During this time, I know many have been affected by COVID-19. Having been in direct contact with the virus myself and overcoming the brutal deathly symptoms, I can attest to its severity.
While many on are lockdown, teachers are still at the forefront of education. We’re up early devising our next lesson plan, formulating our curriculums, creating new content for online engagement, and meeting and teaching via Zoom and Google Classroom (which are amazing platforms for interactivity, creativity, and feedback). While this is still an immense responsibility, this time of remote teaching has proven to be invaluable and offers the advantage of work-life balance.
During an online PLC (Professional Learning Community) staff meeting, the question, “What are you enjoying most about the shift in the way things are now” was posed. Thirteen out of fifteen people on the call expressed in many variations that they enjoyed having time to spend with family and being able to take a walk. Simple. Life isn’t promised to anyone, and it shouldn’t be in times of crisis that we are granted the permissions of our birthright to live in a state of balance and ultimate wellbeing.
Like you, I miss my students. I miss their hugs, smiles, and vibrant personalities. I miss the lightbulb that glows in their eyes when their minds have been penetrated in a new way. I miss being the first one to congratulate my girls at the onset and surprise of their very first menstrual cycle. I miss hearing how they form their perceptions of the world around them, as it helps me gain a deeper understanding and awareness of their conditioning, cultural, economic, social, and family dynamics.
If teaching is a part of your calling and not your job, we gift students with the hidden gems of virtue to effectively help them navigate throughout life as confident, compassionate, leaders and self advocates. Knowing that my students actually go home and complete their homework, have genuine interest and curiosity in the content being taught, feel safe enough to tell me when something is bothering them, fight to stand up for what they believe in, and challenge traditional and social norms — is just a glimpse into the impact that we make as educators. Furthermore, we plant seeds of infinite possibilities in our students’ hearts and minds; we emphasize their strengths so they may see their potential. We facilitate their coming of age by giving them the freedom and space to formulate their own thoughts and opinions. We humble ourselves and silence our own biases and projections of what we think they can and ought to become; and most significantly, (if teaching is your calling and not a job), we give them the tools to rise and hold themselves accountable for the decisions they make, whether they are in Pre-K or a collegiate setting. That’s a priceless reward.
While the latter is often reasons we go into teaching in the first place, contrastingly, this time is also showing me the imbalances in my personal life. I miss waking up to the sunrise, hearing the birds chirp in the morning, being able to take my time to make breakfast, being able to take a break on my own watch, getting fresh air when I need it, not competing with the clock and having to choose between making dinner and going to the gym, having more time for my spiritual devotion, and being present with family and friends. Hopefully for teachers, this time is less stressful and presents itself as an advantage. Nothing can compare to or take the place of physical interaction with our students, but education is evolving. If nothing else, this time has proven that we can balance the demands of work in a new, and innovative way.
Although we may feel challenged to teach remotely, students are being challenged as well and they are not only rising, but they are learning skills that are relevant to technological advancements. Being in the classroom isn’t necessarily equivalent to learning; my students are going above and beyond what I have witnessed them do in the classroom setting. (Perhaps parental involvement is boosting their accountability). With online learning, we as teachers must empower our students and creatively engage them in the content. Moreover, they must feel as though they have choices and options in how they digest the work. Long gone are the days regurgitation.
From my experience, students want to be challenged and they will rise if the bar and expectations are set high. They must see and experience firsthand the value of what it is they are learning. With their awareness that we are experiencing a pandemic, they are holding themselves accountable to a higher standard (and possibly even to members of their quarantined community).
With endless information and resources available to them online, in addition to social media being a critical component of their livelihood and interaction, there is no shortage of the work they can produce. Having had a broad range of teaching experiences, my only concern is the inequitable distribution and accessibility of technological devices particularly in urban schools, (but that’s a dissertation for another day).
To continue, school is not a daycare. Although it feels that at times we are co-parenting, and we graciously accept this role, the fundamentals of respect, beginner literacy skills, and appropriate hygiene habits should be taught in the home. Yes, I understand that parents are working and often living on wages that we couldn’t even begin to imagine, but a child having a teacher shouldn’t dismiss the fact the parent is the first teacher. This is a misconception and boundary that is often crossed, and it shouldn’t take a pandemic for parents to get involved and hold their students accountable. After all, it takes a village and when roles are confused, tension is created in the learning environment.
I don’t believe it is necessary to to be in the classroom five days a week. Nurses have flexible schedules. They typically work some variation of three days on and four days off, or one week on, and one week off. While as teachers we do our best to create a safe, engaging learning environment, we also have one of the toughest, most stressful positions. Reiterating that we are underpaid co-parents is an understatement and a pension doesn’t compare. We wipe tears for a living, counsel, enforce discipline, mentor parents, we are interior designers and behavior analysts, data controllers, innovators, knowledge seekers, deep thinkers, collaborators, writers, and researchers. With juggling so many roles, it would be nice to remain in a state of equilibrium and work-life balance.
According to Alan Kholl, a leadership strategist for Forbes, “Maintaining a work-life balance helps reduce stress and helps prevent burnout in the workplace.” Burnout is common in many professions; however, teachers experience the highest burnout rates in the nation. A study in the Academy of Management Journal, found that “40-50% of new teachers will leave the teaching profession by their fifth year.” Amanda Crowell stated that they cite many different reasons for leaving including “long hours, low salaries, large class sizes, lack of parental involvement, lack of autonomy, no time to go to the bathroom, toxic environments, and the pressure of accountability in the face of inadequate resources.” For teachers who joined the profession because they feel it is a calling, they often work past the clock and invest their own resources and money into their profession. Working beyond their call of duty, it’s no wonder why they experience burnout.
As an educator myself, I’ve also been entangled in the funnel of expressing my devotion past the clock, in the midst of dinner, before bedtime, and in the allocation of my resources. By the nature of our profession, our heart strings are being pulled all the time, but if there is no balance, we are actually doing ourselves a dis-service. We must remember that our service is a gift, not an obligation. It’s okay to make our wellness a priority.
Working hard is a stigma. I believe in working smart, effectively managing oneself, and being flexible. Whether you are a first year teacher, a veteran or somewhere in-between, having flexibility within the sphere of teaching satisfies the balance of living beyond a paycheck.
I am not insinuating that we never see our students again; rather, I am advocating for the possibilities for teachers to continue to serve their students while keeping their own health, family, and livelihood a realistic priority. Having a flexible schedule with continuous sessions of online learning, should by no means delineate productivity, opportunities for advancement, competitive compensation, and professional development. When we are genuinely robust and happy as a result of taking care of ourselves, we can be of even greater service to others. Our mental health, wellness, and maintaining work-life balance is essential.
It is my hope that as educators, you are enjoying the dynamics of this time. May it be a window through which you are able to reflect and appreciate the value that this pandemic is offering us. A Priestess once told me, “There is medicine in everything if we are willing to receive it.”
My heart goes out to those who have been effected and have lost loved ones due to COVID-19.