Rachelson is a high school teacher who lives in San Diego.
I was insulted. I was lied to. I was asked so many questions in one day that if I wanted to keep track, I couldn’t. I was ridiculed, coughed and threatened. But I was also greeted and received high fives, knuckles, nudges and the occasional hug. I’ve heard laughs that brought me an instant smile, I’ve seen the aha moments when a piece of learning clicks in the brain, and smiles that come from accomplishments. As a seasoned high school teacher, I have seen and heard things that I never wanted, and I have also seen and heard things that I will cherish for the rest of my life.
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The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly changed the world of education. But not just in the obvious way people think. At the Sweetwater Union High School District where I teach, administrators seem more concerned with adolescent frailty and potential lawsuits, bad press, or viral TikToks than having an equitable educational and safe environment. The repercussions of students’ misdeeds are minimal, if any. Students can completely disrespect a staff member or smoke a vape pen in plain sight or drop out of class, and nothing happens. There is no real punishment.
The message this sends to teens is that they can continue with their ill-conceived decision-making. The message it sends to teachers is that we are not important. We cannot take cell phones from students who use them in class for things other than class work, as it may stress the student of not being able to be instantly connected to friends and family.
Many, many students have failed classes while teaching online. Students will brag about signing up for classes and then walking away from their computers. Sweetwater Union High School District lowered graduation requirements. The message this sends to students is that they don’t have to work hard in life and they will always do well. Administrators are so concerned about the fallout of a reprimand that they simply don’t. Although it is obviously important to be concerned about the well-being of students, this new world is to the detriment of teachers who work to foster the future of these students. The message he sends again to teachers is that we really don’t matter.
This message is further demonstrated when the Sweetwater Union High School District fails to reach an agreement with our union negotiation team. We deserve an appropriate increase to adjust to the rising cost of living. The district has received at least one 5 percent increase in funding over the past two years, and that has not been passed on to teachers. What has been passed on to teachers is that much of our effort and work doesn’t matter; we are replaceable and yet irreplaceable.
Teachers struggle mentally, emotionally and physically. New teachers are poorly guided and administrators are too busy to leave their desks to help. Even veteran teachers hesitate. Many schools do not have permanent teachers in the classrooms, and other classes have substitute teachers or teachers who provide lessons every day during their preparation period. This means that there are hundreds of pupils who have had a substitute in the last two months of school, even in the main classes. Some teachers were able to step in and help teach these classes, create assignments and grade them. But only to find that their efforts are being ignored. The administrators just give As to these students if they don’t have a permanent teacher even if they had graded and organized work. In addition, it is most often that the lack of a teacher concerns students who are learning English. There is no equity in education when children learning English do not receive the same quality of education as the rest of the school. There is no equity in teaching when teachers are not supported, assisted or even heard.
Schools do not create critical thinkers with strong moral character when students are not disciplined. Schools do not enrich the lives of students or teachers when there is no equity. Messages from administrators to students do not foster a positive environment. The message teachers receive is that our hard work and passion for teaching must continue even if we are not supported.
So before the pandemic I loved my job as a teacher and always thought that would be my career until I was ready to retire, I’m not so sure anymore. Laughter and aha moments can only get me so far, and my wonderful colleagues can prolong my life as a teacher, but the administration and lack of care, consequence and couth of the Sweetwater Union High School District will lead to this profession lacking enough well-trained personnel. , wonderful teachers very soon. Message received.
This essay is in the print edition of The San Diego Union-Tribune on March 20, 2022, with the title, Sweetwater fails both teachers and students