November is a tough month. In high schools and elementary schools, report cards have just passed, and both teachers and students are exhausted. I’ve never really had the chance to observe teachers going through this period because I’m usually right with them: head down, marking, reading, commenting, and eating a big bowl of m&ms.
At the moment, being a literacy coach affords me some distance from this, so I’ve noticed the strain on my colleagues. I walked into a staff room the day before report cards were due, and I saw teachers with stacks of paper in front of them looking a little bleary-eyed from writing their reports. I talked with a teacher who is concerned about students who are missing evidence to meet expectations; he was agonizing over how to fill in those gaps and report on them.
A young teacher, who was getting was getting married the Saturday before report cards were due, conferenced with every single one of her students while I tried to help. She worked tirelessly to pull last minute pieces of evidence from students who are facing immense challenges. Then she spent her whole prep talking to me about how to help students she is concerned about instead of doing the pile of marking she is carrying around. She isn’t sleeping.
Some people might hear complaints about the marking and reporting, and that does happen – teachers are human after all- but what I see is teachers pouring everything into their students. Report cards cause anxiety because we aren’t finished with our students. We need more time! Just one more week! I know they’ll hand it in tomorrow! Teachers have to decide how to communicate ten short weeks of learning through a number and 400 characters.
So this is why this post is my love letter to teachers. The following is what I have the privilege to experience every day.
I see the new teacher teaching a marginalized group of students at his school. His room is a place where students feel comfortable, and they trust him. They have been ridiculed and rejected in other areas of their lives, but they know that they have a safe space.
I see the elementary teachers who full-on participate in daily physical activities with their students. I didn’t even think to join, but my elementary colleagues got right into the games to the point where they were physically sweating by the end. Their students loved it.
I see the teacher who wants his students to value learning and is running up against twelve years of conditioning where students have been taught that their value is attached to their grades. He wants them to value their growth and potential.
I see the librarian who is waiting for her library to open so that she can resume doing what she loves: connecting with students in a space that shouts its joy of learning.
I see the elementary teachers who sat with me in a meeting on Tuesday and shared how they teach students with a range of needs in one room. One teacher gave me such simple advice about talking to students. So simple that it probably seemed ridiculous to her that I hadn’t thought of it already. I tried it, and it worked. She made me a better teacher by spending time with me.
I see the ESL teachers and consultants who have been sharing their knowledge with me. They look at student work with me, share resources, and help me shape my next steps. They are giving me the training I need when I don’t have anywhere else to get it.
I see the resource teachers who will not give up. They push for change, they see kids who have slipped through the cracks in the system, and they help teachers meet student needs. When the challenge is daunting, they shout for help, and they keep shouting until someone finally listens.
I see the teachers who are going through the pain of their schools closing. Years of teaching in one building will soon be over, but they are thinking about their students and how to make the transition easier for them, even as they deal with the uncertainty over their futures.
I see the teachers who ask questions and push our thinking so that we move beyond doing what has always been done. They challenge our methods, our texts, and our ideas. It must be exhausting to continue to have to push for needed change, but they do it because they know that it is good for their students.
I see the teachers who spend a fortune buying books for their classrooms, clothing for their students, and, in some cases, food for their students. Their acts of kindness are done without wanting anything in return. They do it because they believe that every student has value. That every one student deserves hope.
So during this dark November if you’re feeling discouraged and exhausted, please know that what you do every day is so vitally important. I know there are days when you feel discouraged, undervalued, and overwhelmed, but I see what you do every day and it’s beautiful. This is my love letter to teachers.