I’m Still Standing … Yeah, Yeah, Yeah

Blaine AlexanderBlog, Lead Better, Self Care Better

TL;DR:

  • Despite all of the obstacles educators face this year, they are still standing.
  • Teachers are seeing the opportunities that lie among all of the challenges.
  • School leaders should provide teachers with flexibility, support, grace, and encouragement.
  • Now is the time to celebrate our teachers and support them in everything they do.

Don’t you know I’m still standing better than I ever did?

Looking like a true survivor, feeling like a little kid,

I’m still standing after all this time.

I’m still standing …… yeah, yeah, yeah!

Still Standing

I am pretty certain that Elton John did not write this song from the perspective of teachers doing their jobs in the midst of a world-wide pandemic, but I realized that this song is currently very apropos for what teachers are experiencing at this time.

While visiting a school in our state recently, I stopped to visit with one of the high school teachers in the district.  I asked her how successful her first week was, and she replied, “Dr. Alexander, I’m still standing and I am thankful for that.”  Although her week had been challenging, she celebrated her ability to continue to stand.  Facing many challenges, our teachers across the nation are “still standing.”

In Arkansas, we are dealing with this little pandemic called COVID.  You may have heard of it…feel free to insert your own eye roll here.  To say the least, this pandemic has made an impact on all of our daily lives.  Terms such as “the new normal,” “during these unprecedented times,” “I like your mask,” and “Karen” have surfaced in our vocabulary over the past months.

Social distancing has become a norm, which is not so bad for us introverts.  Business owners must now count the number of customers entering their business.  The quality and comfort level of face masks are discussed.  Face masks must not clash with our attire.  We bump elbows or “air high five” instead of shaking hands with each other.  These matters were not part of our world before 2020.

The pandemic’s impact on our profession is profound, but we’re still standing.

Before I go any further, I want to preface my comments on this blog by stating that I am thankful and fortunate to be able to continue my work during this pandemic. Not everyone has this luxury.  I will continue to pray for and support those who are out of work during this time.

With that being said, I am not sure that this pandemic has had an impact on any profession more than the teaching profession.  As many businesses have had to reduce the number of clients served at one time, schools are not afforded that opportunity.  Schools are unable to reduce the number of students served.  All students must be educated by teachers, but due to COVID, must now serve them through multiple methods.

Teachers - keep standing, but when you feel like you can’t stand anymore, we will be here to support you. We are in this together. Click To Tweet

We must view school through a new and different lens. 

In a normal school setting, the greatest challenge of teaching is to differentiate learning for all students. Learners are not robots that we can program to produce results.  Students learn at various rates and through various modalities.

Classroom teachers must now continue to differentiate learning for all students, but add the layer of having virtual students and face-to-face students.  Some students are on-campus part-time and learning virtually part-time.  Teachers must be able to keep up with all of these moving parts, and oh, by the way, be certain that all students are learning and showing progress.

Over the last few months, I have observed and visited multiple teachers across our state and other states.  All teachers are facing the same challenges, but as I reflect, I want to share some of my observations.

Teachers no longer have one job, but now have multiple jobs. 

Teachers must continue to construct lesson plans for those students who show up face-to-face but also create lesson plans for virtual students.  If you think that these plans can just be regurgitated for virtual students, you have never taught school.  When lessons are recorded for virtual students, teachers often use their personal time in the evenings and weekends to create these recordings.

The life of a teacher concurrently teaching face-to-face and virtually.

This extra time I am describing is only the “instruction” part of teaching, not to mention assessing students, re-teaching students who need extra time (both F2F and virtual), and the paperwork and data gathering that is essential to being an effective teacher.  Much of that work is tackled at 15 o’clock.

Recently, a teacher friend of mine sent me a photo of his desk.  He is concurrently using 5 devices to teach his students and he states, “I use one for Zoom, one for monitoring student screens for Go Guardian, one for our LMS Canvas, and one is for responding to emails pouring in from virtual students, parents, and teachers needing help—all while teaching the students in my classroom.  Oh, and my phone is also being used to communicate via text messaging.”

The “new normal” has created numerous more jobs for our teachers, and we must recognize and address that.

All teachers are experiencing “Year One.”

Once a teacher gains teaching experience over the years, the process becomes somewhat easier.  The toughest year of teaching is the first year because everything is new and must be navigated slowly and precisely.  With experience, teachers are able to navigate every situation with more confidence.

Due to the pandemic and all of the changes, even the veteran teachers are facing issues and situations never before navigated.  Just as a new teacher feels anxious about the unknown, all teachers are now in unknown situations.  All teachers are experiencing another “year one” by learning to navigate through unchartered territory.  As leaders, we must allow teachers to make mistakes and learn through this process.  A strong leader understands this and shows support.

Even with the “new normal” of teaching, teachers see this as an opportunity and not a challenge.

I am amazed when I talk to teachers across our state and country.  They share with me the excitement of learning new methods to teach, the relevant professional development that they attended, and how much they have grown as a teacher.  Some feel that their “cheese has been moved” and although their first response was uncertainty, the move out of their comfort zone has made them a better teacher.  They are attacking these new norms with a high level of commitment and with a smile.

During this new normal, teachers are making some of the sweetest and most delicious lemonade out of the most awful lemons ever given to them.

The commitment level of teachers has not increased during this time, but the lenses viewing their commitment have become much wider.

Teachers have had their world turned upside down with the new expectations for school settings.  Students must socially distance, wear masks, and often eat in classrooms.  They can’t share supplies.  Teachers must wear attire that looks as if they are about to enter a radioactive setting.  Plus, they must do all of this while often putting themselves in environments conducive to the spread of COVID.

I often hear that teachers “must really be committed to staying in the profession during this pandemic.”  This is true, but the commitment has not changed.  That commitment level has always been extraordinary.  Long before this pandemic ever hit, teachers have quietly been fully committed to their profession and their students.

The commitment level of teachers has not changed; the world is just now noticing!

It is time to change society’s perception of the teaching profession by paying teachers on the level of other professionals.

Unless you are a teacher or have been a teacher, it is challenging to describe the difficulty of the job.  I thought that the profession took an upward undertaking from March to June when students had to be taught at home, but for some reason, it seems our society is back to thinking that teachers’ jobs are not so demanding.

Teachers are not babysitters.  They do not get their summer off.  Teachers do not go home at 3:00 every day.  They do not play all day.  The teaching profession was not chosen because the college classes are less difficult.  Teachers choose the profession to change lives for the better!

Teachers often eat standing up or on the run.  They do not get leisurely lunches off-campus with colleagues.  For students, teachers are not dispensers of information.  For many students, a teacher may serve the role of a parent.  Teachers serve as counselors, nurses, and custodians.  Lesson preparation often takes the place of family time and relaxing weekends.

If teachers were paid by the actual number of hours they work on school preparations, I am pretty sure they would be one of the lowest-paid professions.  Committed teachers spend much of their paycheck to buy materials to enhance their instruction, not to mention the numerous times they pay for school supplies, food, and clothing for students in need.

It is time to stop talking about it and start showing teachers how important they are by increasing their pay to reflect the professional they are.

Flexibility, support, grace, and encouragement is the new “tight.”

If you have done any reading or taken a class on effective leadership, more than likely you have read about the concept of “tight” leadership and “loose” leadership.  Dr. Richard DuFour explains that effective leaders understand when to be tight and when to be loose.

Those “tight” areas are pieces of the system where there is no flexibility and components of the school where there is no negotiating.  The “loose” areas are those where flexibility, fluidness, and creativity are encouraged.

If you are in a leadership or supervisor role, right now our teachers need looser leadership.  Flexibility, support, grace, and encouragement should replace tight leadership right now.  Conversations showing support should replace formal observations as everyone finds their way through this new normal.

Do we still need hours of homework?

As leaders, we can’t be married to all school policies right now.  Most current school policies were created and approved under “normal” circumstances.  We can’t apply all “normal school policies” to the current situation. 

It is comparing apples and oranges, or at least comparing a sour green apple to a sweet Honeycrisp apple.  Teachers are going to make mistakes, and we must allow this.  Allow teachers to ask questions.  Frustration and confusion should be allowed and supported.  Show flexibility, support, grace, and encouragement.

What can we take off of their plate?  Let’s start with some of those traditional behaviors or educational sacred cows which may not be so conducive to the current state of education.  It is time to reflect on the “why” of so many practices. Traditional practices that are still in place solely because we “have always done it this way” must be evaluated.

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Celebrate our teachers and help them stand. 

Once a teacher, always a teacher, and I have never been more proud of our profession.  Teachers need our support and encouragement right now.  Keep making lemonade, teachers, and we will be here to support you in every way possible.

Teachers – keep standing, but when you feel like you can’t stand anymore, we will be here to support you.  We are in this together. We celebrate you!

And don’t tell me that the Elton John song is not stuck in your head!  You’re welcome.  🙂


About Blaine Alexander

Dr. Alexander is currently serving his eleventh year as a Leadership Performance Coach with the Arkansas Leadership Academy through the University of Arkansas. Prior to his current experience in leadership development, Dr. Alexander served as a school administrator for 17 years. His research focuses on developing collaborative cultures founded on trust and respect and immersed in student and adult learning. Dr. Alexander’s dissertation explores the factors necessary for student voice to be institutionalized and taken to scale in a school district. Each year, he facilitates learning for students and teachers in the Arkansas Leadership Academy’s Student Voice Institute.

Education:
B.A. Harding University, Searcy, Arkansas
M.Ed. Harding University, Searcy, Arkansas
Ed.D. University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, Arkansas

Dissertation: Student Voice Initiative: Exploring Implementation Strategies