Before I begin, I should note that I’ve taught high school English since the year 2000. I still teach to this day.
That being said, to my fellow teachers, I hope you are well. We are a routine-oriented lot who thrive on knowing what to expect, so this summer has been particularly difficult in that regard.
Hopefully, by now, you are getting some concrete plans. For instance, within the last few weeks my district has shifted to remote learning for students and then, a bit later, remote teaching for the instructors as well. Needless to say, we all exhaled a collective sigh of relief when that news arrived.
For those of us fortunate enough to be teaching remotely from home, I offer this one piece of advice: be the best you’ve ever been.
There are many ways to interpret that statement, but let me lay some groundwork before I expound upon it.
Everyone is currently stressed to the point of breaking.
School administration is being hit on all sides by the public, the business world, and politicians. They cannot please everyone right now. The phone calls, the emails, the texts, the social media comments–I’m sure it feels like a deluge. It’s hard to be an administrator at the moment.
Parents are also at their wits’ end. Their entire schedule has been thrown off-kilter and they are trying to work while providing childcare for their kids. They realize that they will soon have to also help with school work as best they can. I can easily imagine the pressure of trying to make sure the kids are on the correct Zoom call and checking in for attendance while the parent is also trying to fulfill their work obligations. Furthermore, parents are worried about their kids’ mental health. So many things are forcing their kids out of routine. Sports, music, clubs, youth groups–they are worried about what effect these omissions will have on their child’s well-being. It’s hard to be a parent at the moment.
Members of our community have had their lives disrupted. Even if community members don’t currently have a child in school, as taxpayers, they are still entitled to an opinion and should have the opportunity to voice that opinion. Some members think it’s dangerous for schools to be in session and every precaution should be taken to keep all members of the community safe. Some members believe the virus is not so great a risk that we should deny children all of the benefits that come with attending school such as education, supervision, food, shelter, and other services. It’s hard to be a member of society at the moment.
My point is, teachers, that everyone around you has a vested interest in how this all plays out, and everyone is on edge. Consequently, everyone will be watching you. Your administrators will be watching you. Your students will be watching you. The parents of your students will be watching you. If working from home, your neighborhood will be watching you.
My district has told me since the day I got hired that the teachers in our district are the best of the best. I’m guessing every district says that, but even so, we have to exceed that description. We must surpass even our own professional standards. As teachers, we are accustomed to being in front of students the vast majority of the day with very little downtime. The public is going to expect that same rigor even if we are working from home.
Therefore, teachers, be your best selves. Do not slip out for some time in the pool during the workday. Don’t be seen mowing the lawn during the workday. Don’t go shopping during the workday. Don’t go on vacation during the workday. I would advise you to even stay off social media during the workday. Do not give anyone any reason at all to doubt your professionalism.
Is this fair? Probably not. I know plenty of people in other professions working from home who have no qualms about doing any of those things. But teaching is different. We are judged in ways most other professions are not. There are dozens of reasons as to why this is the case, but the bottom line is that it’s true and we must act accordingly.
It’s correct that everyone’s “best” is going to look a little bit different. Some of it depends on our subject area, some of it depends on our technological prowess, some of it depends on our personality, some of it depends on our living conditions, but the most basic thing we can do is keep up appearances by sticking to our contractual hours and saving chores, errands, and personal desires for after the work day.
Teaching is an incredible responsibility. We are counted upon to guide the nation’s future. Yet, we must do better than we’ve ever done before during these difficult times.
I wish you all good health. I support you. I respect you. I stand with you.