Why we (teachers) are scared to go back to school...

10:57 PM


First, I want to be upfront and state that this is not a blog post about how going back to school may impact the health and safety of students, staff, educators, etc.  There are plenty of great posts with information and data about the risks of opening schools face-to-face during this COVID-19 crisis.

No, this is about the other fears that are driving educators to not want to go back. Not wanting to go back to school AT ALL, not matter if in person, hybrid, or virtually.  The fears that are keeping us up at night and having us question this career choice.  I am speaking from my own heart and experience here, but have talked to enough other educators to know that I am not alone in having some (or all) of these fears.

The fear of not being good enough.

These days, social media has a strong hold on society.  While being "apart" we are actually staying more connected through different social media platforms.  Teachers are often their own worse critics.  We used to just compare ourselves to the teacher across the hall, but now we're comparing our classroom (or google site) to that of the teacher across the country.

Of course, parents of students are also on these platforms, and often are even comparing teachers throughout the school as well to their nieces' teacher and what s/he's doing in Town Name in Another State. I am in (or was in, I left) a few Facebook groups where there were wonderful things about teachers being shared, but also a lot of negativity and teacher-bashing. 

Are we using too much or too little tech?  Are our lessons engaging?  What is being said about us?  It's so easy to say "Just do your thing and ignore those of SM!" but it's easier to say than do.  We want to feel on par with those in our profession.  We want to know that what we're doing is what is best for our students.

Throw in virtual teaching, where parents may be watching our lessons (how many times am I going to say ummm in a live lesson?) or tech inevitably fails us at a crucial moment, and the fear is compounded.

On social media, teachers went from being praised as saints in March for jumping into distance teaching/pandemic teaching, to being ridiculed this summer and raked over the coals for everything they say and do.  Being told you are not doing things right or aren't good enough takes a toll on a person's psyche.  I am not saying that teachers should only be praised online, but if the nasty comments and comparisons could be kept to a minimum, that would be swell.  Educators are one of the few professions that everyone has an opinion on, and they aren't afraid to say it.  Please, tell me one more time why I don't deserve my paycheck and how you could do better or we need more quality teachers...I have stopped responding to these trolls because everything falls on deaf ears and it's not worth my breath.  HOWEVER, constantly having your profession bashed, on repeat, takes a toll.  Even if you know you are "one of the good ones" or that you do everything right with kids' best interests in mind, it hurts and drains your soul.

The fear of not knowing what we are doing.

Teachers have lesson plans for a reason.  We plan and prepare for the day/week/month.  We are able to change or try something new, but going into this year we have absolutely no clue what is going on.  We have little to no control (or choice) over the mode of instruction delivery, and that could change from day to day.  Nothing in my years of undergrad, grad school, masters, and additional certification training has prepared me for this:  Pandemic teaching.  There was no class on this.  No one prepared us for how to calm students' fears of wearing a mask all day.  Not one class had us practice for teaching 1/2 of our class while the other 1/2 is watching live from home.  No one taught us how to upload content onto various LMS platforms and then get that info to students and families.

This fear could have been nullified, or at least lessened, had districts spent time this summer making the decisions on how to reopen earlier, and then spending money on training and support for teachers.  We feel like we're being thrown to the wolves and told to figure it out.  I have had people ask what I spent my whole summer doing (for school)....the answer is nothing.  I didn't know what our school/district was planning.  I had no guidance and was given no direction on classroom setup, what distance teaching platform to use, what our school day would look like, etc., until just recently.  An educator simply cannot plan for all three scenarios (face-2-face, hybrid, or distance) simultaneously.  Again, no other profession, or at least very few, are told plans last minute and then ridiculed or shamed when things don't work right.  Grace is not often given to teachers.

The fear of constant change.

Teachers are being told to go with the flow, and allow their teaching to be fluid.  One day we may be face to face and the next distance learning.  While teachers CAN and WILL adapt to a forever changing environment, this is already taking a mental toll on teachers.  To have your brain running 1000mph and trying to stay a step ahead and prepare for ANYTHING has educators feeling like we are prepared for NOTHING.  From my own experience, this means then I haven't gone in to setup my physical classroom space (we're currently slated for a hybrid model,) and also haven't worked on any lessons for online teaching.  If I do nothing, then at least all my work isn't for nothing if we change plans or get new information.  So this, in turn is causing me to stress out and get anxious, because I feel like I should be doing something, but don't even know where to really start.

The fear of not being "right."

I did not have a hand in school decision, no one in power asked for my opinion.  Yet, I find myself having to constantly defend decisions being made.  I find myself having to constantly explain reasoning of higher-ups, when I don't really understand it myself.  Being an educator there are some high expectations placed on you, which is fine, I can rise to the occasion, but it seems there is one slip up (by anyone in the profession) and the whole world crashes down on your shoulders.  I, personally, find myself pointing out the good and bad of every scenario presented to families and teachers, and trying to find the good in everything.  I really don't want our governor or district to be "wrong" in the decision made, as I know then that somewhere along the way that will become "the teacher's fault" and we will be scrutinized and belittled.

The fear of being labeled as uncaring.

Teachers are nurturers by nature, and the thought of not giving a grieving child a hug or patting a student on the back is tearing us apart.  My students will either know me from my nose bridge up (aka just my eyes, as we will be wearing masks all day) or virtually through a screen.  It's just not the same.  Our "High-Five Fridays!" have to take a hiatus, morning meeting greetings have to be from afar, and students are going to miss seeing the literal joy all over my face when they nail a concept.  I can say or do things until I am blue in the face, but without that physical touch that so many people need, I fear that a toll will be taken on my students' mental health.

Furthermore, with virtual/distance teaching, and the ability to text/email/respond to things 24/7, I fear that when I do unplug or turn off the computer, I will get a parent who emails needing answers and I won't be available.  Yes, it's good to set boundaries and limits, but with those boundaries being blurred naturally in our everyday lives, I worry that some might not see the need for teachers to be people too...the immediacy expected by some people can be daunting.  It's not that I don't care, it's just that at that moment your child's education NEEDS to take a backseat to my family and my personal well-being.

The fear of being sued.

If a kid gets sick, Covid or not, we fear that there will be backlash from a parent.  

Most parents are understanding the risks they are taking sending their child back right now, but they are also being asked to do the unthinkable and make a really difficult choice.  Teachers are hearing the argument over and over that for a child's mental health they need to go back to school and normal. The school year labeled 2020-21 will be anything BUT normal, no matter how you slice it.  And what it boils down to, is that it will be the teacher's fault.  They didn't clean enough, didn't move the desks far enough away, didn't give enough mask breaks, didn't bring the children outside enough, didn't make sure they washed their hands for at least 30 seconds, etc.  If doing remote learning, then the teacher will be blamed that the lessons were too long or too short, they weren't engaging enough, the student didn't do the work (sorry parents, you still have to parent through all this) or the tech didn't work correctly.  It's ALWAYS the teacher's fault....despite the fact that the student sees how many other adults during the day, or rode the bus to school, or it was the district that made the plan not the teachers, or that higher-ups are threatening to pull funding if school buildings don't reopen.  Somehow, it always falls on the teacher.

The fear of a lack of job security.

Many people are telling teachers that if they don't like the situation they should just quit, or take a leave of absence.  What they fail to realize is that most teachers don't have the ability to take a leave.  If they do, 99% of the time that leave will be unpaid.  AND, when they come back the next year, they, more often than not, are only guaranteed a position in the district--they could be moved grade levels/subjects and buildings.  So while I am currently slated to teach 2nd grade, if I took a leave, when coming back I could be put in the high school teaching reading interventions (since I have a license that covers that area.)  I want to stay in primary and would be actually shook if moved above elementary (high school kids scare me!)

Furthermore, what if we move to distance learning and it's just not really our cup of tea, or we're not that good at it.  Say this pandemic continues and we have to continue with distance learning?  We can do all the trainings we want, but for some that platform is just not going to be easy to navigate or work.  What happens to those teachers, those who can't adapt as well as others, but are really great classroom teachers?

I also know of teachers who are currently being forced into roles/positions they don't want, because of the current situation, and they aren't sure if they'll get their original role back.  With many families opting to move to full distance learning or homeschooling this next year, classroom numbers are changing and shifting teachers.  We will do the job told to do, but without having a sense of security and knowing what we're teaching one year to the next, teachers WILL burn out.

These are just some of the things that keep me, and other educators, from really loving back to school season this year.  These fears are real and valid and have been ruminating all summer long, making this summer suck.

What would you add to this list?  What other fears do you have this year?

by Sara from Draz's Class

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