While we are only a few weeks in, so far this has been one of the most stressful school years in recent memory for everyone, including myself. Some people are scrambling to figure out distance education, and others are trying to balance working from home while home-schooling. A lucky or maybe cursed few, depending on whom you ask, get to go back to a physical classroom. I know from talking to friends and acquaintances that we are all wearied by “the new normal.”
I have a confession: I am neither a teacher, a parent, nor a student. I am, however, the exhausted son of an educator. This spring, my mother is starting her 51st year as a teacher in the D.C. region. She has taught third- and fifth-graders of all backgrounds and has dedicated her life to forming young minds.
For 50 of those years, even with all the trials and tribulations, she has loved every minute of it. Even when she was up late grading math papers or setting up slides for a social studies course, she never once thought of quitting.
Technology Can Be a Huge Hurdle
This year has been different. For the first time, I heard her say she no longer wants to be a teacher. She called me on the phone in the middle of the day and cried into the receiver, saying she feels inadequate and stupid. This past weekend, only a week into teaching, she told me that if she could, she would quit right then.
For her, this is not just a normal desire to retire. Frankly, I assumed that when the time came, she would be in her casket still grading spelling tests. Teaching is her rock. When my father passed last year, right before the beginning of the school year, it was going every day into her classroom and seeing the students and her co-workers that helped her get through.
Everything is so much different now. My mother learned to teach at a time her master’s thesis had to be typed on a typewriter. When I was a child, she still graded tests and quizzes by hand, and her elaborate grading calculator was second only to the Bible in its importance to our household. With all her old-school teaching ability, she consistently had one of the best-performing classes in the county, even when it might not have been filled with the brightest students.
But now, a woman who still doesn’t totally understand Facebook is having to teach classes online. Almost daily, I have to remote into her computer to show her some small task or action that is almost second nature to me, someone who has grown up with more processing power in his pocket than on the Apollo spacecraft. Since she uses a computer provided by her school, I am not able to control it, leaving me to use only my words to explain every move, while watching her struggle to understand and remember these new things.
She really does want to learn. She bought new tools such as a whiteboard and even a new computer to try to make things easier. She retrieved teaching aids from her old classroom, such as her digital visualizer and blue counting cubes. Back in the spring, when we were still so naive as to believe the state might let teachers back in the fall, it was okay. Everyone was still figuring things out.
Teachers Are at Their Breaking Point
Now, however, the state tells us this is the new normal™ and things have changed. We all have changed, run ragged after being locked up all summer. Some people are now taking it out on those who probably least deserve it.
In the past two weeks, several parents have apparently called the school to complain about how my mother and her teaching partner are running their class. They have complained about the number of kids on a call at one time. They have written angry emails about Zoom not connecting or assignments not showing up for their kids online. All this anger is pushing teachers to the breaking point. I have heard several express their desire just to quit if this continues.
These teachers want nothing more than to teach these kids, and they are getting castigated for it because they have spent the last untold number of years building a system, only to go back to square one. Many are trying the best they can, but for some parents, this isn’t enough.
So teachers continue waking up each morning, putting on happy faces, and logging on to their web broadcast after being up all night making slides and sketches. They keep trying to teach their students as best as they know how. In the back of their minds, they will be thinking about how much longer it is until they can retire. Amid all this chaos, now is not the time we want to be losing teachers.
So please, next time you are sitting in on your child’s class and see something you think could be better, remember not all of these teachers are millennials who grew up connected to a smartphone. Many are trying to adapt a system they’ve been using for longer than you’ve been alive to a system their district doesn’t even have figured out yet.
The author has written for The Federalist before and is anonymous here to protect his mom’s privacy.