BLOG POST BY PTAC MEMBER PAM GREGG
My current juniors walked into my classroom this year having not set foot in a classroom since March of their freshman year. Their last “normal” year was eighth grade. My freshmen walked into their new high school after having not been in a classroom since March of seventh grade. Their last “normal” year was sixth grade.
They are not OK. We cannot simply begin the school year as in years past. We need to address the fact that students spent 18 months dealing with… who knows what. The pandemic shone a light on the inequity of each student’s situation; some families were dealing with unemployment, food insecurity, homelessness, loss of family members, and loss of human contact.
Then, I attended a PTAC KEY Issues in Education Series event about teacher well-being run by Felix Yerace (see his PTAC May 21 blog post). We cannot take care of our students until we take care of ourselves. I was in a break-out room where we were discussing the fact that American teachers spend more hours in front of students than do teachers in any other country.
During the pandemic, when we were teaching virtually or in a hybrid model, we had an asynchronous learning day each week. Many districts did this to give teachers time to plan for online instruction or to conference during office hours with students to meet their individual academic needs. This year, the schedule is back to “normal” yet the challenges of teaching our students remain. Why was it important to give teachers TIME last year, but that useful time has been rescinded? I do understand the inconveniences that having students home one day a week would present. I get that. But, as in years past, there still aren’t enough hours in the day to plan for achieving the high level of academic rigor our students deserve, let alone trying to fill in the gaps from students not being in school.
Coincidentally, that day I attended the KEY Series, a colleague and I spent three and a half hours together planning ahead for our 9th and 11th grade classes. We have been planning together week by week since the beginning of Covid. This became the example of self-care that I shared in the break-out room because neither my colleague nor I had to think alone or undergo the process of lesson planning. Some of the pressure was taken off.
It was PSAT test day. Neither of us was allowed near the test. We did some of the best lesson planning since before Covid. We had TIME to add bells and whistles to lessons we had taught when we were hybrid last year. We found that time. It was not necessarily given to us. But, we accomplished so much for our students. Stale lessons became interactive. Students were able to discuss their own lives. Because we took care of ourselves, we could help take care of our students.
Moving forward, there needs to be a greater focus on teacher well-being. We will become more effective teachers, and the teacher burnout rate may finally be addressed. As hard as last year was, this year is even more challenging. We are not ok.
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee