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Teacher's Lounge - Advice for Virtual Instruction: Frustrated Pro

Dear Teacher’s Lounge,

Whether we teach virtually or in a building, I get constantly frustrated by the way that teachers are perceived by the public. For example, people have been calling us lazy for not wanting to return to buildings when many of us really want to go back but fear for our safety. Before the pandemic, the issue still existed and I just wonder what it will take for people to finally appreciate not just how hard we work or how much we care, but how difficult it is to do this job well. Why can’t we finally be treated like professionals?

                                                                                                                        ~Frustrated Pro

Dear Pro,

Believe me, every teacher in America hears what you’re saying and shares your frustrations. One of the dumbest adages of all time has to be “Those who can’t do, teach.” Talk about an insulting presupposition.

But here’s the thing about letting all of this noise (because really, that’s what it is) get you down: we don’t really go into teaching so that people will appreciate us. If that is the tree we’re barking up, we will never stop being angry and disenfranchised. It is definitely always nice to receive some recognition for our hard work, but we cannot depend on it. Instead, our sense of worth and our belief in the importance of our profession needs to come from within. Easier said than done, right?

The first thing I try to do when I’m frustrated is think about what I can control. If someone were to insult my professionalism, for example, I would do everything I can to make sure that such a complaint is illegitimate. From what I wear (personally, I opt for professional clothing, but I understand there are varying points of view on this) to the meticulousness of how I organize my work or maintain clear and prompt communications, walking the walk becomes more important when people are apt to misunderstand the jobs we do. If we are proactive and transparent about how we do our jobs, people are less likely to take issue with us.

The general sentiments of the public are completely beyond our control, but I tend to tune them out as unproductive. For example, when my school district decided to remain virtual this past summer, the governor of our state blasted teachers for wanting to do the “easy” thing by staying home. Teachers across the state expressed their rage, correctly pointing out that pivoting overnight and learning how to effectively teach virtually was much harder than doing what we’d always done. They agreed about longer working hours in a pandemic, a steeper learning curve, and a lack of collaborative planning time to learn how to navigate instruction together. Did their collective response change anyone’s mind? I doubt it. Many people still choose to believe that teaching virtually is the easy way out instead of the biggest hill educators have climbed in recent memory, and that is their prerogative. It does not, however, change the value of what we do, or how much students benefit from the reality of our efforts.

Trying to change people’s minds is an impossible, fruitless pursuit. All we can really control is our own actions, not to mention our reactions. People will insult teachers; that is a given in America, where the profession has been denigrated for a variety of baseless reasons over much of the course of our history as a country. To focus on the naysayers is a sure path to burnout. If someone says something directly to us that insults the profession, we can and should respond in that moment with calm and reason, and that will do far more than getting overly worked up or angry. However, the only other thing we can do is keep the focus on our own purpose, which is not to be beloved or even understood by the public at large: rather, it is to help children learn and grow.

Right now, when emotions and tensions run high, keeping perspective is particularly difficult. However, we can band together and reach out to our colleagues when the weight of being underappreciated becomes too burdensome. When we are the recipients of name-calling or insults, we must spend more time with our like-minded colleagues. Studies show that the appreciation teachers value the most comes either from students or from peers, and that has never been more important now. When we’re frustrated, we can and should lean on one another and tune out all the other noise. Then, and only then, will what the naysayers believe stop remotely being a factor in our own sense of professional self-worth.   

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Written by Miriam Plotinsky, Education World Contributing Writer

Miriam is a Learning and Achievement Specialist with Montgomery County Public Schools in Maryland, where she has worked for nearly 20 years as an English teacher, staff developer and department chair. She is a National Board Certified Teacher, and recently earned her certification in Education Administration and Supervision. She can be followed on Twitter: @MirPloMCPS

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