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Columns

Be sensitive: Don't ask teachers about their summer 'vacations'

Rick Holinger
Rick Holinger

Ask teachers about their summer “vacations,” and they won’t mask their response. Or, rather, they’ll mask it, literally, but behind the cloth will lurk rage—or uncontrollable laughter—because you assumed they had a vacation.

Yesterday my wife, Tia, drove to school to place her classroom desks a specified distance apart and mark unnecessary objects for removal. She ran into a colleague who told her, “I brought a tape measure to make sure the desks are exactly seven feet from the wall.”

Such dedication! However, physical planning is cake compared to the cranial, the psychological.

Summer, whittled down to little more than two months, ordinarily reduces teachers’ end of second semester stresses. Not this one. Tia’s “vacation” included remote faculty and department meetings; an intensive professional development class; communication with colleagues discussing developments—or lack thereof; scanning the internet and books for creative, new lesson plans; remote sessions learning new technology; etc., etc.

Over 65 (only slightly!), Tia is “high-risk” if catching COVID. Moreover, radiation treatments for breast cancer may have weakened her immune system.

Nevertheless, dicey as it will be for teachers’ health, parents want their kids in school. One T.V. journalist interviewed moms who basically demanded, “Get ’em outta here!”

Reminds me of the mom last spring who reported after two months of remote learning, “I’ve had it with home schooling. I expelled one of my children, and the other dropped out.”

Spurred by a parent’s email asserting her “right” to know how teachers were preparing for online learning, secondary school teacher Kate Kowalski replied on social media:

I think I can speak to what I have done as well as several stellar teachers in my life.

First and foremost, we are barely sleeping; we wake up in the night with thoughts of how this new instruction will work, how this new education will be meaningful and how this world will ever be better.

Those thoughts drive us through “summer vacation” while tagging new websites; reading about ways to reach our students at their social and emotional level; planning for multiple scenarios of school openings; and desperately pushing to fulfill the expectations of academic excellence the world demands.

We are watching the news and keeping track of "facts.” We are in constant contact with colleagues, exchanging ideas to bring e-learning "alive" to students at home—while simultaneously engaging classroom students. We are discussing ways to know new students; because their faces are masked, we cannot read their expressions to determine whether happy or sad.

We are reading books, following webinars, listening to podcasts, and engaging in discussions to address and incorporate the social justice revolution into our curricula.

Oh, and by the way, we are trying to maneuver our own lives and our own kids’ schedules. We feel for parents who have to leave home to work because we are in the same boat.

I guess I just want the world to know that instead of African safaris and Caribbean cruises usually taken over the summer on overly-abundant salaries, we gave those up to prepare for the biggest challenge of our careers. We will rise to this challenge, no matter where it takes us. We do this not because it is our job, but because it is our calling.

If you are out there questioning our dedication to our students—your children—and students around the nation, sit down, because you are out of line.

Yes, have a seat. One of the fifteen desks remaining. Raise your hand if you have a question. She’ll get to you when she can.

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