If a Teacher Cracks in a Virtual Classroom, Do They Make a Sound?

Photo by Marcos Paulo Prado on Unsplash

What is admin planning to do about the abysmally low teacher morale?

The sentence glared out at me from behind my dusty screen, daring me to send it into the chat. The grade level meeting was wrapping up so it was now or never. My finger hesitated over the dark blue arrow icon. I re-read the sentence for the fiftieth time and hit “Send.”

It appeared in the chat box. Just sort of hanging there.

“Am I missing anything else from the chat?” a voice droned. The normal stream of questions and comments had crawled to a standstill, meaning there was no way folks didn’t see what I had typed. I didn’t expect to get a reply. I mean, if I wasn’t me and I saw what I had typed, I would have rolled my eyes and left the meeting.

And that’s exactly what happened.

“Nothing?” the pixelated voice asked again. “Okay, well thanks everyone. See you next time.”

I closed the window and returned to the lesson I had been tinkering with during the meeting. I see my students half as often as I normally would, but virtual lesson somehow always takes exponentially more time. I was messing around with the colors on one of my slides when the message came through.

INCOMING CALL FROM ASSISTANT PRINCIPAL — REJECT/ACCEPT?

Okay. I mean, yea. Like, what did I expect? I immediately accepted the call because I didn’t want to give my brain a chance to start running through worst case scenarios. I wasn’t sure what was about to happen, but I was pretty confident it wasn’t going to be a social call.

ACCEPT

The AP barely got a word in before I rudely interrupted.

“DO I HAVE YOUR PERMISSION TO RECORD THIS SESSION?”

I’ve been caught off guard by these types of calls before so I’ve learned to record them. I didn’t mean to be rude and interrupt; I was just really nervous.

“Uhm … yea, of course,” he sighed. “Go for it.”

This wasn’t our first rodeo.

As the “recording” message popped up at the top of the screen I tried to figure out what to do with my face. I didn’t want to smile, but I also didn’t want to look like an asshole, either. So I grabbed my oversized water bottle and started to chug.

“I saw what you wrote in the chat,” he started.

“AND IT’S TRUE!” I sputtered. Sensing the sure-to-be-negative second half of that sentence, I wanted to keep the conversation focused on morale. It WAS low. It’s a really shitty time to be a teacher.

“Okay, but you have to be aware of the optics of the situation. You know anyone can see what you type in the chat.”

“I KNOW!” I was coming on too strong. I took a breath and let him continue.

“What do you want us to do about morale?” he asked.

“I don’t know! All I know is that everyone I talked to feels demoralized and run down and abandoned. I’m not saying it’s specifically about the admin in this school,” Uh-oh. I was starting to prevaricate. Gotta pull it back in. “I’m just saying that if you all get to quiz us on what we’re doing for students, then we get to quiz you on what you’re doing for us.”

To be clear, no one had quizzed me on what I was doing for students. Not in the literal sense, at least. I was just trying to communicate how in my opinion responsibility should function as a web, not a chain of command where power flows in only one direction.

“So, what would help, then?” He asked. I hadn’t thought that far ahead. And with adrenaline and cortisol flooding my synapses, I struggled to articulate a solid answer. My off-the-cuff response revealed that I hadn’t thought this whole thing through as much as I probably should have.

I said that since words of appreciation were my love language, all I really needed was to feel heard. Some sort of acknowledgment that what we’re being asked to do is ludicrous. I didn’t want to take part in any elaborate “shout out” rituals that put the burden of affirmation on teachers. I didn’t want to fill out Google forms every month or write on slips of paper. I just wanted to feel like the folks I worked for appreciated my labor.

Since everyone is different, I pushed my AP to reach out to other teachers to see what they needed. This somehow felt like both a cop out and the right thing to say.

“Right, I get that,” he replied. “But back to the optics of the chat…”

The conversation ended quickly after that. Nothing happened afterwards and I haven’t brought it up again. So I guess the slap on the wrist worked.

It feels strange to get called out for saying morale is low. The observation that right now teachers are running on fumes seems neither noteworthy nor astute. It’s more like an axiom? A basic, undeniable truth that must be acknowledged before we can move forward with the work of healing and educating.

Teaching is definitely healing work, by the way. Although western culture has done it’s best to cordon off the brain and exile the rest of the body, everything is integrated. Teaching should be love in action. It should be a healing and generative practice for everyone involved.

And right now my school does not feel like a place where healing happens. It feels like a place where everyone is scrambling over themselves to get back to normal.

Normal is not where we want to be. At least in education.

Anyone who works in a classroom with their eyes and heart open knows the trauma and the hurt baked into our students and communities and classrooms. Of course there are some new problems to contend with, but to me most of these feel more like extensions than entirely new creations.

Telling teachers to be quiet is the opposite of what schools need to be doing right now. Telling students and teachers to be more resilient isn’t gonna cut it, either.

None of the directives I’ve received this year feel right. I don’t want to force kids to put their cameras on. Would it make my life easier? Absolutely! Would it lead to any substantive improvement in teaching and learning? I don’t think so. It’s the same with tests, grades, and getting back into the building before folks feel confident and prepared.

If teachers and students are hurting (and they most assuredly are), then we need to slow down and take stock of the situation and be intentional. Who are we as a professional learning community? Who are we as a school district? What do we want to do?

In-person or not, we’re all bound together by strands of responsibility and humanity and purpose. What’s best for teachers is often what’s best for students and the other way around. Look for the hurt and focus on it. Call for the wounds and heal them. Acknowledge what’s happening and get to work.

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