February 8, 2022
If you were to step into the shoes of any teacher across the state right now, you would more than likely experience something like this:
Teachers are instructing the children they have in person, while keeping kids spread apart, masked and limited in the way they can deliver instruction because of safety concerns. Maybe they have no COVID protocols in their district at all, which leaves them terrified of what they may be exposed to and bring home to their families. These protocols and expectations are ever changing, adding more stress and pressure to keeping all expected systems and health procedures up to date.
Educators are simultaneously teaching and maintaining a remote classroom, while building work packets and materials for students that are in quarantine or ill themselves. They are supporting colleagues’ classrooms by providing coverage during their planning time and preparing sub plans for their ill teaching partners who are unable to prepare their classroom for a guest teacher. They are trying to instruct students who have been isolated, traumatized and removed from the structures and routines of school for so long that they need support beyond what one person can give. Many students have delayed or challenging social development hurdles.
Countless positions remain unfilled as there are no applicants or people qualified for the open positions. They are attempting to support kids in learning gaps and academic needs that have grown over the last two years, while still teaching their grade level or content area standards. Many teachers are feeling pushback and being questioned about what they are teaching.
Along with all of this, they are still expected to be evaluated, give standardized tests, district assessments, participate in professional development, support contact tracing and keep their teaching environment a clean place.
This scenario is heartbreakingly true.
I could share a snapshot of every job in schools now, but you would see the same patterns arise in each one. School professionals are not OK. The challenges, stress and pressure of this school year have far surpassed the previous pandemic teaching year in ways that were impossible to fathom last summer.
While the past two years have added so many hurdles, the crisis in schools has been brewing for a long time. Years of funding cuts, consolidation of staff, additional work responsibilities from absorbed positions, and the perpetual attacks on education systems and unions have created the perfect storm we are now facing.
There is hope on the horizon as there are many voices, including the governor and Michigan Department of Education, that are fighting tirelessly to support educators and students. They recognize the urgency for recruitment in a variety of education professions, the need to not only increase funding, but maintain that level of funding for years to come and understand the tremendous need to support teachers and educational staff that are currently in schools. These initiatives, if they can be implemented, will take time, though, and in some cases years to see the relief and impact of these changes.
The day-to-day challenges and pressures that are occurring in schools at this very minute remain, and I fear that if we don’t address some very urgent issues, that our most difficult days may still be ahead.
The pandemic has brought forth a collective trauma that we are only beginning to understand and process in education, and honestly, every aspect of our lives. In Alex Shevrin Venet’s book “Equity-Centered Trauma-Informed Education,” she speaks of the need to establish trauma and equity awareness in our decision making. This can be done by establishing classroom structures and routines that embrace four critical priorities: predictability, flexibility, empowerment and connection.
She then states, “Leaders can change school culture by modeling the unconditional care and equity-centered practices that you hope your teachers will use with their students.” These same tenets should be established for the entire school community and be the model for the structures administration put in place for their staff.
There is so much that cannot be controlled in this tumultuous and challenging educational landscape, but imagine if educational staff could rely on those four priorities every day? Or even have one of those priorities consistently?
Any small support now would be a collective sigh of relief to many. It would be an acknowledgement that districts and administrators see and understand the unprecedented challenges that educators are facing each day. Giving autonomy, consistency and acknowledgement of the challenges in practical, immediate ways would take something from the overflowing plates of staff. It isn’t a fix, but it may just be the sliver of light that is needed for so many at the moment.
Educators are resilient and creative problem solvers. They have been keeping our educational system afloat for years as it has been crumbling around them.
Teachers don’t ask for much, but there has never been a more critical time to support them. Respect them. Trust them. Recognize the very real challenges that those in schools are facing each and every day.
Remove the work that is not pertinent to students’ mental health, safety and learning at this very moment. Show educators you see and hear them through your actions and expectations. The welfare of teachers depends on it.
About Leah Porter: I am a third-grade teacher at Wilcox Elementary in Holt Public Schools. As an educator for over 15 years, I strive each day to help students develop into their most authentic selves. I value providing instruction that helps create leaders and competent, critical thinkers who will be strong voices and caring citizens in their community. As Michigan Teacher of the Year 2021-2022, I strive for all my work to be seen through the lens of equity and accessibility, and how to build educational systems for learners that will transform the trajectory of education across the state of Michigan and beyond.