Why Teaching Feels Different This Year, and Why There are No Good Answers

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what’s different this year.

If you were starting 7th grade during the Fall of 2019, you would have the last third of your year, one of the most formative in middle school, hijacked by the COVID-19 pandemic.

That would be followed by a summer of social awakening, civil protests, violence, fear, uncertainty, and a hardening of political lines and us vs them mentality that permeated every aspect of society and popular culture like a whole other kind of virus.

The following school year, 8th grade, would begin (at least in my district) relatively normal, but masked and socially distanced. Hybrid learning was a new normal. Before you could blink, the pandemic surged again forcing schools to return to distance learning. No one would return until February of 2021, and even still many returned to a hybrid setting for a majority, if not the rest, of the year.8th grade is over. Even though the election has long since passed and culturally volatility was supposed to find its peace, things only got worse, more divisive, more wrought with misinformation and hate-fueled by social media in particular. Now it’s 9th grade. That’s this Fall. New 9th graders spent the last two years primarily at home, taught by overworked and mentally-emotionally exhausted educators. Yet now, here you are. Back in the classroom. If you began kindergarten in the Fall of 2019, you’d now be in 3rd grade. If you began 4th grade in the Fall of 2019, you’d now be beginning middle school as a 6th grader.

Is anyone to blame? I’m sure we could point fingers if we gave ourselves a minute to stew.

The truth is, parents, teachers, administrators, students, all of us did our best considering the circumstances we found ourselves in. Only now that pandemic fatigue has fully manifested itself in our country in particular and we attempt to force a normal no one is ready for, we must face the consequences of the last two years the same way we faced the years as a whole—doing our best. No blame. No finger pointing. But showing up the best we can for ourselves and the kids.

It will be hard. It will be far too much, as will be the things asked of us. But, the kids can’t afford any more people to give up on them.

But you know what? None of this is an excuse. It’s just an acknowledgment of reality. Armed with this understanding and perspective, what teachers need is more support.

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