Hey Teachers: Here’s Your Report Card

It only has two grades on it.

So, my dear friends, this year has been a bit of a trial. No matter where you are, no matter what your school or district decided to do for classes this year, it has been one of the weirdest and hardest years to be an educator in the history of ever.

We’re coming to the end of it, the next couple months, so in keeping with tradition, it’s time to cram for those exams and get our report cards. You’re probably thinking — I hardly know any teachers that aren’t — that this year the scores are gonna be pretty low.

So I have good news. We’re only scoring ourselves on two things this year.

I’m aware that we’re supposed to be preparing thorough lesson plans and putting together ironclad rubrics and meeting all the state standards. Oh, and helping students prepare for an ever-growing number of standardized tests, of course. And doing classroom safety, both visible and invisible. And satisfying the baying hounds of politicians, administrators, and parents.

And, you know, teaching. Sometimes. Using whatever method and delivery system we’re being shoehorned into today.

Please pardon my French here: C’est merde, ca.

In any year, we know that in our classrooms the kids are always learning — though not necessarily what the curriculum outlines. This year, particularly, the curriculum can (and probably did) get shot to hell.

That is okay.

It is perfectly, 100%, absolutely okay.

I don’t know if you’ll hear this from your administration. You’ll never hear it from Washington or <insert your capital here>. Probably, we won’t hear it from parents, either, but they’re carrying their own sacks of rocks at the moment (as we well know) and can’t be blamed for not adding us to their Christmas card list. So hear it from one of your own: you have two jobs this year, and only two.

  1. Keep your kids alive.
  2. Keep teaching.

That’s it.

If you do these two things, you’ve succeeded. Their test scores don’t matter. Their progress toward algebra proficiency doesn’t matter. Their knowledge of and respect for the Oxford comma does not matter (well, okay, that matters a little). Their ability to identify the date of the signing of the Constitution does not matter.

Are they alive? Great. That’s a win.

Are you still interested in teaching, and do you come and put in your shift every day? Great. That’s a win.

Since we love rubrics so much, here’s mine, for myself and for all the teachers I know and love so dearly (please grade yourself):

A: Student assessment: All the kids are living and none of them came to school sick this year; they still seem excited (or at least benignly tolerant) about school; Teacher assessment: I still love teaching and am glad I get to keep doing it; we made reverential nods to the curriculum.

B: All the kids are living even though mask slippage was common; the kids show up in pretty credible numbers; I’m happy that we got through the year and even worked through some of the standards at some point.

C: I think all the kids are still alive, though some of them won’t recover from the trauma of this year without serious counseling; I myself won’t recover from this year even with counseling, but I think I can come back next year ready to try again.

D — note: this is still a passing grade — Most of the kids are alive, as judged from their logging in to the e-classroom (though they don’t come on camera, so who knows?). Many of them have developed long-term psychological tics and anxiety. So have I. I will come back and teach next year as long as significant changes are made.

Honestly, that should be the bar this year. If you hit the D level, you passed, and congratulations. US society depends on school, and that means on you. You had a big assignment — as big as anyone’s — and you took care of it.

If you’re below that level — not coming back next year — please accept my sincere thanks for your good service and best wishes for the future. We all know how hard this is — how hard it was even before all this happened. No one knows it better. Take your ball and go home with zero judgment.

Either way, whether this is goodbye or late August will find you back at your post, I think it’s critically important for all of us to understand that this year the educational experience has to be stripped to its basics — keep kids alive, don’t crush out their candle of learning (however flicker-y it might be), and preserve in ourselves the desire to teach.

If there were days when your entire classroom experience was group sharing of feelings and pledges of mutual support, if your carefully-designed lesson plan got thrown out the window when the first child burst into tears, if one day one of your students looked up at you from six feet away and said, “I didn’t think I’d be here this week,” and that’s the only thing you accomplished — with all due respect to the powers that be — that is a win.

If you did that, this year of all years, you won. And because you did, we all did.

It’s not March any more, but one of the themes of March Madness is “survive and advance”. The game doesn’t have to be pretty. It doesn’t have to please anyone at all, as long as you’re standing at the end. Take the win. Keep moving.

And thank you.

Working writer, teacher of historical things. I sing opera, and I fish. Usually not at the same time.

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