But please understand, I don’t want to be defined by my choice of profession which is why I haven’t disclosed what my job is before on my blog. So much of what I do is public and open to public scrutiny that I just wanted to be able to keep at least one part of my life separate from that. Everyone deserves to have an indulgence or two (my Hawaiian coffee and WordPress) that is just for them, right?! However, I reluctantly decided to include what I do for a living in this one post all of these years later because I simply need to. I need to use this outlet to share how I am feeling. These are unprecedented times and they call for unprecedented actions. Afterward, I would appreciate you thinking of me as you always have—as Jibber Jabber with Sue, not Sue the teacher, if that’s alright with you. Or, perhaps more realistically, I’d really like it if you were to think of me, Sue the part-time blogger, FIRST before thinking of me in any other light.
Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do. I’ve wanted to be a teacher from the time I was wee little. It was my destiny and I knew it from a very young age. Yes, I’m one of the lucky ones who always knew what I was meant to do. I didn’t have to go in pursuit of it–it chose me, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. Fond memories of forcing my calico cat and my two older brothers to partake in my daily lessons in the confines of our basement are forever etched in my mind. I can still vividly picture my teaching set-up which was everything from proudly sporting my mom’s lipstick and high heels to handing out blank papers to writing on my pint-sized chalkboard and giving out pretend homework assignments. Of course, back then I didn’t have to actually mark the work which, unbeknownst to me, was a real time saver. 😉 The point is that I am proud to be an educator, but for years and years, I allowed my career to consume every part of me. My return to writing for fun and my blog start-up some six years ago have allowed me to find myself again. As in me, Sue, the person, not me, Sue, the teacher–I am NOT one in the same. Well, I am, but I’m not, if that makes sense. There’s more to me than than the fact that I wear my teacher sweaters proudly—my husband says that my choice of accoutrements are a dead giveaway as I more than look the part apparently. Joking aside, I am a wife, a sister (in-law), an auntie, a friend, a cousin, a niece, a goddaughter, a colleague, a writer, a camper, a traveller, a shopper at heart, a gardener, a baker and a daughter (in-law). I am a real-life person with thoughts and feelings about what I do and other things too despite being shocked as a child whenever I saw my own teachers in real-life situations at the store or out and about. “Mom… Look! There’s Mr. or Mrs. ________________,” I would excitedly exclaim.
And no, my intention is not to get on here and complain. “Teachers are always complaining….”, I hear and have heard from so many sources in the past. Instead, I am on here as a person who happens to be an educator and wants to share in her experiences as such. One thing that I have learned over my two and half decades is that, try as I might, I cannot control how others view or judge me, nor is it my job to try and change their opinion OR please them. Like everyone else, I can only do my best at any given time and yes, sometimes my best isn’t good enough and you know what?! That’s okay. I’m not perfect and I don’t want my students to be either. I am university-educated, but I don’t know it all and I don’t pretend to. In fact, I do what I do because there is much to learn in this life of ours from and about each other. For all of us–not just children. Most teachers will tell you that they’ve learned more from their students and their colleagues than they ever could from a textbook or anything else for that matter. It’s a definite perk that I didn’t know about when I locked my poor cat downstairs with me. She was a trooper, by the way, whereas my brothers weren’t as forgiving with my ‘little-sister-pretending-to-be-the-teacher’ antics and I can’t say that I blame them. Needless to say, they never ever completed my homework assignments.
Teaching, like many other things, has always been difficult. By definition, we are helping to shape little minds and that is one hefty responsibility. Trust me, the notion weighs on me daily. The fact that I am charged with helping children to gain the necessary skills and knowledge to successfully make their way through this life is daunting at times, much like I imagine it to be for a nurse or a doctor who is literally making life-changing decision after decision. But that’s the thing… Now, I am making potential life-changing decisions too and not just in the usual ways. My students’ safety and happiness have always come first, but with COVID-19, their well-being has taken on a WHOLE. NEW. MEANING. I am not going to lie. It is overwhelming. Each day that our little classroom family (because that’s what we are) makes it through from beginning to end is a victory. A God-sent one. Our school has had two positive cases thus far which puts us in outbreak status because of our small in-person population. In other words, the threat of the virus and of testing positive is real for the students, myself and our prospective families.
What has surprised me, even though it shouldn’t have, is that my students are remarkable! They really are. At the tender ages of eight and nine, they are showing up in person, they are wearing their masks with some gentle reminders, and they are sanitizing up a storm despite none of us wanting them to be so exposed to who knows what chemicals presently deemed to be safe, but laden with questionable ingredients regardless. Social distancing from their friends, not sharing things and staying seated are definitely more challenging for them, but all things considered, they are trying and that’s all that I can ask. They are just kids being kids after all. Many of the new protocols are stifling for most adults and it’s no different for them and for me, whom unlike the general public, cannot properly social distance in such close quarters. However, we are all following the guidelines to the best of our ability to keep each other safe because that’s what a family, that’s what a team does and my students get that—they understand, more than I probably know.
Bless their little hearts that things in our environment are changing by the minute as we work closely with our health care workers to keep on top of symptoms, illnesses, contacts and the like and fellow classmates are coming and going from our space depending on the aforementioned. Nothing about what I am doing is the same from curriculum delivery to basic routines to meetings to supervision, yet clearly the expectations of myself and my colleagues have increased wherein my problem lies. Instead of taking some things off of our proverbial plates, which trickles down to the kids getting enough of my time and attention, to allow for our ‘new normal’, it’s been made clear that we are to do everything that we did before and then some. To “hang in there” and “just do it” because we always do… for the kids. But you and I both know that science dictates that pressure has a habit of building up and at some point, in our case, things will implode. They have to. We can’t keep hanging on by a thread and no one should want us to because at the end of our threads are some very delicate individuals. Things are far from normal right now and to pretend that they aren’t is an injustice to us all. Especially our little ones who entrust us to look after them and lead the way.
Unlike my precious students, what hasn’t surprised me unfortunately, are the lack of supports that we have been given all the way around. Sure, in the news (as always to take the heat off of themselves), officials make it sound good to parents and taxpayers by saying that they have invested new monies and supplies to support us, but it is a lie—the supposed dollars just don’t add up. They never do and they never have. Newsflash for the public: Taking money from one place within an organization, often out of our bare minimum maintenance costs, and ‘moving it around’ to support another, namely our students, isn’t new money; 99% of the time, ‘new’ monies are really existing monies that are needed for one cause, but taken for another because we have no choice. So even though some of our buildings are in need of repairs and upkeep, we ‘make do’ with poor ventilation systems (not COVID friendly, by the way) for example to give every last penny that we can to our kids.
What really frosts my goat, however, is that hockey players by comparison have been extended better treatments and considerations than our future decision-makers. It’s frustrating at the very least and sickeningly speaks to our priorities as a society, which is how it has always been–it’s just more obvious and flabbergasting than usual if anyone actually cares long enough to stop and think about it. I mean, we are in the middle of pandemic here. You would think that now more than ever would be the time for leaders and such to step up and help out frontline workers, healthcare professionals and teachers in particular; alas, no. Instead, a good many of us feel like we’ve been hung out to dry. If we make it, we make it and if we don’t, it’s okay because we are continually reminded that we are easily replaceable which is hard to hear, but obviously true. When we try to advocate for our students and ourselves as we have done my whole career-long, to get the necessary resources, we are told that we are complaining, that we are paid well (though I haven’t had any sort of increase, cost of living or otherwise, in over a decade even when businesses were booming)—that if we don’t like it, we can leave. Sure, I can leave and if I cared less, I would have been long gone by now based on that treatment, but it’s not about me. It never has been. It’s about the children and they are way too important to most of us to just give up and walk away. While I’ve been admittedly thinking about leaving teaching for years now because of the politics and ever-worsening conditions, I haven’t been able to fathom really doing that because what myself and my colleagues do matters and it should matter to everyone whether or not they realize it.
Should I really have to convince others that children’s lives matter? I mean, I’m not a parent and as such from a personal standpoint, I could choose to absolve myself of any responsibility like many grown-ups do, but thankfully that is not how I am built. When I first entered the profession, I wouldn’t have believed that I would have to advocate so fiercely for one of our most vulnerable groups of people, yet here I am twenty-six years later and you know what?! I am tired (as one might expect nowadays), but mostly I am tired of trying to justify our needs, the needs of our children who cannot necessarily speak up for themselves. I am tired of pushing multiple issues under the carpet, of making it look good when it is anything but good. In saying that, our particular government is pushing us as teachers in that direction purposefully because of their agenda to privatize both health care and education and they are counting on us to ‘keep complaining’ and/or to give up in the hopes of pitting us against the public. “There goes the teachers again. They are never happy no matter what you do.” Well, if you truly knew the impact of what was at stake for our future generations, you wouldn’t be happy or want to settle for the status quo either. After all, didn’t politicians and hockey players once go to school to each learn their crafts?