This school year marks my 30th year working in education, all but two of which have been in Boston. I started as a 7th and 8th grade teacher, and since then I have taught high school, served as a supervisor and coach of teachers, been part of starting and running two schools, been part of starting and running two teacher preparation programs, and have had the honor of serving as the Executive Director of BPE for the last decade.
This school year is by far the hardest I have experienced for folks in schools.
We all thought last year would be incredibly hard, and it was. But everyone involved – teachers, students, families, school leaders – made a quick and unprecedented pivot to new structures, tools and ways of teaching and learning. And while it was taxing for all involved, people supported each other and I think we were pleasantly surprised by how well people did.
This year, when school opened, no one knew quite what to expect. There was a sense that we would not know what students would be bringing back with them.
We all thought about how to make our classrooms and schools places where students felt welcomed and where they belonged, where students could get the support they needed, and where they could get find the joy and inspiration of human connection. At the same time, we all felt a lot of pressure to help students catch up. There was much made of lost learning over the interrupted year-and-a-half of school. Some schools and educators came down more heavily on or the other of these two sides – but we all felt them both to some extent.
Now, a few months into this year, my sense from everything I am hearing and seeing is that this is much harder than we thought.
While it has always been true that we have asked schools and educators to act as multi-service centers, that demand has only been heightened this year. Educators are serving as nurses, contact tracers, IT support people, social workers, advocates… in ways they never have before. And we haven’t taken anything off their plates.
There is a bigger issue to be figured out here. In my 30 years in education, I have seen the conversations and urgency around a teacher shortage come back every few years. And though it has been a serious issue, it has never risen to the crisis status that is often predicted. I worry this year could be different. I fear we are going to lose some of our best educators. Given the current labor market – there are going to be increasing options for folks to work in different places or different options. And everyone feels this way. School leaders, district leaders, state education leaders: they have all been thrown into a situation without a lot of support or training themselves and asked to deal with a lot. But that goes beyond the scope of this email.
In the now, we are trying to keep an eye on how we can take care of those most vulnerable. For those of us in schools, can we make sure our young people have the space and resources and support they need? To do that, we need to help take care of the adults who work with and care for those young people.
Whether you support BPE this Giving Tuesday, I hope you’ll support the places and people you know are going above and beyond to care for those most vulnerable.
To support us in celebrating and appreciating our staff, visit our Teacher Appreciation Fund.