Public school teachers have always worked incredibly hard. People who haven't been a PS teacher or lived with one have no idea. The actual classroom teaching is the proverbial tip of the iceberg. In addition to constantly training and retraining, they're also expected to "volunteer" to provide extra services because "it's for the kids."
In addition to the burden of any teaching, public school teachers are forced to deal with all the kids with special needs, especially since the charter schools cherry-picked the kids least likely to be problematic. For example, first grade PS teachers frequently get assigned first graders who don't know their ABCs but are expected to be able to write a paragraph by the end of the year. (Good luck with that.)
Many school districts, especially in rural areas, have a high percentage of families that periodically decide to "homeschool" their kids because of extreme religious beliefs. Two years later, the kids come back and now the teachers are responsible for the education of students who are two years behind.
Then there are the kids that obviously live in homes where there is no printed material other than junk mail, who watch TV and use computers all day, are overweight and sluggish, have picked up filthy language from their parents that they spout to all their classmates, who then go home and show their parents what they learned in school.
You know all those addiction deaths? Guess who ends up helping kids deal with the trauma of finding a parent or relative dead on the couch? Also, guess who's responsible if it looks like a kid is being neglected or abused at home? And guess who deals with off-kilter helicopter parents who can't believe their little darling could have done anything wrong?
And this was all before the Covid pandemic.
When Covid struck and the country was forced to shut down, it happened so suddenly that most teachers had less than a week to prepare to teach all online. In my wife's case, she was basically told to leave the building with her purse and laptop.
Teachers were then expected--and indeed managed somehow--to learn new technology, with no official training, almost no leadership (because administration was equally clueless). At least most businesses, when they went remote, had some prior experience with teleconferencing.
Remember, though, to make online teaching work, and not expose your kids to Zoom bombers or hackers, meant building a secure computing infrastructure, supporting hundreds, if not thousands of students, on multiple platforms. Doing something like that basically from scratch is an IT nightmare.
But I'll let you in on a little secret. The IT person who works for your local public school isn't likely to be somebody who was at the top of their class, if they even went to school for IT. Remember how much you dislike working with your IT group? Imagine working with a semi-trained IT schlep tasked to do the impossible. With brand-new software that needs to work perfectly, starting tomorrow.
But things are better now, right? There was the summer to prepare, right?
Wrong. There was no effective way for teachers to prepare for the new school year because the decision of how to handle the schools wasn't made until the last minute and in many districts is changing in response to the pandemic.
Because of this dithering, teachers have been forced to prepare for multiple contingencies, each of which involved different skills. Some schools are using what's called the "hybrid model," which combines:
- Traditional in-person teaching, with the additional burden of making sure the children are wearing masks and social distancing, and without doing anything that can't be accomplished on a school desk. These limitations mean that many if not most existing lesson plans are no longer usable.
- Online real-time teaching (via Google classroom), which requires mastery of technology that's completely new to schools (and not ready for prime time, frankly). Teaching Zoom-style requires a completely different skill set than classroom teachings, because the classroom tends to be more hands-on. Much different, in other words, that converting your business meetings to run on Zoom. Oh, yeah, because online real time so different, it requires another completely different set of lesson plans.
- Asynchronous cyber-learning. In addition, my wife is making instructional videos for students who can't attend the real-time sessions and can't (or won't) come into school. This involves creating a video dialogue with the child, and running and moderating a chat board that includes video content from the kids, which must of course be carefully screened. Plus all the security checks that this entails (it's not like YouTube or TikTok, folks). And, you guessed it, this requires another set of lesson plans, because it's fundamentally different than Zoom-style teaching.
Even if teachers aren't teaching the hybrid model, they need to prepare as if they could end teaching any one of these models, and also plan how to switch from one to the other should conditions change.
To put it simply, public school teaching was a demanding, underpaying job before Covid. Teachers are now doing three jobs, each involving different technology, different skill sets, and different lesson plans, all of which must be created from scratch.
But that's not all. In addition to doing all that work, teachers--especially public school teachers--are scapegoated if they don't want to risk their lives--or the lives of their family--to teach in person. As in being called "lazy" or being accused of "not caring about the kids" (the worst insult you can throw at a teacher).
My wife is a case in point. In 2017, I had a massive heart attack. If I catch Covid, I'm in a group that's highly likely to be hospitalized and put on a ventilator, die alone in a hospital bed, or "recover" with impaired lung and brain function. Every week my wife teaches in person, she's exposed to 400 kids. Which means I am, too, of course.
Here's the thing. When teaching takes place in person, the strategy in many schools is "wear a mask and hope for the best," even though they're being asked to teach the kids of jackasses who believe Covid is a hoax, bring their kids to superspreader events, and then send them to school with a sore throat. Yes, this really happens.
When it becomes known that a kid has Covid, the school must contact trace that kid, make sure everyone who came into close contact quarantines, shut down the school, disinfect every surface. Rinse and repeat every three or four days. Yes, this is really happening.
Now, I have personally and closely observed dozens of high-tech firms from startups to huge corporations. You find the most stressed-out and overstretched workers in computer game development. No game developer is working harder than a public school teacher tasked to execute a hybrid teaching model.
This is not just because there's so much work involved, but that because that work must be accomplished in an environment that's high risk in a "life-or-death" situation that's constantly changing.
Look, people need to stop scapegoating teachers and aim the blame smack where it belongs--on a Trump administration that could have greatly reduced the impact of Covid but decided instead to minimize the risk and convince people that it was a hoax. We're all paying the price of this huge, historic mistake.
And the teachers are the ones--as has always been the case--who pick up the pieces and soldier on. All to make sure that YOUR kids don't fall behind and still have a chance at a better life, despite the global pandemic.