Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

10.14.21It’s a Really Tough Time for Teachers

This year has been the hardest in memory for many teachers. Over the next few weeks we’ll be trying to share ideas and free resources to help get people over the hump. Team TLAC’s Hannah Solomon shares this first post on the topic.

Now is a really tough time to work in a school.

Pre-Covid the job of teacher or school leader stretched far beyond the hours of a school day.  Drawn to this work because of the opportunity to work directly with young people we accepted that writing and prepping lessons, building meaningful relationships with 25 to 125 young people, creating classroom community, coordinating communication with families would sometimes take more time than the hours in a school day. It was often part of the bargain; the cost of doing an important job well. And mostly we managed. Sometimes it was, as Walt Disney put it “kind of fun to do the impossible.”  Or what then felt like it.

But the challenges and pressures of the fall ’21 return have added extra stresses that make it hard to achieve success even at the bargain of extra hours.

Almost all 50 states reported shortages for the 2020-2021 school year, according to the U.S. Department of Education.  Schools in every jurisdiction and of every type report massive shortages of staff. It was so good to be back at first. But it got pretty stressful pretty fast when we started spending every spare moment of our days covering classes, creating sub schedules, and in some cases, driving school buses.

Teachers who wish they could be spending time preparing their lessons are instead covering classes outside of the subject and grade level. Social workers can’t provide in class support to students struggling with the transition back to school because they find themselves on double lunch duty and on the playground during recess.

All this while there are greater rates and intensity of student needs. It’s been a tough year for them. The anxiety and time away from school make being back in school difficult. And they’re out of practice at school and paying attention.

Many educators, in short, are walking right up to the brink of “impossible” calling out for help.

What is a teacher, a coach, a social worker, a school nurse to do in this moment?  How is a school leader to respond in a way that validates the struggle, honors the effort, and inspires exhausted educators to do what is best – and perhaps beyond possible – for the terrific kids sitting in front of them?

Part of what the crisis demands is what business scholar Daniel Goleman calls “emotionally resonant” leadership. It’s not enough for school leaders to constantly remind educators about the importance of this moment in education and the urgency of addressing the learning lost as a result of the pandemic.  School leaders must also respond to the reality of understaffed teams by helping and supporting teachers (both new and experienced) to adjust their work strategies and priorities to ensure they support students and maintain sustainable lives in challenging circumstances.

As a team, we try to help teachers and leaders solve the complex problems of our field with simple and actionable solutions.  With that goal in mind, we will be using this blog space over the next few months to present advice, PD support tools, and recommendations from our colleagues in schools to try to both save time and add student-facing value for those of you who are in there, every day, with the kids.

As a first step, we are pleased to offer five TLAC Online modules for free use over the next 6 weeks:

[UPDATE 12.10.21]: Given the popular response to these free modules we’ve decided to keep them open through at least the end of January for teachers to use for free.]

These five 15-minute modules, fully revised to align with TLAC 3.0 content, present teachers with immediate strategies for establishing smooth and positive classroom culture.  If you’re a teacher and you find yourself spending more time than you’d like repeating directions rather than digging into content, these may be helpful.  If you’re a school leader who doesn’t have time to plan a PD for your newest teacher, we hope these gift you back 2 hours of your day, while at the same time giving your new teachers the extra support they may need

Keep your eyes open for our next post, in which we will release a full unit of our Reading curriculum for free in hopes of lessening the burden for reading teachers.

We wish we could find an experienced teacher to fill every vacancy and give you time to be everything your students need this year.  We hope this series of “free solutions” at least gives you both a bit more time and a helpful set of tools to maximize the precious time you have with your students every day.

–Hannah Solomon


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