EdWeek’s “The Teaching Profession in 2022 (in Charts)” article by Madeline Will explored the challenges that teachers faced in 2022 and what it means for teaching and learning in 2023 and beyond. AE’s Sawyer Henshaw offers her take on how connecting with our students through the small moments can offer us hope for what lies ahead in our classrooms and in education.
Bear with me for a time-old cliché: I, like many of my colleagues, went into teaching for the students. Unsurprisingly, it isn’t the low salary or general lack of resources that pull most educators onto this path. It is the drive to support children’s education as learners and members of a community. It is the drive for connection and being part of positive change. This is why, as my mom always put it, “If you plunk yourself down in a room of teachers, you’re going to be surrounded by good people.” But what happens when caring for students isn’t enough to withstand the mental toll and lack of support teachers face daily? Where do we find hope, and how do we keep going?
One of my biggest challenges while teaching online was the lack of small-moment opportunities to connect with my students. I couldn’t check in with the child who’d seemed upset during my lesson on the way to PE. I didn’t have that extra five minutes at after-school pick-up to connect with the student whose car always showed up last. All of these crucial, 30-second moments were lost when Zoom teaching transformed our year. And this made a huge difference. While my colleagues and I hosted drop-in Zoom times and extra support sessions during lunch, the students who needed that extra boost often didn’t show. Mandating a one-on-one Zoom call with a reluctant learner was not a replication of the small moments in the classroom. It was harder to build trust — a crucial element in supporting students through their learning process. And not only did I find my students suffering, I felt that my drive to teach and my general purpose of supporting and connecting with children was unfulfilled.
As we slowly returned to in-person learning, these challenges did not fall away as readily as I’d hoped. Necessary social distancing practices, along with the trauma of the previous year, caused physical and emotional barriers that initially felt insurmountable. If 2020 and 2021 had felt impossible, 2022 was not the antidote we’d been promised. Driven by fear, we saw an uptick in parental involvement over what we taught and how we taught it. Government officials publicly questioned our intentions as educators and very integrity as human beings. Not only were we not entitled to the pay, resources, and time so readily available to other professions, but the driving motivation to care for children was denounced. As an educator, this hit hard.
So how do we move toward hope on the horizon of a new year? How do we face such daunting, big-picture issues, as classroom professionals, frequently left out of critical decisions? It can feel overwhelming and have a real effect on satisfaction, mental health, and well-being. Yet here is my New Year’s resolution: In 2023, I choose to focus on reclaiming the small moments of connection with students that made me want to be a teacher. I am returning to the feeling when you know you’ve earned a student’s trust as they share a worry or something they felt proud of. I am focusing on the moment you can tell that extra push when you told a student to keep adding to their paper stretched them right to the edge of their learning where they have the best chance of success. These are moments that no outsider can take away from me. Really, they don’t involve what I teach or how I teach it. These connections are the small moments between my students and myself. And those are the moments I’m putting my attention toward.
Focusing on the small, in-between interactions with my students does not take away from my drive for educators to recieve increased salaries, administrative support regarding challenging parent interactions, or an uptick in student and teacher resources. This is a small-picture step. But it is an important one. As I search for my own satisfaction within education, the small moment is somewhere I can land. For me, it’s a start to reclaiming my connections with students as an educator in 2023 and returning to why I wanted to do this job in the first place.