I am an elementary public school, general education teacher, and have been in education for 12 years. In that time I have led classrooms with children ranging in age from 2 ½ to 10 years old. I have helped children and families deal with ADHD, autism, and anxiety diagnoses. I have helped find community resources, or bought them myself, for families dealing with poverty and homelessness. I have taught through my own pregnancies and family hardships. I have trained children to be okay with sitting in a dark corner through lockdowns that I personally wasn’t sure were real or not. I, like many across the nation, left for spring break in March of 2020 and never came back to my classroom that school year. I am teaching in a school setting that went back to 100% face-to-face instruction in August, so I never had to deal with the hell that hybrid learning and teaching must be. I am more burned out this year than I have ever been before. Here’s why.
This is what teachers (and your kids) have lost in the year of COVID.
In order to safely transition kids in and out, we now have kids come straight into the classroom upon arrival at school — 30 minutes earlier than they used to. It also takes an additional 15 minutes at the end of the day to coordinate parent pick up. That’s 45 minutes daily of my former plan time gone. Additionally, we have had many teachers go into quarantine and not be able to get a substitute, so we keep our kids for that time rather than sending them to specials like PE and Music. This has happened so many times this year that we have lost almost a quarter of our plan time. Additionally, because of the earlier student arrival time in the mornings, we are now having to report to school 15 minutes before our contract time on days that we have meetings. I have these early morning meetings at least one to three times a week — it feels like small potatoes in the moment, but 45 minutes a week adds up.
Presence of mind.
In order to deal with all of the possible outcomes from COVID, it feels like we are living in three realities at once. I have created a set of “plug and play” emergency sub plans covering two weeks should I have to go into quarantine, but my kiddos do not (like if one of my own children tests positive for COVID). I have a set of plans to hand to individual kids that go into quarantine, in addition to updating our Google Classroom as needed. I update these plans after each individual quarantine. I also have another set of plans that I update quarterly so we are ready to go in case the whole class has to go into quarantine (this has happened once, when I got COVID). I feel like I am never truly existing in the present moment because I have to constantly be thinking of the “what ifs” of the future and/or catching up on missed opportunities from the past.
Because my school district offered an online option, but did not set up clear parameters for when children could return to school, we have had a trickle in effect since the beginning of the school year. I have gone from 16 to 26 kids since the start of the school year. Every time we get a new kiddo the classroom community has to readjust, and I have to get a handle on where that child is academically. In addition to individual kiddos coming into the classroom, we never know when we might get socked into a quarantine. This has completely undermined any sense of routine and normalcy in our classrooms.
Because of the increased workload of existing in three realities, and the ability to “teach from home” through Google Classroom, I am taking home more work than I ever have. The idea of a “sick day” has completely changed. The day that I was diagnosed with COVID, my whole class went into quarantine (I had been out for three days and providing sub plans while I waited for test results), and I was expected to pick up teaching remotely the next day. I was not hit extremely hard by my case of COVID, but hard enough that I honestly do not remember a word of what I taught on that first day. But with resources stretched this thin, if you are well enough to click a mouse, you are well enough to teach, apparently.
Community and collaboration.
COVID precautions have turned us all into islands — teachers and students alike. In a school where collaboration is held as an ultimate goal for our students, not being able to come within three feet of each other and share any materials has completely changed our classroom dynamic and how we teach. We also have completely changed our school schedule so that no classes overlap in common spaces — so there is never an opportunity to talk with my colleagues outside of my own grade level. For years we have shared ideas and relied on each other for support, especially with kiddos who struggle, but may have built a relationship with their teacher from the year before. This cannot happen now, so all behaviors are either handled in the classroom or immediately sent to the principal. This is not what’s best for anyone and I have never felt more alone.
In a year where I am doing more work than I have ever done with less support than I ever have, my paycheck has decreased by about $200 per month. Due to major budgetary issues caused by the pandemic, education funding has plummeted. I work in a low income school district. We were not given raises this year. A yearly stipend of $1000 that we receive for doing additional professional development work outside of our contract hours has been suspended. Our health insurance premiums also increased by $175 per pay period because of the strain of increased needs, during the same year where our PERA contributions dramatically increased. My classroom budget was also cut in half. What I did get for a budget was spent almost entirely on mask lanyards for the kids that were promptly lost. I am making less money this year than last year, but having to put more into my classroom than I have in years to make it COVID-safe.
Faith in Humanity.
In March of 2020, social media was singing the praises of teachers, calling us saints and marveling at how we do it all. Come August, when teachers dared to question the safety of occupying small, unventilated spaces with tiny humans who are notoriously unhygienic (how many professions outside of teachers and healthcare workers accept that they will get someone else’s bodily fluids on them at some point in a day?) we became lazy freeloaders looking for a paycheck without “doing any work.” Everyone has a performance review for how their child’s teacher handled becoming an online instructor overnight, and shared it on social media. Everyone has an opinion on how frequently kids should or should not be wearing masks, which teachers are “overreacting” or “not cautious enough.”
There is no gray area in anyone’s opinions, no limit to the vitriol that will be spewed. There is no winning and teachers are buckling under the strain. And the real losers are the kids.