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.
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.