Stop Telling Teachers to Just be Grateful

I am tired. I am tired of having the same arguments over and over again. Why do people think it is okay to tell myself and other teachers to be grateful we have a job at all right now if we voice any sort of discontent? Why do other teachers attack their own when they voice their concerns about the state of our profession? Why are these things mutually exclusive in the eyes of some people?

When schools closed, teachers had to make drastic changes with very little time, resources, and training. I have a master’s in Learning and Technology, but outside of that program I have never been given any PD or classes that would have been applicable to remote learning. Even that program I did was not at all about teaching 100% online, it was about technology integration and blended learning – which is not the same as fully remote. Educators still scrambled to become proficient enough to provide online instruction, and continually walked students through how to use the technology as well.

Teachers have spent countless hours reaching out to students and parents, sometimes with no response. We have been documenting every little thing to make sure we cover our own backsides in the case that there are complaints. And despite this, there were still parents who claimed teachers did not do enough and demanded their child be given special treatment. Many teachers, administrators, and counselors had to have lengthy conversations justifying the amount of contact made and proving that the child (and sometimes parent) failed to respond or engage.

All across the country teachers provided instruction as best they could with what they had. Many implemented daily Zoom office hours, let students schedule individual tutoring with them, and took emails and texts all hours of the night. Remote teaching was insanely more stressful – there was no “go home and relax” after another rough day, we live at work these days. I have always been able to separate my work from home, and it was nearly impossible these past few months. Teachers have been losing sleep over trying to make sure that all students’ needs are being met and they have made themselves available for students whenever humanly possible.

We all know there have been massive layoffs across the country and not just in teaching. This crisis has made an impact on the economy that has resulted in slimmer budgets and panic around districts and companies alike. There are educators and support staff across the country who were not given another contract for next year because of budget cuts. There are educators who have taken pay cuts, been told they would no longer be getting their promised raise, and many have been told the district has not made final decisions yet. The situation is currently bleak.

But I want us to think back to where we were the first week in March. There was a nationwide teacher shortage, with some states having over a thousand unfilled positions year after year. Teachers had been promised in many states for another round of Red for Ed raises, or maybe just a regular yearly expected raise. We were dealing with large class sizes, lack of resources for our classrooms, and consistently disrespected by non-educators and especially our leaders. For years we have been underpaid and demanding more, yet even with the Red for Ed raises we aren’t even close to what we deserve. The first week of March, many of us wondered what would happen as Red for Ed faded into history and was no longer at the forefront of discussions. Then COVID-19 slammed our country and everything changed.

I am absolutely grateful for my job. First, I actually really love the school I work at and I have felt my district has handled this crisis well and taken care of its teachers. Second, I recognize that I am one of the lucky ones. We have lost more than half a million teacher and support staff jobs since March, which is more than we lost in the entirety of the Great Recession when cuts decimated education funding. As I and many others look toward this fall, we have no idea what will happen. We cannot plan because we haven’t been told if we are teaching in-person or online.

Educators are waiting for decisions to be made, and they will be made last minute, when it will once again be too late to provide PD and training to help us with whatever fall will entail. Some districts are opting to offer a variety of options: in-person, hybrid, and fully online, yet have not communicated to teachers what choice they will have or what their role in these options will be. Therefore, despite being grateful, I see what is happening to education once again and I am not happy.

I will not sit idly by and pat leaders on the back for not firing all of us just three months after a teacher shortage was threatening the state of our country’s education. I will not forget the promises made by Red for Ed and that we still have so far to go. I will not pretend like any of this is normal – in what world should individuals with two advanced degrees make less than $50,000 a year? Things were absolutely unacceptable before the COVID crisis hit, and we have regressed so far in just three short months. Whether we go back in the fall to in-person classes or continue with remote learning we are doing it with less funding. There will be even larger class sizes, even less classroom resources, especially as funds are redirected to provide staff with PPE. That is, assuming they do not add that to the long list of things educators are expected to purchase themselves.

Do not let our leaders convince you that you should just sit quietly and be grateful for having the job at all. When everything fell apart in March, we were pretty essential to the function of society, yet we continue to be disrespected by the same people who would never dare step foot in a classroom. We are expected to be martyrs because no one goes into teaching for the money anyway. No, I did not go into teaching for the money – but I also didn’t go into it to watch my profession have a decade of progress broken down in the length of a quarter.

So yes, I am grateful to be employed right now. But make no mistake, I am not thankful for the low pay, increasing class sizes, lack of resources, and refusal of anyone to show me respect as a professional. I will always fight to change these things until our leaders actually fix it.

Bio: I am a second year teacher who has done a lot of learning and growing in the short time I have been an educator. I was hired by a middle school to complete my student teaching and then finished my first year at the school. I currently work in an alternative school for students with behavior and mental health concerns. I am passionate about teaching and my mission is to help other educators maintain their passion for it as well. I also like to advocate for the better treatment of teachers by improving pay and work conditions.

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