So… do you feel like you can’t talk about the negatives of this year?
I do too.
Now, we all know this school year has been far from conventional. Many of us became virtual teachers overnight. Some of us returned to semi-synchronous or synchronous instruction, and some remained online. This huge shift in the way teachers have to teach has consumed many of us since last March. So why is it that we’re bombarded with article after article about the positives of virtual teaching, and derided as pessimists when we don’t agree?
Yes, of course, there were positives this year. There are positives every year. That’s why we keep showing up! But the thing is, for many of us, the negatives this year were overwhelming. Talking them out has been a great catharsis for me and many of my colleagues, but as soon as we do this, we’re bad. We hate our jobs. We hate children. We shouldn’t even be teachers. None of that is true! Focusing on the positives is great, but sometimes you have to get the negative out there to move on. Many teachers are feeling like they can’t do this. They fear backlash from colleagues, parents, and even the administration. We have to let teachers talk about the challenges of this year. Even more than that, we must listen to them. We must try to sympathize with the people who have pivoted, stressed, and provided grace for our children. Don’t shut them down.
Remote Teaching- Let’s Talk About It
Online teaching… we tried! We tried to make the best of it. We read (and wrote) article after article about how to do it better. How to make the shift. How to help students. But in the end, students suffered. Teachers suffered. We can admit that! Teaching remotely does not work for some kids, and it doesn’t work for some teachers. Students were not coming to class, or turning on the Zoom session and leaving (ghosting) and there was nothing we could do about it. We can’t force kids to get online when they are at home. We can’t use all the wonderful engagement and classroom management strategies that work in person. We can’t control what students are doing at home, and yet we were blamed. We were told what we needed to do, with no guarantee that the students would respond. In my own district, teachers were told that the reason we were having kids ghost us was that we were not entertaining enough, and it was up to us to “give [students] a reason to get out of bed in the morning”! What? How are we supposed to pivot, “turn on a dime”, complete all the regular duties of a teacher, and also become freaking Kevin Hart to boot? There’s no way! Yet, when teachers complain about the difficulties facing our profession, people are shocked! They are reprimanded! Should teachers make sure the Zoom session is off before venting? Definitely! But should they be penalized for voicing the difficulties of a situation that is not our fault and we’re dealing with, like everyone else? No!
When They Don’t Do the Work
What are we supposed to do when a student refuses to complete any work? Little Johnny has a 0% in the class because he hasn’t submitted anything. You’ve called, emailed, and reminded both him and his parents. You’ve cc’ed admin. You’ve reminded him to watch the recorded Zoom sessions since he wasn’t in class. You’ve done everything you can do, short of going into his house and live teaching from there! Then he comes up at the end of the year asking what he can do to pass. You want to say, “nothing!” If he had come to the Zoom sessions and completed the assignments with your instruction and assistance as he was meant to, he wouldn’t be in this problem! You can’t say that though. Then you’ll get eviscerated by the parents, who have every excuse in the book about why he couldn’t do the work. Holding students accountable has been an issue for years, but in the time of COVID it has gotten even worse. If a student didn’t do anything, my district wants us to let them make up work for months. In other districts, schools are allowing students to switch courses to pass/fail, hoping they’ll hit the passing threshold. As a teacher, this is so frustrating! The assignments are not busywork, something to be completed whenever just for credit. The whole point of the assignments is to deepen your learning, allow you to use critical thinking, and build your practical skills. None of this happens when you complete the assignment months later. At that point, it does become busywork. That’s not what we want! But when it feels like parents, students, admin, and higher-ups in the school system don’t care about actual learning, just numbers, you start to feel burnt-out. It’s frustrating!
What is toxic positivity?
Toxic positivity is the idea that no matter what happens, you always have to stay positive. It’s that “well, it could be worse” comment a friend makes after you lose your job. It’s the “but think about what you do have” when you can’t find your grandma’s ring. The “don’t be a downer. Your life is fine” when you voice your frustrations with the job you do have.
One of the most insidious places you find toxic positivity is in the school system. You’re working extra duties for people out with COVID. You’re getting to school early, you’re staying late. You’re answering phone calls from parents at 8:30 at night. You’re tutoring kids who don’t come into your Zoom sessions. You hear “you’ve got this”, “do it for the kids”, “we’re all in this together.” Are we? While positivity is great, and you can’t be negative all the time, too much positivity leads to repression and denial. Research has shown over and over again that bottling up your emotions leads to stress on your body and brain, leading to worsening health problems, including a damaged immune system. Do you know what happens when you have a damaged immune system? You’re more susceptible to COVID! Teachers are already stressed about being exposed, and then have this on top of it.
We know this year has been rough. Everyone’s lives changed in an instant, and kept changing for months. Even now, when we’re getting steady again, it’s a struggle to go “back to normal.” When you’re feeling frustrated, let it out! Don’t bottle it up, don’t feel like you can’t talk about it. Now go out, have a great summer, and don’t think about 2021–22. It will be there when you get back.