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5 Stages of Pandemic Teaching

I need some space to pause and reflect and I’ve chosen to do it here. Perhaps you might relate to some of these reflections and we can recognize and accept our shared experiences admist these impossible hardships.

I’ve been reflecting on the stages of my own emotions and disposition over the last few months. While the commonly known 5 Stages of Grief are recognized as unfounded in empirical evidence, I feel it serves as a decent framework through which to organize and express my own experiences.

We have often discussed that the experience of the pandemic is one of ongoing trauma, and with trauma as a current “hot topic” in the education world having conversations from that frame have been helpful to many. I also feel that it is important and valid to frame our experiences as teachers as one of grief and loss. These reflections are mine and relate to my situation in my school, district and community.

I mourn for energetic and busy hallways that are now empty or less full
I mourn for the students who find a safe haven in our buildings that we can no longer provide
I mourn for the silly interactions with students
I mourn for normalcy.

Yet I’ve found myself growing increasingly comfortable with our current normal, while still yearning for what was and what could be.

Denial

Over the summer many of us assumed districts would make the choice to go fully-remote. If districts opted for in-person learning we assumed we would be closed by Thanksgiving. We talked about how it’s impossible to teach with spacing and masks covering mouths and facial expressions. How everything that is good teaching is forbidden. How students cannot learn under the constraints of an in person setting. Yet Thanksgiving came and went without much incident. Our district, like others, put students on an “adaptive pause” and then after winter break we were back.

Anger

I felt this in my absolute core. If you caught me in the hallway and asked how I was doing I would say, “I’m fine. I’m always fine” the reality was I was not fine at all. I was feeling like a failure daily. I felt unsupported from every angle, even if that wasn’t the reality. I felt enraged about what we were being asked to do. I felt disheartened that no one seemed to value our thoughts and opinions on anything. I felt helpless in supporting my students and families. And I blamed everyone with fire from my core.

Bargaining

Some teachers made pleas for a shift to fully remote learning. Some tried to find a way to get by, bargaining with themselves that trying to do one mode well would be better than juggling two modes poorly. We struggled with student learning losses “if only they would turn on their cameras” “if only I could connect with them more than twice a week” “if only we taught full remote instead of hybrid”. I spent many days wondering what life would be like “if only”

Depression

I think I cycled though the first three phases every time a change was laid out, and not only when school started but also leading up to school. I had a meeting with teachers from other districts a week before my school started. They had already begun. While I was still eager and hopeful I could make things work, the exhaustion and frustration was already apparent on their faces. I would soon join them the following week. Once the anger ran its course depression took center stage. I found myself plugging my headphones in to listen to cathartic music and just cry, something I haven’t done since I was a high school student. Simultaneously realizing I was at my edge and also recognizing I had a lot of anxiety as a high schooler. I didn’t care about finishing my master’s. I wanted to not care about anything at school. Seeing cases rise and hospitals fill again, coupled with increased mitigations brought on the cloud of despair that this was unending.

Acceptance

I’m not entirely here because every new curveball sends me though all of these emotions all over again. (We are starting a new schedule in two weeks). However I’ve realized a few things.

  1. The end is in view. Every day another friend of mine is getting vaccinated. Every day treatments are getting better in the hospitals. Every day we creep a little closer.
  2. I am more resilient than I realized. I generally have a strong dislike for change, but each time change has come around I realize that certain things I was worried were going to be the worst thing in the world aren’t quite as bad as I imagined. We have shifted so many times I’m now able to tell myself to wait and see.
  3. I am continuing to focus on my circle of control. I don’t have the emotional energy to complain about everything that I cannot change.
  4. I am surrounded by a lot of good people. The colleagues in my hallway are all similar-minded. We can agree this sucks, but we keep finding ways forward.
  5. My kids aren’t actually doing as bad as I feel. This last one is enormous. I told my husband in October (the usual teacher slump month) that teaching right now feels like being a failure every day. It’s true because I know what my best teaching looks like. It’s true because there are students who might otherwise be succeeding right now. It’s true because of a million things that are out of my control. And yet, when I look at my student work, they are actually doing ok. They are resilient and brilliant.

I have to also be very real with myself that I have not had a normal year in three school years. Last year we started the year with ransomware and ended with the shutdown. The year prior I had a baby in April. I am constantly reminding myself that this too will end. We will not, and should not go back to normal. I’m still working through so many emotions daily and everything is intensified with the backdrop of events in our nation and world. There is a lot I’ve learned and in many ways I’ve grown. I will continue to practice gratefulness and seek the bright spots, even in these dark days.

One thought on “5 Stages of Pandemic Teaching

  1. You have, once again, put your finger on EXACTLY how I have been feeling, but unable to express. Thank you so much. I still cycle through the first four as well. I started therapy this fall for the first time to deal with the rage and the darkness, and told my husband that a LOA was probably in my future- because ANYTHING else would just be easier than all of this. I even worked with a professional resume writer and put myself out there on ziprecruiter. Over the Holiday break , I reflected and came to many of the same realizations that you did, and the big one- that I would really, truly, not be myself without being with young people all day. Plus I’ve had some emails from my students- thanking me for my work this year. You are right- they really are doing ok. It’s always good to know you aren’t alone out there- so again, thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

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