Dear Teachers of Teenagers,
First of all, I see you. Not in a creepy, “Every breath you take I’m watching you” kind of way, but in a, “While I don’t know exactly what you’re going through, I know it’s super-hard” kind of way.
I see your panicked Sunday night stories on Instagram, your tongue-in-cheek tweets about the obnoxious kids in your class, your frantic Facebook post about the COVID numbers in your classroom.
I was a high school English teacher a few years ago, and it was difficult back then. There was the angry student who threatened to burn my room down. There was the homecoming afternoon when a beloved cheerleader was killed in a car accident. There were frightening intruder drills and difficult parent-teacher conferences and the insane extra hours spent grading and planning.
And that was before a global pandemic made the world lose its mind and unraveled teenagers everywhere, one Google Meet and canceled basketball game at a time.
Now here you all are, expected to be heroes and fix all of the world’s problems while lines of angry parents stand at microphones to berate and demean you because your school does or doesn’t require masks, because of the current modality offered by your school, or because you’re teaching a book that might make their students think critically about a difficult issue.
Here you are, walking into classrooms with confusing and constantly-shifting guidance for handling the pandemic. Where should students sit? How should the lunchroom be organized? And what do we do about extracurriculars?
And here you are, on the frontlines of what seems to be the biggest academic and mental health crisis for adolescents our country has faced in our lifetime. Students suffered through distance learning (I know you did the best you could!) and then returned with what feels to be insurmountable learning gaps with heaping sides of extra anxiety and depression.
We want you to be educators, social workers, therapists, and nurses. While paying you an embarrassingly small salary.
“I’m sorry” doesn’t cut it. “I’m cheering you on” seems like a cheap platitude.
Teachers, I wish I could send you all Target gift cards so you could buy yourselves your favorite comfort snacks (I have my own secret stash of Reese’s Christmas trees leftover from holidays), a cozy blanket or pair of sweats, and whatever else might lift your mood. But I know a gift card and goodies would offer only temporary relief.
I wish I could stand before all of your school boards and administrators and demand higher pay and more respect. In this dream scenario, my advocacy would result in prioritizing tax dollars for our children’s future. You would get smaller class sizes, the in-class support you need, and fewer outside-of-the-classroom duties. And no matter where you taught and lived, a quality education could be guaranteed for all.
I wish I could build you a time machine so you could go back to the age when teaching was a respected career and the biggest issue on a school day was a rambunctious boy hiding a frog in your desk drawer. Because this is my time machine, we would still have the advances of the current era, like LGBTQ rights and less sexism and racism. However, based on how much I struggled with my one required science class in college, I don’t put much hope in my ability to build a time machine or locate a flux capacitor.
I don’t have the perfect solution to this disastrous recipe of heaping an unpredictable virus on top of a problematic educational system that has been struggling for decades.
But I want you to know I see you.
I see you encouraging my teenage son to try a more difficult history class next year because you know he’s capable of doing the work.
I see you engaging our teenagers in difficult conversations about race and gender and class and politics. And even though I don’t always love it, I hear the results of that critical thinking many nights at the dinner table as my antagonistic son brings up those challenging topics.
I see you staying after school to help with homework for the kids who don’t have the needed support at home.
I see you stepping in during your prep time to cover for another teacher who is out sick or caring for their own sick kids.
I see you shoveling a blizzard with a spork from Taco Bell, single-handedly trying to prop up a tumbling skyscraper with random pieces from the bottom of a Lego bin, because you care for our children.
You deserve all of the gift cards and time machines and raises and mansions and dream vacations the world has to offer.
But until then, please know I’m your biggest fan, and I will shout your praises from the rooftops until my dying day. (And don’t be surprised if you someday find a random Target gift card in your mailbox.)