Let this serve as a teaser for later posts this/next week!
Let me start by saying this isn't the article you think it is. No, we are NOT okay.... but this article, written by Julie Mason on We are Teachers not only sorely misses the point, but also is incredibly dangerous.
I had a conversation with some dear friends about this article and we were all in agreement. This article is bad, for lots of reasons, but in large part because it partakes in victim blaming and a kind of toxic positivity/ideal situation that is impossible in many places (Irina Greenman). So, let's break this down. I am going to use the same titles the original author uses, but I am going to then respond to her points.
Added point: I wasn't going to bring this up, but since she mentions it in the article... She is no longer a teacher. She does not teach this year, during COVID. By that point, I would not recommend this article in any serious way.
What do we mean by toxic positivity?
I too hate the "look on the bright side" or "silver lining" of things and I think those phrases and ideas are really inappropriate in some situations. Mason defines toxic positivity as the "focus on the positive and [rejection]... the negative" (Mason, 2020). But, then Mason goes on to tell us to do all that. Stop doing this. Stop doing that. Stop saying this... and so on. Her entire article focuses on an idea world where we can do whatever we want and aren't villainised by the world around us. By ignoring these very things, she is engaging in this toxic positivity.
She finishes this section by saying that toxic postivity often includes ignoring deeper issues such as COVID-19, equity, and school culture. Mason does just that. She ignores all these things. This article is an example of the very toxic positivity she wants to get rid of.
Toxic Positivity has got to go: it starts with us
I've discussed this elsewhere, but I have diagnosed anxiety. Mental health is something I think about every day. I cannot stand the argument that yoga and baths and walks are the only answer. I also cannot stand the argument that they are not part of the answer. For many, myself included, medication and self care are both part of the answer. Mason starts this section by calling these things "toxic positivity". They are not. Toxic positivity is suggesting that by engaging in them, or in advocacy, it will fix all the problems.
Let's stop wearing our stress like a badge of honor and start getting real
Okay, break from my formal rebuttal.... can I roll my eyes here? Did you hear it? Did you feel it? "Let's find out what happens when people stop being polite and start getting real" Oh COME ON.
Okay, back to the formal rebuttal. After suggesting that teachers need to stop encouraging self care and start advocating, she says that those feelings, (and that work implied) isn't going to change anything. If self care doesn't help. If placing the blame where it belongs, advocacy, etc. don't work.... what are we left with?
Before we go into the 5 things she wishes she had done while teaching (aka - she is not a teacher and is not speaking from experience as a teacher during COVID and is, therefore, not an expert in teaching during this pandemic), let me point out a few things:
1. Stop showing up early and staying late
Right now, students in our district are allowed in our rooms as soon as they get there. In fact, they are expected to come straight to our rooms. I come early (6:15 or so) exactly so I will have some peace and quiet. I come early so that when the end bell rings, I can focus on finishing work and going home on time. For some people, coming early and staying late means that, when they do go home, they can focus on family.
Also, Ms. Mason, you seem to have forgotten our colleagues in certain departments that, while not "in the contract" stay late like.... those in the vision department, special education case managers, etc. Quite often vision teachers will stay very late to put things into braille to ensure that students and teachers have what they need the next day. Case managers stay late to complete IEPs, meet with families, etc.
Perhaps we ought not shame them for the very hard work they do by trivialising it as a choice.
2. Stop taking work with you everywhere you go
I already addressed this somewhat, but let's consider a few things:
3. Stop saying yes to more work because you feel like you should
Again, already addressed somewhat, but let's consider this. Having well crafted (beautiful not needed) lessons plans is part of our job. This doesn't mean that we don't adjust and change and have the occasional day where we throw it all out the window for something else, but comparing complete lesson planning to "more work because you feel like you should" is a cheap shot at teachers.
Instead, perhaps school culture needs to change where teachers have more support. Instead of letting balls drop that have, unfairly, been put into our hands, let's look at some of that "advocacy" mentioned briefly before. Here are some things teachers often pick up that could and perhaps should be supported in other ways by the school/district:
I do not have perfect answers for this, but this is often areas where teachers need support. Instead of targeting the things teachers should be doing, let's look at the things dropped into teacher's hands that shouldn't necessarily be put there. Let's get real support for these very REAL issues that are often left on teachers' shoulders and make real systemic change.
4. Rewrite the story: the teacher martyr work 24/7 work narrative has got to go
Another victim blaming item. The reason we point these things out and are brutally honest about how often and how long we work is because the nation right now is literally saying we are glorified baby-sitters who make boatloads of money for getting off work before 5:00 PM, getting summers off, etc. We do this because we have to in order to be taken seriously, and it still doesn't work.
Instead of blaming teachers for this, perhaps you could run a survey to see just how long and how hard teachers are working during this pandemic, a thing which you have no personal experience in, and then publish an article laying out the real situation and issues teachers are facing.
5. At the end of the day, teaching is a job, and it's ok to see it that way.
Based on your previous suggestions, Ms. Mason, perhaps being proud of your work as a teacher is inappropriate since it feels like that falls under this toxic positivity you are discussing. I am so sorry that the toxic environment our country and society has built around teachers made you feel at fault and at blame. I am also incredibly sorry and angry that you have now turned that attitude against those still in the profession.
Teaching is a job. I have bills to pay. Teaching is also a calling. It is both. It is okay to walk away. It is also okay to stay. Perhaps you have forgotten that now that you are not in the classroom, but I ask, nay, pray and beseech you to get in touch with teachers who are teaching NOW before you consider commenting on our work, our lives, and our experiences.
There are some jobs you know you'll end up doing as a teacher, even though they aren't teaching. Elementary school teachers often serve as nurses. We all serve as custodians at some point. It just comes with the territory. But, in this pandemic, there are a number of jobs I now serve that I never thought I'd have to.
In the spirit of these posts, I am limiting this list to five. It is not exhaustive. And, to brighten it up, enjoy some bitmojis.
1. Biohazard Capable Custodian
This applies to a lot of staff at schools right now, not just teachers, but let me say that it is NOT a role I expected to fill, nor one I fill well, depending on the piece we're discussing. Sure, every teacher has wipes, disinfectant, etc. But this year, in addition to regular straightening and cleaning, we have various cleaners to help slow the spread of COVID and our custodians are also deep cleaning as well (although I don't know the details of that). A quick list of things in my room: four types of hand sanitiser (2 provided by the district and 2 I bought myself), extra masks (provided by me), paper towels (district), three types of cleaning solutions (1 provided by the school during the last major flu season, 2 provided for this year in specific), and perhaps other things I'm forgetting. We are supposed to clean as often as possible, but it is impossible. Some of the cleaners we cannot use if students are coming within 15 minutes and most of the cleaners have a smell that we cannot stay in the room for.
I am a rule follower. I am not a tattle or a snitch. There are some things I feel aren't my place or I feel put me in a bad position. I am NOT saying that it is required of me by my superiors, school, or district to do this. What I am saying is that stories are appearing from across the country of these unspoken expectations. If you hear things of positive cases, close contact, illness, blatant disregard for safety rules, you might be expected to report it. I should not have to (a) report an adult for anything, but also... (b) I should not have to justify something to a student because Mr/Mrs/Ms/Mx/Dr. X says its okay.
3. Pandemic Therapist/Protector/Parent
One of the jobs teachers fill increasingly is the role of protector, therapist, and parent all at once. Especially now that we do tornado drills, fire drills, and lock down drills. And, while I don't feel we should have to do at least one of these (wink wink), I have accepted that in those situations I must take steps to protect the lives of my students. Now I have to add to that pandemic expert. When students have questions, they often go to their teachers. They are scared. They are confused (especially when parents, teachers, and admins are not all on the same page). Especially with the politicisation of this situation (science y'all), students aren't sure what to do. Now I somehow have to meet those needs. I am not a scientist. As I told one of my classes today when COVID came up, "At the end of the day, there are a number of things we can do to protect ourselves and those we love and care for. We can wear masks, wash our hands, use hand sanitiser, social distance, and more. So, at the end of the day, we have to ask ourselves if we did our best." They didn't train me for this in college.
4. Truancy Officer
Okay, I'm exaggerating a little here. I am not responsible for bringing charges against or serving paperwork regarding truancy. However, teachers across the country are suddenly responsible for all sorts of things that, in the past, they received help for from parents, counselors, admins, etc. This isn't to say that those parties aren't doing their jobs, but the rhetoric increasingly is that if only teachers would do X or Y or if they "just did their jobs" then a whole slew of things would or wouldn't be happening. Be assured, we are doing everything we can. We are emailing, recording all classes, calls, contact. We are calling home. We are engaging with families, students, counselors, and case managers.
5. Customer Service, Tech Support
Again, to some extent we either do this or are treated this way. I am going to address this in my next post, but I truly believe that teachers and parents could work together to stop treating grades as an exchange for service and more like a conversation. However, as I stated in Part IA, this is wholly uncharted territory. Not even the schools already set up for digital learning could have predicted or prepared for this. Technical problems are bound to happen. Grading issues will occur. But there is little in the way of support for teachers due, in part, to the fact that we are all figuring this out as we go. As an example.... Today during a class, I was late due to the one way hallway rule. When I arrived to the room shortly after the bell, I had three messages from digital learners asking where I was and another two saying they couldn't get into the room. I started the digital room up and began printing paper copies for those who needed them in the room. Then I took roll... twice. When I started class, digital learners reminded me that I need to share my screen for them to see the video. After we started our dictation, one student had trouble accessing the document. Another needed help finding the document. A third didn't understand the directions. A fourth wanted to discuss grades during class. All of this was happening over my computer and speaker in a room of about 10 face to face learners. We need the answers, but we don't have them. I don't think anyone has them all.
Biohazard Capabale Custodian
Customer Service, Tech Support
I've already written on this some, so I won't repeat everything, but here is a quick list of 5 things I do to combat anxiety.
Never ending Brain
Keeping with the theme.... 5 things:
Into the Unknown
Taking Care of Us All
There are posts all over that say that this time is hard for teachers. Sometimes the response is that we are being insensitive to first responders who have been on the front lines since March. Sometimes the response is that we are first responders. And, sometimes, the response is that we are complaining for no reason because, well, "COVID isn't real". Today's post is to assure you that it is, indeed, real. This is not an easy post to write and it won't be an easy post to read. But these things need to be said because we are exhausted in a way we never have been. We are struggling in a way that only teachers can struggle.
I've decided to keep this list to 5. There are more than 5. There will be a follow up post.
We are navigating uncharted waters and as soon as we think we've figured out one wave, we see the one behind it. There are always aspects of teaching like this, but right now, everything is like this.
Based on things I've experienced, seen, and heard from people, here is a list of things you (yes you) can do to support teachers during COVID.
So that's five. What am I missing? What else do teachers need from parents and the community?
It's been a bit since I posted, and for a few good reasons. I do not necessarily want this blog to be all upsets. They are there and I want to talk about them, but I never want a single post to be so depressing and anxiety ridden that it serves little purpose other than to make me feel better, I have other means of doing that. Some, however, may just have to be that way.... To say it's been rough is an understatement. To say that that's an oversimplification cannot be overstated (did any of that make sense). So... let me break it down a little....
The Pertinent Facts
So... what exactly happened?
Firstly, I am okay. I have a bronchospasm likely caused by my asthma, caused by.... well potentially lots of things. At first I was afraid it was COVID, but a negative test solved that. To be honest, I was impressed with my doctor/insurance's handling of it. I got a recommendation for a test in less than 20 minutes after calling them. Got the test the next day, and got my results that night. However, since I had symptoms, I wasn't cleared for school. I couldn't get a doctor's appointment for a few days, but it was via telephone and I was so impressed with this doctor's handling of me.... She diagnosed me, gave me care procedures and wrote a note saying when I could return to work. I returned this morning. I felt ready in that I miss teaching. I didn't feel ready based on my to do list of things that had racked up while I was gone and I didn't feel ready knowing that, if I wasn't at higher risk before, I am now.
I won't comment on the school's handling of it, that's not why I'm writing this blog. What I will share is my perspective of my experience at home.
I don't want this to drag on, but I will say that this post (along with some things I've seen on social media) are prompting another post I plan to write this week: How to Support Your Teachers During a Pandemic. So... here are the things I experienced, as briefly as possible.
As I finish this, it is 5:10 in the morning and I am about to get dressed, take my meds to help keep my throat healing and soothe my cough, grab my things, and head back for another day. I am already tired. It could be that I was up until 8:30 last night answering parent emails I didn't get to earlier in the day (I don't usually do that, but since I was out and sick, I am playing catch up). It could be that I was awake from 2:45-3:30, already creating a to do list in my head. It could be that when I logged on to social media this morning I was overwhelmed with articles about parent struggles, student fears, and teacher hatred. I guess it's all these things... So, in preparation for my next post... Teachers, paras, and classroom staff only please... what specifically do you need to be supported? It can be physical and material, it can be emotional, it can be political, it can be scientific. I DO NOT CARE. What do you need?
Today's post is going to be short because it is already 5:15 and I still have so much to do before I leave for school for the 2nd day :). I will expand on each after the first few days with more context, information, etc.
Reflections on my experience
Reflections on student experience
Things I want to do differently
update: I started this post earlier in the week feeling anxious, but like I was managing things well. We then got dealt an unannounced blow that caused panic attacks and sudden onset depression for me as well as anxiety and anger for many of my colleagues too. I share this to say that my tone may seem to change halfway through the post. If it does, this is why.
There are lots of issues and conditions someone may be dealing with in addition to COVID. For me, it includes asthma, a foot condition, food and environmental allergies, and depression and anxiety. I carry a back pack with emergency supplies, which can include braces, socks, ice packs, etc. I keep extra ice packs and socks at school. I carry emergency medications. This is my reality. I cannot afford to NOT plan. Right now, the item causing the biggest anxiety roadblocks for me daily is the fact that I have asthma and I am reporting to a physical building where I have in person meetings during a global pandemic.
My tips and tricks
This is not exhaustive and, as above, you can see examples of and updates on the things I have in my bag, classroom, and at home on my instagram. For now, here's a quick list of five things I have and what they do for me.
Now that I've typed this, I am wondering if a post on grounding techniques would be helpful as a follow up. I will ponder it.
This blog is dedicated to my reflections on teaching during COVID. These posts are my own thoughts and reflections and DO NO represent anyone else's opinions or policies.