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How Are Our Educators Doing?

Updated: Mar 9, 2022

Even in normal times, educators make enormous investments in our children. In a typical year, the period after winter break and before summer vacation can be especially hard: the freshness of the new school year has worn off, state testing is looming, and suddenly June (when all learning goals must be completed) is right around the corner. For many educators in the Bay Area area, this is exacerbated by the extremely high cost of living, which results in long commutes -- and wasted time that could have been spent on their students and families.

Now, let’s add two years of a pandemic to the mix: on-the-fly learning of new teaching methods to engage wiggly students through screens (often while juggling small children themselves); being on the frontlines when we had little understanding how COVID was transmitted (and risking bringing the virus home to family members before vaccines were available); new variants; and the extra-poison-cherry-on-top of everything else these two years has served up: a political climate rife with challenges for educators (CRT, school masking, book bannings - the latter thankfully not here at home), TikTok challenges that range from destructive (bathroom vandalism) to frightening (threat of school shootings); tsunami warnings, for crying out loud; and now, war in Europe… How are our educators doing? In February, I asked our community, “What would you like to share about your experience being an educator during the pandemic?” and “How can the community support you at this time?” I wasn’t sure I would get any responses. After all, our teachers, administrators and support staff are exhausted, and this would require investing precious minutes from already empty wellness piggy banks. But to my delight, I received several responses to the anonymous feedback form. As one teacher pointed out, describing an educator's experience during the pandemic is like trying to explain what it's like to be a new parent. "You can list the diaper changes, late-night feedings, loads of laundry, and so on, but it's not until that friend has children of his/her own that the lift of caring for a newborn truly resonates…." Similarly:


"None of that feels even the slightest bit effective at capturing my experience as an educator during a pandemic, so instead I'll share this: Last year, I sat in a social-emotional professional development for educators, and the facilitators spoke to the group on Zoom. As they delved into the topic of self-care, I stared at my colleagues in tiny Zoom boxes, their bodies rigid from prolonged stress, their faces long, their eyes vacant. I knew something was desperately wrong. Not slightly wrong. Not working-from-home while juggling remote schooling wrong. Desperately wrong. These are the people standing before our children each day. Even though they haven't had a uniform experience, in aggregate, I don't believe they are okay. It matters to children that they are okay.”


Another educator responded:


“Being an educator during the pandemic was extremely taxing. It required long hours planning new online units, many hours looking at a screen (something I never anticipated) and many unknowns. Unlike many districts, we were able to go back to in person learning fairly quickly, which was the best scenario for our students. This was scary for teachers and families, but it resulted in the best situation for all…It's been hard, but the kids make coming to work worth it!


That last sentiment, that our students are worth the investment, is one that I’ve heard repeatedly from our educators. In meeting after meeting, our Las Lomitas ESD staff has been laser focused on student needs — their learning, their emotional wellness and their physical safety — above all else and despite their own stress, anxiety and exhaustion. As we all know, students are struggling, too, and their academic and social-emotional slide not not only requires more time from teachers and staff, but higher emotional investments as well, because our educators’ hearts ache when our students struggle. To top it off, student strain has been exacerbated by the revolving door of quarantine, leading teachers to work overtime to provide for students at home, help them catch up when they return to class, and to manage their own absences when educators cannot be with their students, who they know best.


“[S]ocial emotional and mental health changes a classroom dynamic exponentially. We need time to forget the academics and help the kids balance themselves back out. Academic pressure needs to be taken care of with more staffing for support, because classroom teachers need to focus on mental health. Belonging will bring achievement, and belonging is harder for kids to foster among one another now than it ever has.”

As another educator put it:

“Behavior struggles are higher at a time where teacher ability to handle all the social issues is balancing on a thin wire of our own mental health. It’s HARD. Burn out is real.


What our educators need more than anything else right now is time. And patience. Not to mention compensation that matches their worth (and a state government that fully funds public education). As one teacher wrote:


“[E]ducators are steering a ship through a storm, and even if the storm presents no current threat, it has upended usual navigation techniques. Ask what it looks like to be supportive in the attempt to reach clearer skies. Are extra hands on deck useful, or does the crew need a moment to work without distraction? Recognize complexity - the experience onboard might be pleasant, and logistics might also be more challenging than meets the eye. Once clear skies are in view, give the crew the gift of time to recover before asking about non-essentials.”


I can’t imagine what it must be like to have such high expectations of one’s own performance, but then such little time and emotional bandwidth to reach those goals. This, while students and families are struggling — and need support— more than ever, and the staffing squeeze has limited time for preparation and collaboration. (Remember when students went to the library for a period, or when our administrators were tackling their already enormous workloads without emergency substituting in a kindergarten classroom?) I can’t imagine running, and running, and running, doing your best for these kids, but never quite catching up. Need to get to the doctor to get that “thing” checked out? Forget about it. Need a mental health day? As if! Oh, and did I mention that our district has been powering through with a brand new strategic plan, continued professional development, and implementing new curricula...while serving as public health experts? By the way, don't forget that this week is conference week (insert laugh-cry emoji here).


“I feel stressed and tired. The continual need to shift and pivot with new guidelines and rules, as well as the changing needs of students and families has pushed our professional abilities to new levels.”The cartoon below hits the nail on the head. Our educators have been working so hard to make lemonade out of lemons. They have so many damn bottles of lemonade that there is little room for anything else. But the lemons won’t stop pelting them in the head. Over, and over, and over... for two years.


The cartoon below hits the nail on the head. Our educators have been working so hard to make lemonade out of lemons. They have so many damn bottles of lemonade that there is little room for anything else. But the lemons won’t stop pelting them in the head. Over, and over, and over... for two years.

Illustration by Will Santino (https://www.willsantino.com/)


Still, our educators put on a smile, commute to school, and show up for our children every day.


Educators have been through so much over the last two years. Whenever you can, please join me in thanking our teachers, bus drivers, school office staff, administrators, custodians, and other district staff for their dedication and resilience. Write them an encouraging note, be a little extra patient, read their emails so they don't have to do extra work to communicate with you. We will all get through this together.

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