It’s here, my friends. The end of a school year like no other.
While being tired at the end of the school year is to be expected, the amount of exhaustion you’re feeling after this experience may have you questioning if you can keep doing this year after year. But how can you tell if you’re pandemic tired - or completely done with teaching?
No other year has pushed teachers to their limits like this one. The technology, the masks, the ever-changing schedules, the fearing for your health and safety. It’s been hard, it’s been a mess, and it may very well feel like the final straw in a profession that already demands so much.
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You’re a human being, with feelings and limits. And as much as you may love the kids and love teaching, staying in the education profession after experiencing teaching during a pandemic may feel undoable. As I like to say, if it feels like too much, it probably is. Your feelings matter - and the people who make the decisions in education outside of the classroom need to take notice, because the teacher attrition crisis is about to get even worse.
Let’s make this clear: you’ve put up with way more than anyone should have - including from the general public who have never been in your shoes, never taught, but felt the need to denigrate you on social media. If you are feeling demoralized, disgusted, depressed - its origins are in what you’ve been subjected to since March of 2020 - and honestly, before. The stress and subsequent feelings of teachers after dealing with pandemic teaching needs to be a wake up call to address a lot of the things that have been festering in education for decades.
So what do you do? Are you really cut out for this? If teaching is going to take this much from you and out of you, should you be going back in the fall?
First of all, you have every right as an adult to make decisions for your health and happiness - and that of your family. No one has the right to guilt you into staying or doing something that you know in your heart isn’t for you or that doesn’t fit with your life goals. More often than not, that martyr mentality is at play when teachers express any concerns or desires to leave their posts. You may be good at teaching, but you can be good at other things, too - and at other aspects of education outside of the traditional classroom. Don’t stay stuck out of guilt or shame of wanting a different narrative for your life.
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But it’s also important to note the circumstances of the pandemic are making the teaching waters a little - no, a lot - cloudy. Teaching is hard - but it’s not always this hard. Those of us who have taught for a while know this, but for a newer teacher - or heavens, a first year teacher - it’s a bit more difficult to separate from this reality.
Here’s an idea to help you sort out what you’re feeling and what you want.
Make a three column chart. In the first column, list all the things (and if there are a lot of things, maybe the…top 10? Top 20?) that make teaching feel unbearable. In the second column, put a check mark beside the things that were solely brought on by the pandemic. In the third column, put a check mark beside the things that are hard - pandemic or not.
If a lot of the things that have you wondering if you can continue in this profession are from the unique circumstances of this year, maybe those aren’t the reasons you should reconsider your career. For example, there will come a time, hopefully in the near future, where we don’t have to dwell on keeping kids x number of feet apart and be on alert for the last time someone washed their hands. Technology will still play a role in supplementing instruction, but it won’t be the shining star of delivering your instruction. If this year feels like hitting rock bottom, you can rest assured the only way you can go from here is up.
But what if you look at that list and see there are a lot of things that have nothing to do with pandemic teaching - it’s just that teaching in general feels like more than you have to give? Here are some questions to ask yourself about those things:
Can I change how I do it?
For example, if grading has worn a hole in your soul, can you change how much you grade? How you grade? Would you be open to suggestions for how to streamline and automate your grading practices? I’ll be revisiting this topic in the fall over a series of blog posts.
Can I change how much I value it?
An example for this one: if you are a perfectionist and can’t leave until every paper is put away, everything is written on the board, every assignment accounted for - are you willing to admit you need to let go of some of that control? It’s a hard pill to swallow, but sometimes we cause our own problems - I admit I’ve done it before, too!
Can I change how much I let it affect me?
I’ll give the example here of parent communication. Raise you hand if you’ve ever gotten an email or phone call from a parent that’s crushed your spirit. Or a student being unappreciative, or… I could go on. We put a lot of stock in people liking us, our decisions, and our classroom practices. When that bubble gets burst over and over, it can really affect your morale over time. Check out this blog post on parent-teacher communication if you’d like to learn more about ways to connect with parents and put distance between you and their reactions.
And then - what if you’re done?
What if this truly is a chapter in your life that you feel needs to end, being a classroom teacher in your current capacity? Sometimes, we keep coming back each August or September to a situation that no longer serves us because we feel stuck or are scared to make a move. I’ve been there, and hanging on to something that no longer fulfills you doesn’t fulfill anyone else, even those that plead with you to stay because “you’re so good at it.”
Sometimes, we stay because we’re scared of what a “different” August or September would look like.
We get used to how things are, and that predictability, no matter how underwhelming, can seem safer than the unknown. It’s at those times you have to ask yourself if you’re holding onto thorns. If you think of it like a rose, we can hold so tightly onto something that’s hurting us, just because at one time it was blooming and what we wanted. But things change over time, we change over time, and the time comes when we have to let go to grasp something new.
There are times when we need a change from our current situation.
I hate to use the word pivot after this year, but I’m going to! It could be that you need a change in grade levels, or maybe a different school. Maybe you would still be fulfilled being a teacher and working with kids, but in a different capacity, such as being an interventionist. Perhaps teaching virtually, if you didn’t hate it, may be something you want to explore further. Or, if you feel you’ve outgrown the classroom, it could be time to take steps to make an impact on students lives from more of a distance - such as being an administrator. Education needs people like you, who understand this is so much more than standing in front of kids every day, to make the decisions that impact out future.
If you feel it’s best for you to leave teaching completely, that’s a decision only you can make. Those of us that become teachers do so because we want to have an impact on the future of the world through children. There are other ways to do that beside public education. Regardless of what you choose, no one has the authority to make you feel bad about what you need to live a life you want to live.
We get one life, friends - and we’ve spent the greater part of ours over the past year and half consumed with teaching in a pandemic. Take this summer and think about what you need to be fulfilled and have peace in your life, in and out of the classroom. You can be different and be the difference, right after you get some rest and have some peace.
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