We are currently in year 3 of the pandemic. Except now it is an endemic. This means the threat of COVID is no longer dangerous to the majority of the population. It is now considered a manageable disease. But because we are still so close to the start of the pandemic there are lingering affects and mixed messages still being sent. Here are my observations from year three after COVID arrived.
- We are told to stay home when sick, but this isn’t really feasible. Teaching is a profession where not being at school has consequences. And post pandemic subs are hard to come by. If I am sick, I might stay home a day. But only if I absolutely cannot teach. When my own kids are sick, again, I might stay home a day. But their lingering coughs, sniffles, headaches or runny noses are often around for weeks. I cannot stay home from my job for weeks. And I am sure other parents are in the same boat.
- Kids are generally happier this year. I feel confident saying that kids are happier the further we get from the threat of COVID. They feel more secure and more trusting that things will not change dramatically. School will not be shut down long term. They will not be prevented from their after school activities or from seeing their friends . Students who last year were serious and depressed are now sitting in class smiling, even laughing. They are more apt to take part in games, which means they are more trusting that the results will be positive. They also are joyous when interacting with one another.
- Trauma lingers. If you’ve come out of this pandemic without trauma, you are in the minority. I live a privileged life- I was able to feed, clothe and care for my family during COVID. I know of no one personally who passed from the disease. I was able to educate my own kids and work from home. What we did experience was anger, fear, uncertainty. At school I experienced some pretty horrendous behavior from large classes of students. They were hostile. I do not want to place blame and I am aware that kids, while responsible for their own behavior, are not always able to control it to the same extent as adults. However, mean looks, unkind remarks, even subtle physical aggression are traumatic, even to adults. Even to teachers. Especially when you feel support is lacking from your superiors. This year, I have encountered much less poor behavior. Some snarky laughing or rude remarks have occurred and have been handled. Yet, reliving those experiences in my mind, I notice the impact is a little more than it should be. I believe is due to lingering trauma. I can only imagine the pain that the students who regularly get in trouble experience on a weekly basis.
- Parents are more supportive of teachers. I’ve contacted at least five parents this year about setting their children up for success in class. I had a few concerns about silliness or lack of effort, and ALL parents responded positively. I got messages back saying “Absolutely I will talk to my child.” and “Please let me know if it continues.” My favorite was “Thank you for sharing your talents” and “You’re the only teacher who…” I don’t say those to brag by any means. I am well aware of my flaws as a teacher. In my school it’s been harder to contact parents and ask for behavioral support. The pandemic created such challenges for parents that teachers fear adding to those challenges. Last year there was mistrust of schools since schools were more off-limits than before. This year it feels like we’re more aligned and working together.
- Kids want to succeed. Last year felt like kids were apathetic to school. They were concerned with their social lives and wanted entertainment. They felt the need to fight for their rights- the right to go outside, the right to sit where they want, the right to eat snack, the right to not be accused of anything (even if they did it.) This year, I get the sense that kids care about succeeding in class. They want to enjoy their classes and do well. They want recognition from their teachers for their success. They also want to cheer each other on. I recognized a student in class and everyone cheered and clapped. It was wonderful. They are also willing to hold one another accountable. There is a joy to teaching this year that was pretty rare last year.
- We’ve got our work cut out for us. There are a lot of skills that are lagging that we need to focus on. Teamwork and collaboration suffered when we made kids stay home and stay six feet away from one another. We are still working on collaboration and flexibility. Anxiety was rampant last year. Some students still can’t get directions the first or second time through. They have to really experience your meaning to believe it. I had a cozy corner with a rug in it. It has taken three or four attempts for some 8th grade students to understand that if you’re on the rug, you must be working- as opposed to rolling around, fooling around, etc. Other areas of constant focus include accepting responsibility, fixing mistakes, and being respectful with your words. It feels so great to be able to talk to students about these and have them be receptive. Life skills are the reason we teach. Seeing our future world leaders improve their character is a gift. It’s one I’ve missed over the last few years.
- Attitude and gratitude are everything. I have been so blessed to experience gratitude and kindness from colleagues, students, my own kiddos and administrators. Being offered support, a kind hello, a compliment, a thank you at the end of class make all the difference in the world. I had three or four students approach me to say they wish they had more Spanish classes than only two a week. I have kids excited to wave to me in the hallway. Perhaps it’s a testament to how challenging last year was or how taken-for-granted specials teachers are, or even how negative I have come across at times in the past few years, but kindness and ease feel like a warm summer breeze after a long cold winter. And I am so grateful.
Parents and teachers please comment and let me know your view. How does this year compare to previous years? What are your observations?