the mental health and educational support that they needed. I’ve gotten myself in trouble with my administrators for working with kids outside of the school day.

And with all of our wonderful “Education Reform”, teachers have been told to stick strictly to the curriculum, because if we don’t, our kids won’t do well enough on the tests. Our grade level won’t see enough test score improvement. Our school won’t look good. Don’t deviate from the curriculum! No extra lesson on music, just because you’re an expert! No!

At the same time, everybody on the face of the earth tells us that “schools should teach banking skills and social skills and sex education and gardening and nutrition and the pledge of allegiance and health and anti-bullying strategies and anti-racism and why aren’t there more service projects? Why don’t teachers focus on teaching technology skills? And let’s not forget handwriting!

But do. not. deviate. from. the. national. curriculum.

I’ve been at parties where someone hears that I’m a teacher. If I had a nickel for every time someone responds with some variation of “You know what kids today need?”, I’d be able to supply a fifth grade classroom for a decade.

I once had an acquaintance tell me “If those kids had two days with me in charge you wouldn’t see any discipline problems!” This came from someone whose kids I know. Suffice it to say, he was full of crap. He wouldn’t have lasted twenty minutes in my classroom of 25 kids.

Find me a teacher who hasn’t heard someone say, “A swift kick in the butt would fix these kids.” Then let that teacher explain how many hours he spent working up a behavior plan to support the kid who keeps acting out, knowing that the kid’s parents were in the middle of a bitter divorce. Or his grandpa just died. Or his cousin overdosed. Or he was trying to figure out this reading stuff, but it wasn’t working for him.

When schools are shot up by madmen, teachers are expected to jump in front of those bullets with no questions asked. And most of us would. We’ve been told to carry guns, but that we can’t have coffee pots in our classrooms because they’re too dangerous. We’ve learned to comfort scared kids in lockdown drills. We’re left to explain to them that if they are in the hall when the lockdown call comes over the speaker, they need to go to the closest classroom. We are charged with guarding their lives, their emotional well-being, their sense of safety.

And now here we are in the middle of the worst pandemic to hit the earth in 100 years. Every single part of this globe has been hit. Everything has changed. Everything.

Teachers were told that schools were closing down, and a week later that they had to start teaching remotely. Teachers and administrators were told to get the kids in the air and build the plane while flying. All while trying to keep their own families safe.

And that brings me to right now, in the once admirable state of Massachusetts.

A state whose education commissioner has decided that ALL schools need to be completely open and running to ALL kids by April 1.

An insanely stupid and dangerous idea which once again puts teachers in the position of having to suddenly change the crazy, stressful, overwhelming routine that they’ve been using all year to teach kids remotely or in a hybrid model. No more social distancing if 24 kids are in one room. No more. Just masks (except for lunch!) and fingers crossed.

And teachers like my daughter are just going to have to suck it up and cope. As usual. They’ll have to figure out a way to merge two completely separate groups of kids who don’t know each other into one cohesive learning unit, a task that usually takes about a month at the beginning of a school year. They’ll have to put themselves at twice the risk of getting infected and bringing the deadly disease home to their spouses, their kids, and maybe the parents who are helping with childcare during this madness. They’ll have to just deal with is.

As usual.

And I’m sure that there are thousands of people out there who haven’t stepped foot in a classroom since 1980, but who are more than ready to tell them what they’re doing wrong and how selfish they are to want to stay alive and how it’s time for the unions and the teachers to start thinking of the kids for once.

Yes. I am enraged.

And really, really sad.