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December 7, 2021 | 0 comments

Teachers, The Struggle Is Real

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by Joel Richards
 

Editor’s note: Blackstone Elementary School technology teacher Joel Richards wrote an epistle to fellow Boston Teachers Union members, but he says we’re welcome to eavesdrop.

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

My name is Joel Richards. I work as a technology teacher at the Blackstone school. I have been a teacher for 15 years, eight of those in Boston Public Schools.

Like many of you, I have experienced the highs and the lows of teaching. More and more, the best parts of being a teacher are the times I’ve spent with students and you, my fellow teachers, and I am so grateful for those moments. But, like many of you, I have also experienced the lows.

I have been assaulted by students, threatened by parents, and “excessed.” I have spent thousands of dollars on classroom supplies, attended countless professional development sessions that didn’t apply to me, and received low evaluations because I didn’t put certain posters up on my classroom wall. I have been to summer PDs to learn about a new curriculum that was never implemented. I have stayed until 8 p.m. with a late bus, fed children, broken up fights.

More and more, it seems like the lows we face keep multiplying. Yet, like you, I come back every year!

We, as teachers, have received new students in June and had our schools closed in the middle of the year. More and more, it seems like the lows we face keep multiplying. Yet, like you, I come back every year!

Yes, We Are Crazy!

When my wife learned she was pregnant with our second child, she made me promise never to let her have another baby. Through the morning sickness, the swelling, the discomfort, my wife kept saying, we are never having another baby. But not even 30 seconds after she gave birth to our beautiful Johan Sebastian Richards, she looked at me with all sincerity and said, “I can’t wait to do this again.”

The bond she instantly made with our children is the same bond we have created with our students, communities and fellow teachers. So at the end of the year, no matter how fed up we are, we come back. Love causes situational amnesia. No matter how bad our experiences are as teachers, we keep coming back. So yes, we are crazy — because we are in love. And love makes us abandon all reason.

What We Did

After everything we go through in a typical year, none of us could have imagined the COVID pandemic. It was an incredible tragedy. The whole world suffered, and we as teachers suffered new stresses too. Nothing could have prepared us for that, but we survived. We learned to teach in a way that has never been done before on such a massive level.

We learned to teach in a way that has never been done before on such a massive level.

We read to our students over Zoom. We had graduations, celebrations and costume parties for our students to keep their spirits high. We visited their houses and dropped off food and supplies. We made school literally out of nothing.

In spite of the challenge of an entirely new situation, teachers were still evaluated. We didn’t get a grace period for adapting to an incredibly difficult situation. It was business as usual. And after all we did for the city of Boston, some of our colleagues lost their jobs. We lost family, our students lost family. We lost students!

Returned

Finally, we returned. We could have returned to a new way of doing things, a better way than before. The powers that be could have learned from the lessons of a global pandemic.

Instead, what did we return to? More meetings and more busywork that will lead to more burnout. A new curriculum, once again. Less staff after seeing how short-staffed we already were. There are more fights, there are no busses and no bus drivers. We returned to staying until 6 p.m. waiting on buses. We returned to chaos.

We could have returned to a new way of doing things, a better way than before.

This is not normal. How were we not given time to readjust? How, after all we went through, did they expect us to return as if nothing had happened and implement new things?

It Is OK

This has to be said: We have all thought of quitting! Why? Because inside of us we know that this isn’t right, we are being asked to pretend that things are back to normal. To pretend that there are enough of us to do the job, that we are being supported, that the students are being given the things they need equally and without bias.

More than ever, the inequities and stresses of the jobs are mounting, not decreasing. Our hearts know that what is happening to us and our students is wrong.

We have been thrown back into the marathon and we are being asked to perform at the highest level, as if nothing happened.

If you took six months off from training for a marathon, would you start the same grueling training routine immediately? Wouldn’t you take the time to ease back into it? Wouldn’t you allow your body time to adjust? We have been thrown back into the marathon and we are being asked to perform at the highest level, as if nothing happened — without even giving us new shoes to run this race.

The Love

Love is helping us power through this marathon, despite the worn and terrible shoes we are wearing. But is this sustainable? Passion can only carry us so far, without the needed support. We have to ask ourselves how much longer can we run this marathon? How can we get the shoes we need to run this race? How can we finally get the support that we, our students and the families we serve so desperately need?

These are the questions we educators need to ask ourselves. Ask each other. And ask our communities. We don’t have to do this alone.

 

Additional Resources

 

Joel Richards is a technology teacher at Blackstone Elementary School in Boston and a co-chair of the Boston Teachers Union Black Lives Matter at School committee. Follow him on Twitter at @MoreForD4.

 

Republished with permission from AFT Voices.