I’m a teacher who was forced to “find something new” during the pandemic. The truth is, I didn’t really want to find something new — it’s just what happened.
Earlier this year, my husband accepted a position with his company that required us to move. Wanting to let my children finish their school year and wanting to fulfill my teaching contract, we decided that he would move first, and we’d follow once the school year finished.
I knew it would be stressful. I knew it would be tough. We enlisted our mothers to help us and began our plans.
Then COVID-19 happened.
My husband had already begun in his new position. Our mothers could no longer come help us. School became distance learning. I found myself suddenly working from home, packing that home, preparing it to sell, and helping my children with distance learning. All with much less help than I’d originally expected.
Long story short(ish), we sold our home, moved, bought a house, and I (finally!) found a job—but not as a teacher. I applied for every teaching job I could find and got one interview. Not one to sit around, I applied for a retail job, and got it.
After a few months living the retail life, I’ve learned a few things.
Teaching is mentally and emotionally exhausting. Retail is physically exhausting. I haven’t been this tired in a very long time.
As a teacher, I often felt isolated from my peers. Yes, you’re surrounded by a room full of students, but you’re not on the same level. You have to be the one in charge, which can be a lonely experience. At least as a teacher, I had lunch time to relax, talk with my colleagues, and take a moment for myself. In retail, I rarely get that opportunity. Once I clock in, I am working every moment. I might have a second or two here and there to interact with other workers, but that’s it.
People are rude. This isn’t news. I already knew this from teaching. I already knew this from all the summer jobs I had when I was younger. But it’s a startling reminder. As a teacher, I expected a certain amount of attitude and rudeness from the teenagers I taught. They are still learning how the world works, not to mention all of the hormonal changes they’re experiencing.
But that’s not who’s rude in retail. Most of the rude customers are probably 50 or older (but not always, so slow your roll, Karen). And they’re rude about inconsequential things, like the store being out of the soap they want. The young people I work with are the best. They have shown me so much grace as I’ve learned the job. They’ve never once belittled me for not knowing how to do something. They’ve gone out of their way time and again to help me. They are polite, gracious, and friendly.
So far, I’m enjoying the retail life. But I do miss teaching. I actually miss it a lot.
I miss my teacher friends. I was lucky enough to work with the best group of people. They are my family.
I miss my students. Working with teens is not for everyone, but I loved it. They are funny, curious, idealistic, and genuine. They can tell when you don’t know your shit, but will cut you slack if you admit it. If you show them that you see them as human beings, they’ll respect you and possibly love you forever.
I miss reading Shakespeare with them. I miss diagramming sentences with them (yes, some of us still teach that and some of the students love it). I miss laughing at Giles Cory in The Crucible when he says, “A fart on Thomas Putnam!” Because farts are always funny.
Mostly, I miss standing outside my door and saying hello to them as they entered my room. I miss the interaction. I miss them.
There are so many things I miss about teaching. But there are a lot of things that I do not miss at all:
The constant grading.
The angry parent emails.
The school nightmares.
The back to school nightmares.
The never-ending stress and anxiety.
The feeling that I am not doing enough.
I could make this list a lot longer.
While I miss my teacher friends and students so much, I do not miss any of the things above. Now, I come home from work and do what I want rather than grade, or feel guilty for not grading.
Now, I check my email without a sense of dread.
Now, I take naps. On a weekday. In the afternoon. Because I can. It is glorious.
I can say these things because I’m no longer in the trenches. Teaching is hard. It is so damn hard. Often, we’re seen as martyrs; the people who will literally do everything and anything for their students. We want to be able to provide our students with the best education we can. More than that, we want to give them a safe place to learn. We want them to know that our classroom is that place. There, they will be safe, loved, and valued.
But we don’t want to be the catch-all. We don’t want to do this at the expense of our health.
Last spring, teachers were heroes. Now, they’re getting threats or being told to simply suck it up and get back to work. Many went back to work with no idea what to expect. Many went back to work out of necessity. We don’t all have the option or the desire to “find something new.”
None of us know what will happen this year. But I know that we should not endanger our teachers, or our students. I’ve had students who died. I’ve had teacher friends who died. There is simply nothing that I could say to my students to make those situations better. There was a lot of hurt and heartache. I fear that this year might cost us a lot. I am so fearful of that.
This year, please cut teachers a lot of slack. We’ve been running on fumes for a long time. I don’t know what we’re running on now.