I've been teaching for 18 years. In those 18 years, I've seen a lot in my career. I've taught at three public high schools and two rural community colleges. I've taught people from the ages of 5 to 65. I've had to call 911 during a class due to a student overdose, and I've consoled a grown man who broke down in tears in my office after I caught him plagiarizing a college English essay. I've taught online, on-site, hybrid, and as a distance learning instructor who had in-person students on a college campus while also broadcasting via video to rural high schools for students taking college concurrent credit. I've taught classes behind the computer via Zoom for seven hours a day at home alone while home schooling a kindergartner during a pandemic. And I've done all of that happily and with a smile on my face because teaching has always brought me joy -- until now.
Without a doubt, everyone's workload has increased as a result of this pandemic. All of us -- health care workers, small business owners, servers at restaurants, Walmart employees, police officers -- all of us are feeling the strain. But I am not sure that the average person realizes the alarming toll this pandemic is taking on teachers -- or the number of hours it requires for teachers to provide a safe, viable, and equitable alternative to on-site instruction while also teaching in person.
Inarguably, teachers are public servants of the truest form. The irony, however, is that it is because of this very idea that teachers are often exploited in the workplace. Teachers are highly skilled professionals, not "servants." It takes a rare and highly skilled individual -- on the best of days -- to effectively manage 150 different people per day and to simultaneously teach those people a sought after skill, like communicating in a foreign language or dramatically increasing their ACT scores. At the secondary and postsecondary levels, many teachers like myself have advanced degrees, often with more education and experience than their administrative counterparts.
I currently teach at a high school in central Arkansas where we offer students the choice of learning at school or safely on the computer from home, like most school districts in the state. I record my lessons and provide the exact same high-quality content, instruction, and assessment for all my students. The focus in my classes is student well-being and learning. In many ways, my students this year are academically at an advantage to those in the past. All of the class content is recorded and available online. Students can go back and review the content of lessons that are the most difficult for them at any given point in time. Everything is available for their leisure. Homework is an idea of the past; instead, students are provided with 30 to 40 minutes of high-quality content per day, and they can turn in assessments at their convenience.
In order to effectively do what has been tasked of me and to provide a meaningful educational experience, my workload has doubled -- and I, like far too many teachers in Arkansas -- have no extra time to do my job. During the day, I facilitate the learning of the students at school and clean desks between class changes, and at night and on weekends, I plan virtual lessons, grade, and contact hybrid and online students and parents. There has not been a single day this year that I have been able to read all my school emails. I work through my lunch and into the night only to arrive at work the next day to find 100 more emails. It is quite literally impossible to stay ahead. There are not enough hours in the day to do what the job currently entails.
Many districts in the state have taken steps to help alleviate the drastically increased workload on their K-12 teachers by adopting a model of an early release or a virtual "flex" day per week so that teachers can have time to do their jobs. I applaud these schools, while I am likewise deeply disappointed in the school districts in the state that have not taken genuine steps to give teachers more time. Teachers are working themselves sick -- because they are at heart public servants, and they do what is asked of them, even at the sacrifice of time with their own families and loved ones.
And none of this even begins to address the huge health risks teachers take in being confined in poorly ventilated and cramped quarters with upward of 100 different people every day. Just in the past week in Arkansas, an elementary school teacher, an athletic director, and a paraprofessional have all died as a result of COVID. Many more of us will die in the coming months. That is the reality of forced on-site instruction during a pandemic. Yet even with the threat of death, teachers will continue to show up -- because that's what has been asked of us. It's what teachers do. The very least school districts can do is to give teachers enough respect to allow them time to do their jobs.
Parents and interested stakeholders: Help us. Reach out to your local school boards and ask them what they are doing to help alleviate teacher workload.
Teachers: Fight for your rights. We deserve one day per week to compensate for the increased burden on our time. We are highly skilled professionals, not "servants."
Hayden Shamel is an 18-year veteran educator who lives and works in Hot Springs. Connect with her on Twitter at @HaydenShamel.