By Merisha Leak
These are a few sentiments from educators working during a global pandemic who answered an informal survey I sent out on Twitter. Thirty-two educators, from North Carolina, and several other states, responded.
Back in March 2020, when professions around the world were first impacted by the COVID-19 virus, very few would have imagined that we’d still be in this same space of uncertainty almost a year later, with schools still not fully physically opened. It would be nice to be able to say things have gone considerably well for most teachers across the country during this past year. But the reality is, educators have felt an overwhelming amount of frustration while navigating the world of educating during a global pandemic. Lack of respect or acknowledgement of their risk-taking is part of that frustration.
Last year, educators across the United States were heralded as “superheroes,” celebrated for the way in which they handled the transition from in-person learning to being fully remote. Now, those declarations of applause have been drowned out by the resounding boom of vitriol. There is a barrage of comments from some corners centering on teachers being “lazy” and “unprofessional.” Criticism often comes when teachers advocate for safer school environments to accommodate teaching in-person or when they express reluctance to have schools fully open because they worry for children’s safety and their own.
Districts Aren’t Always Coming Through
Most educators feel incredibly disrespected and disappointed in their district’s response to the pandemic. Educators I’ve heard from seem most upset about their district’s push to have them back in unsafe buildings that aren’t up to code. For instance, in the district where I work, we have several buildings where the HVAC systems don’t operate properly. Given this, and wide community spread, my district has moved between remote and in-person learning throughout the year.
New learning models are also frustrating. While some educators remain in a fully remote setting, others follow hybrid models, bouncing back and forth between virtual and in-person teaching or teaching some kids remotely while others, simultaneously, learn in a room with the teacher. Some teachers have had to administer standardized tests in person. High schools in my district had to give students End-of- Course tests—with no virtual options.
Here’s what educators I surveyed said about the pressures they feel in doing hybrid instruction or administering tests:
Can We Restore Educator Joy and Respect?
Reading these educators’ experiences raises important questions about how to support demoralized educators before it’s safe to open buildings. How can we minimize such stressful experiences and ensure that our educators feel respected and valued as the professionals they are?
To help educators feel respected again:
To make hybrid learning easier and more successful:
One Thing You Can Count On: Teachers
One thing is clear. While no option—teaching remotely, in person, or hybrid—may be the one best solution for education during a global pandemic, educators are going to continue showing up. While they are exhausted, experiencing anxiety and frustration, they are not going to stop doing the job. With the increased frustrations surrounding working in this situation, it goes without saying that a little respect goes a long way. Our unwavering commitment to our work and our students deserves it.
All stakeholders should understand that we can all agree on one thing: everyone wants to be back in the school building. But it’s non-negotiable that we need to wait until that’s safe for everyone. While we remain in this complicated, sometimes messy space, we can continue to extend grace to one another and acknowledge that this isn’t an easy task for anyone. The best we can do is to lean in and remain focused on working together, not against one another.
Merisha Leak (@MerishaLeak) is a secondary academic facilitator in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a lifelong learner and equity champion.