In 2018, I was named the Queen Anne’s County Teacher of the Year. It was one of the best nights of my life followed by one of the best years of my life. I was at the height of my professional career. I had never worked harder in my classroom or been more proud of what I was able to provide for my students and what I was able to see them accomplish. I was almost always one of the first teachers who arrived at school, and like most teachers the work continued long into the evening once I arrived home. I felt at the top of my game. I was reviewing current research to implement the best teaching strategies, writing creative lesson plans to engage my students, and busily and happily creating new learning materials daily. I was a teacher first, and everything else second.
And then 2020 arrived. Everything I had ever known about education and teaching was no longer relevant. I went from the top of my career to not knowing how to be a good teacher. All of my schooling and professional development was suddenly rendered useless because we no longer could teach the only way I knew how. I humbly asked for help, and the response I received was “set it up”. I was demoralized, and questioned my worth as a teacher. Thankfully, I worked with a team of teachers who supported each other, and together we found a way to teach our students through the pandemic. How? We did nothing else. We did not have family game nights. We did not watch Netflix. We did not make big dinners for our family. But mostly, we did not sleep. When the school year came to an end, and we were asked to reflect upon it, we told our administration we were proud of what we had accomplished, but our tanks were completely empty. We were traumatized by the workload, the isolation, and the fears associated with COVID-19. The response was to have our commitment questioned, and we were encouraged to consider whether or not we could be positive enough to be leaders the following school year.
And then the summer of 2021 arrived. My teammate died of cancer only three short months after being diagnosed. I was devastated. My heart was completely shattered, my grief unbearable. Each and every day since then I think of her. I think of what mattered most to her: watching sports with her family, making them dinner, and, yes, probably enjoying a series on Netflix, followed by a good night’s sleep. Ahh, sweet, sweet sleep. All summer, I couldn’t help but ask myself, “What on Earth am I doing? Why have I allowed myself to be a teacher first, and a wife, daughter, mother, grandmother, sister, neighbor, friend, HUMAN BEING second?” I am certain if given the chance, my friend would never tell me, “Oh! If only I had worked harder on my lessons!”
And so the fall of 2021 arrived. I made a conscious decision to realign my priorities. I am not one of the first teachers to arrive, and I leave on time and try very hard to not take work home. I have had to let go of a lot of the “extras” I used to do. When given a choice, I take the easy route. I do not volunteer to take on additional work. I have learned to say, “No, thank you,” when asked to add additional responsibilities to my workload. And I am struggling. My students have many gaps in their learning which working hard to close, and yet I have no idea how to do that with the time that I am given to plan for such a task. It is difficult when for over 20 years you have defined your worth based on your profession, and you learn that that was a fool’s game. I struggle daily with the guilt of wanting to do more for my students, and choosing instead to put my own family first, but I will not apologize for this. It has taken me almost 50 years to learn what my mother used to tell me all the time… charity begins at home.
The Board of Education is now considering adding a few half days to our calendar to provide teachers with time to do the impossible: “catch up”. If this were something they were considering as an offer of goodwill, I would accept it with grace and appreciation, but, alas, that is not the case. It is yet one more topic to debate and argue to which I have to ask, “Is there truly a single person that thinks teachers have enough time each day to complete what is being asked of them?” And though I would like very much to have the extra time, whether the days are added to the calendar or not, I will keep doing what I am doing. I will accomplish only what I can accomplish in the time provided, and anything else will just have to be set aside. In honor of my friend, I am saying no thank you to the unrealistic expectations put on teachers. Life is simply too short, and teachers need to unapologetically stop giving it away. In the end, it is the time with your family that you will treasure most, so put away your laptop, say no thank you, watch Netflix, play Monopoly with your kids, and sleep well, educators. You have more than earned it.