I hate the phrase “teachers are superheroes.” I have a master’s degree, not magic powers bestowed upon me by a radioactive spider.
My job is not an easy one and not everyone can do it, but it’s still a job, a way to pay the bills. Sure, I’m passionate and driven, and yes, my job makes a big difference in the lives of others. But I’m still a worker like any other, not on a mission to save the world.
The expectations that society puts on teachers are as old as time, but this year, it’s gone to a whole new level.
I knew going into this year we would have our work cut out for us. We all knew it.
The rest of the world might think that we are in the clear: Vaccines are available, and we can just saunter back to prepandemic life. Sorry, people, not at schools. We, teachers, are now in the cleanup stage — and we are talking about full-blown hurricane recovery. Get out the tents and the Meals Ready to Eat and send in the clean drinking water. We are going to be here for a while.
Some kids have been out of the building for 18 months. Their routines have been out of whack, their social skills have gone the way of the dodo bird and we all held our breath as the academic data rolled in.
As I speak to fellow teachers in my building, in other schools, in every grade, we are all seeing the learning gaps and feeling overwhelmed by them. I have students two to three grade levels below standards in every subject. I work in the 3rd grade with students who can’t read. Not just one or two — I am talking about the majority of my students.
There is all of this pressure around getting students caught up, filling the gaps and moving them forward. Which, yes, we need to do. But I am not a superhero, I am not a wizard, I’m not a miracle worker. I am already more than my job description. I am not just a teacher. I am a psychologist, social worker, nurse, cook, maid and parent, without the support, funding and time I need. Please don’t put unrealistic expectations and unnecessary, unfair stress on me, too.
This is going to take time. My students were already behind. Then they dealt with a year and a half of inconsistent attendance, spotty WiFi and lackluster engagement. We did our best with what we had, and we gave it our all. But the pandemic was the pandemic, and it affected every part of our lives, especially our students’ academic development.
I can’t magically cover a year’s worth of curriculum in a few review units — education should not be treated like a 2-for-1 sale at Aldi.
But with that said, I had better get back to work. As they say, a superhero’s job is never done.
Small Wants is the pseudonym for a third-year special education teacher at an elementary school in Manhattan.