Do you feel like this year has been your toughest year in education? If you do, then you are not alone. I have too many days to count this year wondering what has made this year even harder than the last.
As this school year is quickly coming to an end, I have been reflecting on my career, the educational system as a whole, and where children are academically, socially, and emotionally. Each of these components to my work weigh heavily on my heart. In my role as an Assistant Principal, I make decisions that will drive my career forward as a life long learner, make decisions that have the potential to impact thousands of students, and have interactions with dozens of students a week where I see where they are in all areas of learning and growing as young adults. Some days, the job can feel overwhelming due to our current climate, so here are my takeaways as I begin planning for the next school year.
Passion Drives Progress
I recently spoke with a fellow educator and he asked me what is something about me that he would not find on a piece of paper? I thought about this for a minute, all of my accomplishments or ideas you can easily find on documents that I have worked on in the last 10 years. What I decided to share was my passion for education. It is hard to put into words when you are truly passionate about something. When that passion is what you think about first thing in the morning, gets you through the tough days, and occasionally keeps you up at night thinking about how you can do better.
This is how I feel about education. It is my driving passion. I obviously love my children and my husband and they are also a huge reason I do what I do. But outside of my family, what personally motivates me is my passion for education. This includes wanting to find the best ways to nurture the developing minds of children, creating a positive and healthy work environment, and brining in innovative ways to further teaching in the 21st century. I spend my days reading and day dreaming about what more can we do for education in America. Although some days I feel discouraged, more often than not, I feel inspired and ready to face another day.
Trusting Work Places
My husband started his first year in education and I have to be honest, there have been many nights that I have had a smug look on my face when he comes home utterly exhausted and has nothing else to give for that day. I may have said a time or two “Glad you know what I have been talking about for the last 10 years… teaching is exhausting!” We always say that when you come to work you have to leave your baggage at the door and be ready with a smile on your face for your students and coworkers.
This is very emotionally and physically draining and that it is essential that you have a trusting work place, one that has coworkers who are there for you when you are having a rough day to help lift you up. A trusting place that when you need a minute to talk through the hard things, that you can leave knowing you have spoken in confidence. A trusting place that you know that the people around you are there to support you and help you grow as an educator.
There are plenty of negative comments circulating in the news and on social media about teachers and education. Education is under a microscope right now — what books are in the library, what standards are being taught, what curriculum is being used, what is the districts stand on these hot topics… I am hopeful that things will be easier next year, but this job is hard enough. We must support one another and create a safe and trusting environment so that educators have the mental and physical energy to give students their absolute best.
Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs
I knew Maslow was on to something with his hierarchy of needs, but it has become abundantly clear in the last two years that without basic needs, safety, and belonging being met for not only students but teachers, then personal growth and learning cannot take place. Teacher burnout and student discipline are both at an all time high, instead of putting more on teachers and students plates, we need to start with the basics.
What I have seen these past two years is that schools had to pivot within the matter of days from in person teaching to remote teaching. This was unavoidable and a part of being in a global pandemic. What schools would have implemented slowly over the course of years was implemented in days. Since then, we have been adding more and more to teachers with blended learning and constantly changing policies and procedures.
I keep hearing “we have to go back to how things were before COVID” but this is just not a realistic statement. The pandemic changed how we do education, so instead of trying to go back we need to start with the basics in this new style of education— are basic needs being met, are there structures in place that ensure safety and security for all, and does everyone have a sense of belonging and know their role and how to perform it on a day to day basis? Once we can answer those questions, then we can move forward with growth and learning.
Change Takes Time
Ultimately, things are changing in education. Some for the better and some for the worst. I have heard podcast and read blogs saying that education in America is going to have to crash and burn before it gets better. I really hope that is not the case, because there is an entire generation that may not be able to recover if that happens, including my children. Give the process time and continue to push for what is best for students. You can never go wrong if you view your work through the lens of “Is this best for my students?”