Taking care of a loved one beyond the usual measures can be very demanding and as a result, fatiguing. Likely, many of you can attest to that if you’ve ever had a sick child, an elderly parent, an injured spouse, a teething baby, a rambunctious (but adorable) pup or kitten, etc. Nonetheless, we do it because we love them and we want to keep them safe, happy and healthy as best we can in whatever circumstance it is. Caregiving during the pandemic only adds a heightened level of worry to what is an already taxing situation. Heck, just the thought of the ever-looming virus alone is draining—take a good look around or within and it won’t take long to find someone on whom it shows. Unfortunately, I think I’m one of those people.
This month and next, we educators hit the classrooms again for another year of COVID-19 turned 21 going on 22. Charged with the daily care and well-being of twenty to thirty something (sometimes forty) little ones under ‘normal’ circumstances makes for busy work; most of us knew that when we signed up. What none of us expected was to fear for the physical health and safety of our students, their families and our own families whilst trying to teach. In saying that, I should clarify that I have the privilege of teaching in Canada wherein day-to-day safety is generally not a pressing concern like it is in some places around the globe. My point being that the level of care which we must provide during the pandemic has gone beyond the limits of what we are used to. Our duties as custodians and nurses in a manner of speaking have added to our already heaping plates, as is the case of many employees who have experienced additional asks from their employers in our COVID-run world.
For those of us in the field of education, the notion of looking after someone else’s well-being gets multiplied by however many students we are blessed to have in our classrooms. As previously alluded to, the amount of energy involved in that alone can be outright exhausting ne’er mind the fact that our main job is supposed to be enlightening the minds and hearts of future generations. I don’t say that to garner sympathy or complain, rather I say that so that the average person gains some insight as to what the present back-to-school season means for us as teachers. We want parents, community members, administration and employers to understand that while we are looking forward to spending time with kids again, many of us are still tired from the past year and a half or more. Caregiving, especially for long periods of time, seems to have a cumulative effect on our own health regardless of who we are or what we do and I can assure you that our particular community of professionals is feeling it. We are doing our personal bests, but this year the ‘best’ that we have left to give might be a little less than years gone past. And trust me, it’s not because we want it that way. I can already tell that my best will be less than and I have to admit, it doesn’t feel good. No one wants to start the year off behind the eight ball, so to speak, especially when we have so many stakeholders counting on us—namely, our students. But, we are NOT superhuman. We have limits and we also have our own loved ones to look after, including ourselves whom we all too often neglect. So…
Please know that if your child is in my class, I am happy to have them there and I am excited to see them learn and grow. It’s my passion—it is the reason why I show up to work each day, tired or not. However, first and foremost, I want my students to be happy and healthy, and in return, I feel that I deserve the same. After all, we know from experience that you can’t look after others if you don’t take proper care of yourself first. Often a hard lesson learned (usually more than once) for those of us who are charged with the welfare of others. So, if I set limits on returning home-school communication, assign less homework, am overdue returning assignments, forget my newsletter—it’s not that I care less, it’s because I’ve had to care MORE about other things; important things like the physical health and safety of your child which is my number one priority during the pandemic.
In my specific case, my district’s survey results from last year have overwhelmingly supported our extra efforts to sanitize, mask, cohort, distance (a tough one in a classroom), etc. which I am so pleased to hear, but those efforts come at a cost. More time spent wiping down things and having students hand wash, for example, means less time for learning just as trying to distance kids means more planned, independent work since small groups and/or partnering are out. Even how we execute lunch and break times has changed dramatically. On top of that, collaboration amongst myself and my colleagues is next to non-existent right now, yet research has proven that collaborating is one of the most effective means of planning and assessing for learning. Sure, we sometimes manage to fit in a virtual meeting after school once students have left for the day, however it’s not the same as face-to-face time throughout the day. By 3:30 or 4:00PM, most of us are beat and still have cleaning to do, lessons to prep, papers to mark, emails to return, etc. Add in the novelty of online studies which many teachers have had or will have to employ without any formal training, and it’s about all that we can handle work-wise.
My ask? Please grant us a bit of grace and understanding this coming school year. Though it may not seem like it to the general public, we ARE happy to be back with our students again. In saying that, the underlying worries of health and safety will, once again, be FIRST and foremost in our minds and for good reason obviously. Knowing that, we may come across as not doing as much or giving as much, but we are. I promise you, we are. We are giving it our everything despite our empty reserves; hence, most of us have already given up more than the usual summer times to prepare ourselves and our classrooms for another year of teaching and learning pandemic-style. When school is in, the children that walk through our doors will become ours through and through, and that is what keeps us going. Along the way, any kind words or support that you can offer up as we foster the care and education of numerous youth will be immeasurably appreciated, I guarantee. A masked smile, a warm hello, a small thank you or even a step back could mean the world to us on any given day. More than you could ever know. 💕
Cheers to a safe, happy return to school for all, however that may look in your part of the world. 😊