School years are starting around the country. How do I know? I’ve been witnessing the two defining seasonal phenomena:
One: I can’t go to Target without seeing a parent buying thousands of dollars of dorm materials while their child shouts at them for being, I think, a parent?
Two: I can’t pick up my phone without being asked to clear a list.
I don’t understand the first thing, though I have resigned myself to participating in the ritual in six years.
I completely understand the second thing. I spent hundreds of dollars every year getting my classroom ready, and hundreds and hundreds more throughout the year on more books, supplies, and snacks for my students. This was as a middle school teacher, and I’ve never understood how any elementary teacher doesn’t quit the first time they tried to plan a single day, much less set up a new room (or god forbid need to clean out an old one).
We should clear those lists because those teachers will have students in a matter of days or weeks who deserve markers, or a comfy chair, or anything it takes to walk into a room that feels ready and welcoming to them. Yes, it rewards a system that isn’t doing enough to fund those classrooms, but we should do it anyway because there’s kids in there.
And while we send art supplies and chart paper and tissue, laminated calendars and parts of speech posters to classrooms near and far, I’d like to propose one other thing all of us can get teachers this year, something they dearly need and have been begging for:
This year, let’s give teachers a freaking break.
For 16 years What made teaching worth it always outweighed what made it too hard. The weight of both together was always too much to carry, but I didn’t see any other option but to keep adding and adding.
In year 16, the weight got to me. Feeling my knees buckling, I reached out to my principal. She did everything she could to help. I was excused from professional development, from meetings and committees. I cut back on planning and grading, but also from the amount that I was there, in every moment, building every relationship.
I did less than it took to do the job well, but I hoped that pretty good was close enough to good enough. I figured doing too little was better than nothing.
Doing too little was still too much.
Which is why I think the most important thing we can give teachers this year is some way to do less and still do enough.
We need to give them a break.
If as parents we do better at assuming best intentions and giving benefit of the doubt.
If we stop planning for a shortage of teachers by pretending any piece of software will ever do the job, and start doing more to make teachers able to stay.
If, maybe just for two years or three, we focus on the best things schools do, the things we don’t have numbers for.
If there’s more room for joy, for connection, for healing, for empowerment, for liberation.
If we, just for forever, stop attacking kids as a way to build political momentum, stop aiming vicious transphobic, white supremacist, homophobic, and nationalistic movements at kids, at classrooms, at teachers. And where we can’t stop those attacks, if we, just for forever, leave no doubt that teachers and kids have a wall of school leaders, politicians, advocates, parents; a shield of common decency and common sense between them and any attack.
If maybe, just for forever, they know we have their back, they know we’ve got this.
If we, just for a year if that’s all we can manage, remember our favorite teachers, our best teachers, remember whatever they did that helped shape or save us, if we imagine that every teacher has that potential if we only let them, if they only had a break from everything else.