This article was written by Melissa Face, a writer and English Instructor at a school for students who are gifted in the arts. Her essays have appeared in Skirt!, Country Woman, and 19 volumes of Chicken Soup for the Soul. Check out her Facebook page.
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I had a difficult time teaching English these past few weeks. I love my subject area, but lately it hasn’t seemed as critical as it usually does. While my juniors worked on some practice items for an upcoming standardized assessment, I found myself questioning, “Does this even matter right now?”
If our students aren’t safer, does it matter whether or not they can identify the error in subject/verb agreement in sentence 8? If my students aren’t safer, does it matter if they don’t conclude their persuasive essays with a call to action? If my students aren’t safer, does it really matter if they can’t write in a more formal tone?
I knew the answer to all of my own questions. No. Nothing matters right now more than safer schools for our students and teachers. This questioning and analyzing of life and what is important is a natural human response after a major crisis. And in recent months, we have had more than our share of crises across this country.
Teachers are trying to do what they love in an unprecedented time. For weeks, our profession has been in the headlines every single day. And to my knowledge, there is no official handbook for teaching in such a tumultuous climate. But here are a few tips to help teachers maintain some sense of control and take care of themselves in the midst of upheaval:
1. Revisit Your School’s Crisis Plan
– Meet with coworkers, department chairs, and administrators to look for areas of improvement within your school. Schedule intruder trainings for faculty and staff, and ask administration to have your local police department visit and learn the layout of your building. This could be invaluable in a crisis.
2. Talk to Your Coworkers
It is so important to express your feelings and concerns about your current work environment. We are already responsible for so much: planning, grading, standardized testing, role modeling, etc. Share those burdens with others, and it may help them seem less monumental. And don’t forget that your school likely has a trained counselor on staff already. He/she may specialize in working with young people, but school counselors can certainly listen to your concerns, as well.
Take some time to think about why you became a teacher years ago and indulge in that. Do you love literature? Go ahead and read that bestseller on your night stand that you’ve been putting off until you “catch up” on other work. Do you teach art? Visit a local gallery, or attend an art night in a neighboring district. Get back to the root of what you love about education and embrace that for a while. The papers and lesson plans can wait a bit.
4. Give Yourself a Break
Schedule yourself some time (yes, we teachers schedule everything) to do exactly what you want to do. Take an afternoon walk or jog; book a massage or pedicure, or have dinner with a friend. It doesn’t matter what activity you choose. Just take the time to do something that is just for you. You deserve it.
Since I was struggling this week, I decided to do something with my own feelings of uncertainty. I used my background in persuasive writing to draft a letter to the members of the school board in the county in which my first grader attends. In my letter, I requested additional resource officers at campus-style schools and other safety measures that could be implemented immediately.
I am using the skills I have to help make a difference. It is important for me to try to make my small corner of the world a better, safer place. I worked really hard this week, and now I am going to be kind to myself, take a break, and get some rest. I deserve it.