A tale of three notes

It isn’t easy to be gone in teaching.  Wow.  So not.  Writing a decent lesson plan a sub can execute is oh so hard.  (Hey!  Life hack now that we’ve learned so much:  simply video record instructions to be played to the kids.  Send it to some key kids.  Trust them to do what you need and let the rest go.  Credit to the Tweet below)  

Getting a decent sub is another factor, particularly when you know your students.  I inevitably have a student or two that might flare when confronted with some sub’s dynamics.  This brings in moral distress.  Following up after a sub is its own labor. 

And then there is that thing… the very basic thing that we care about the job.  We care about the kids. We know teachers are integral; we want to be there.  But in reality, teaching  requires absences.  Teachers are parents and children who also have to take care of others.  And teachers need to learn how to take care of themselves.    Last year had extra extra complications.  In online ed, there was no ability to step back, really.  There weren’t any subs, for one, and the complications of the tech were an obstacle. In addition, time was simply more precious.  It felt more imperative to provide some consistency. 

Last year, when we returned to the building, there was this one magical day… yep, a TESTING day.  There were three testing days, to be accurate, but on one of them I had NO RESPONSIBILITIES.  None.  

So yep, I emailed my associate principal to say I was going to take a sick day to work from home, where I have a second monitor to be efficient.  I even had a desk at home, which I didn’t have at school because of social distancing/ construction.  I also qualified that by saying that I would be available via phone and actually, if there was a staff shortage, live close enough to be there in a minute.

And here, lightly edited, was her reply: 

Thank you for the heads up. Because I respect you so much, I need to share that I do hope you’ll reconsider.  The testing team worked so hard on this and one way we can support their efforts is to ensure we have staff here to cover in case anyone calls in sick. My concern is that if our Instructional Leaders are finding ways to avoid being in the building, their department members will follow that lead. 

The testing team added a list of available rooms. We have ample space for physical distancing and as long as we’re following masking and hand-washing protocols, we’re meeting health recommendations and guidance.

Happy to talk more – but between conferences tonight and my own duties tomorrow,  I’m afraid it will have to be after the fact.

And readers, you guessed it.  I revoked my “sick day” and went in.  I worked in the cafeteria a bit.  A desk here a bit.  A desk there a bit– an angrifying, inefficient and awkward day in the midst of a very very long year. 

Also, I am pretty sure I am going to throw up next time someone tells me they “respect” me. 

Here is a version of what could have happened: 

Thank you for the heads up and for being willing to come in at a moment’s notice if we are short staffed.  Take care of yourself and happy grading! 

And you know what would have been the best?  Something like this: 

Thank you for the heads up and for being willing to come in at a moment’s notice if we are short staffed.  If you are working from home, though, you don’t need to take a sick day!  Save them!  You’re doing the work you’d do here. Or better yet, step back from school.  Netflix it!  Bake!  Take those dogs for a walk!  Take care of you!

Three thoughts more on this: 

My first meeting with my new assistant principal this school year was me resigning as educational leader at the end of this year.  It’s been coming, regardless of the pandemic.  The “be here because you are a leader” email in combination with one other decision from last year’s departmental principal cemented the resignation letter.  And while I have rarely taken any personal days beyond funerals or parenting in the last five or six years, I made sure to take one already this year… I vow to make space to take care of myself in order to stay present for the kids and to maybe– just maybe– be able to stay in this field a couple more years. 

When I read my principal’s email with compassion, I recognized it as fear-based.  She wanted the testing to go well (and testing stress pervades our field).  In the context of similar comments and moves last year and this, though, that email did harm. 

I’ve had a range of principals in my career.  The main criticism of one of the top two in my estimation was that she didn’t take care of herself.  There wasn’t a sense of balance.  Being part of a good educational leader is also stepping back a bit when the situation allows it in order to be fully present when the system needs it.  I have often relied on those in leadership to help balance me.  

I take full ownership of my welfare now. 

At the end of April 2020, the district reported to the school board that there were 1,398 teacher absences up to that point when the 2017 year had 8,529.  The sentence provided was:  “the need for substitutes was likely less because of virtual instruction.”  I don’t know what I wanted to hear there, really.  Those numbers were teachers sacrificing themselves to be present on screen.  Those numbers revealed teachers exhausting themselves.  

A friend of mine runs a non-profit that pivoted to meet the pandemic while still actually growing their mission and clientele.  This spring, when vaccinations were in place, their board gave each employee each two additional weeks of vacation as a thank you and as a recognition of time spent pivoting.  

Education can’t quite do that– but I know of at least one school on one of the inservice days that said sleep in, take a walk, take care of yourself.  Don’t log in. Just rest. 

This post reminds me of this graphic, which came from the subsequent Tweet: 

Many students will remember me.  That is a benefit of teaching. 

But I am so very replaceable to the system. 

In that meeting where I resigned, the first question was who do I think is willing to step in.  It is a pragmatic question and I know from leaving leadership in one district to move to the next, any ripples from my absence disappear quickly.  

This is again why watching my mentor’s life resonates.  Life is short.  Prioritize.

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