An Incomplete (yet heavily annotated) List of Things That Don’t Help Me as a Teacher Right Now¹.

Thanks for All You Do!

Donuts²

Guided Meditation³

The phrase, “thank you for all you do”⁴

Ice Breakers⁵

Positivity⁶

Changes⁷

Promises of safety⁸

Giving up on the Big Stuff⁹

Standardized Tests¹⁰

[1] I’m doing all the self-care I know how, taking walks, reading books, journaling, drinking water, eating fiber. These things are ok, but I’m not doing great and I need help. I need other-people care as well. This is a challenge because we’re all drowning in this year and are very low on capacity for taking care of each other. So, caring is sometimes reduced to care gestures, to performances of care, which really help some people, but make others (me) only more frustrated.

This isn’t a bad time to mention how incredibly grateful I am to be a teacher right now. To have a job right now is quite lucky, and one that even resembles the work we used to do, that puts us in contact with students and meaningful work sure ain’t nothing. And, also, you couldn’t pay me enough to be any kind of administrator or school leader this year.

So, like a lot of times this year, I am recognizing that it’s a lot lot worse elsewhere, but also acknowledging that I’m not having, like, a great time.

[2] Treats are fine, but they don’t make anything that is bad any better (unless the specific thing troubling me is that I would like a snack).

[3] Meditation, Yoga, Tea, Calming music… all are things that are great for relaxing when I choose them. All are things that only give me anxiety when I am made to do them. What do I need instead? I need time to recover, reflect, and adapt. I have lots of work to do, sure, but I’ve never used (or needed) more time in a teacher year just staring off into space and thinking.

[4] “Thank you for all that you do” reads too often to me as “I have no idea what you do.” Alternately, being recognized for specific work I’ve put in, cool things I was a part of, or impacts I’ve made is really energizing and good.

[5] <shudder>

[6] I’m ok with positivity when there are things worth celebrating (but, like, honestly, just barely and only as an act of supreme generosity on my part). I loathe positivity that serves to cover up things that suck. Give me honesty, give me transparency. Recognizing that this year sucks and is full of wrong answers will not break that specific bad news to anyone, but we may as well acknowledge where we are so we can address it.

[7] Changes are totally unavoidable this year. We’re moving in and out of different modes as reality (and available information) changes. I get it. But wherever possible, we need to focus on necessary change and not incessant tinkering. For students and for teachers, every change in schedule, routine, groupings, expectations, and models is work, is mental and emotional effort that we aren’t giving to other stuff (like maybe teaching and learning stuff, you know, or whatever).

[8] Actual safety > Saying “safety” a lot.

[9] We have proven, without doubt, that pandemics suck. So much suck. There is not one person I know in education that isn’t, in some part of themselves, just waiting for this year to be over. But we still need schools to transform into anti-racist institutions, we still need schools, every school, to be a safe space for our queer and transgender kids. Back to normal won’t be good enough, and we cannot wait, should not pause, one bit of the big work we need to do fulfilling the promise of education.

[10] There. I said it. I understand tests aren’t just for me as a teacher. I get that the data we get can be important. I also think the data from this year will be a lot less important (than, say, taking the data from NEXT year and comparing it to last year, and seeing how things have or haven’t changed). I don’t need a single number to tell me that this year is abormal.

What I most need, what I most treasure, and what has been depressingly hard to find this year is time that I get to spend with a student. With one. Doing the sort of guiding and challenging and questioning and discovery that many in the industry call, umm, “actual teaching.”

What I need, through class sizes or scheduling or spaces, is more time that I get to spend with each student I have. My school has just started its first week back in the building. The idea of spending a handful of the few weeks we have left sitting in silent rooms taking tests breaks me in half.

Please, my god, let us teach, let us reclaim what moments of human interaction we can. Help me to pick every bit of good meat left from the moldy-ass carcass of this school year.

Author of ‘It Won’t Be Easy.’ 2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. @mrtomrad on everything. www.mrtomrad.com

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