It was an unprecedented year for pretty much everyone around the globe. The pandemic not only (beside the obvious health crisis) closed businesses and made people lose their minds over toilet paper and hand sanitizer, but also caused the weirdest, most exhausting school year in recent history.
Which makes me think of my own teachers when I was in seventh grade. That year the old Portuguese colonies were given back their independence leading to a massive exodus of refugees. Our tiny country was flooded with thousands of people fleeing dangerous and unstable situations in the former colonies. Most of those refugees were school age children. Schools were overwhelmed and “new” locations had to be found on the fly.
That year I attended four different school locations, most of which were improvised and not appropriate for schooling. I am now in a position of looking back and thinking, “Holy crap, how exhausted those poor teachers must have been back then, trying to teach kids who were tired of being moved around from one building to another–each one farther away than the previous location–in classrooms that were not classrooms and with close to zero materials.
I wonder how many of those teachers came back the next year. How many decided to change careers or retire early. It’s been a lifetime but I finally understand why one of my young teachers burst into tears and ran out of the classroom on a particularly bad behavior day or why others just had us do “busy work”. Why so many of my teachers were often absent that year. It wasn’t because they didn’t care or because they were bad teachers. They were just bone-tired, exhausted. How do I know? Because I feel the same as this crazy school year comes to a close.
I’m an elementary school teacher (one of my two full-time jobs), a specialist who teaches language-based curriculum to children whose first language is not English. The 2019-20 school year ended with a bang when we were all sent home and told not to come back until further notice. Most of us didn’t come back until early 2021 when schools began to bring a small percentage of children to the school buildings one grade at a time.
Others, like some special education and English as a second language teachers were required to be in the building from the very beginning of the school year. I was one of them. My co-teacher and I had a small group of newcomers (children with no English) in person and many more virtual. We nearly went bananas for the first couple months as we tried to figure out how to teach one first grader, one second grader and over thirty fourth graders in person and virtually all at the same time while keeping up with different schedules for art, music, library, and PE. But we made it. After the initial chaos we actually found an effective rhythm. But it hasn’t been easy.
We thought life would go back to some normalcy once all the grades were back even if only partially in person, but it just got crazier. Parents were allowed to decide whether their children would be coming to school in person or only virtually every quarter since. What people obviously were not aware of was that every time there was a change even if only by one student, it meant a whole lot of changes for anyone in the school. Keep in mind that we were required to keep students apart by at least 6 feet, the kids were not allowed to share materials and they couldn’t sit together in the cafeteria as before. Considering the size of our school, this became a real challenge even with only a fraction of the school population. Since the beginning of 2021 we, teachers and other school personnel, have been constantly adapting to new schedules, new groups of kids, new everything. It has left us exhausted and brain-drained.
Despite the craziness of this school year, teachers are still being asked to teach summer school, to tutor, to take classes during the break when they really should be recharging and getting ready for next year because it will be another crazy year. 2021-22 will be the year that those on the top will demand that us in the field will perform miracles and make up for a whole year and a half of mostly missed instruction.