By Robin Van Dusen |

What is it about teaching that is so hard?

For years I couldn’t put my finger on it, and even now the simple answer is that it’s everything. This school year I finally left my teaching job. Like other teachers, I would entertain the idea of leaving teaching for one of those cushy jobs with the amazing company culture, great pay and maybe even some amazing perks like stocked kitchens or unlimited paid time off. Every time it was the relationships I’d forged with students and parents that kept me there. I couldn’t imagine leaving my students…until I could.

Last school year I started suffering from burnout. It’s the same challenge that claims so many K-12 teachers across the country. Despite plenty of self care and weekly therapy appointments, I still reached a point where the last day of the school year couldn’t come fast enough. It wasn’t like in other years where I was wishing for summer vacation and the opportunity to be with my young children. No, this was a much more desperate need. I was truly BURNT OUT! Each day was like trudging through 5 feet of snow in the middle of a blizzard. The quality of my activities decreased, because I just did not have the energy to do what I knew was best for learning. As a perfectionist, it hurt in my soul to not give my all to the students who meant so much to me. That’s when I knew I had to leave.

In making the decision to leave I had so much self doubt and guilt. Questions swirled in my head about why I “couldn’t handle” teaching and others were able to relatively happily stay in the profession for decades. Was it because when I didn’t have my keys on me to lock my door when I stood between a student and a group of kids running to my room to mug the student? Was it because I’d had to testify against an administrator that forged my signature and made up classroom observations that never happened on my teacher evaluations for three years running? Was it because I became aware that a student didn’t take their life because I genuinely asked them how they were doing on the day they were planning to follow through with their plan? Was it because my class cap was raised from 40 students per class to 50 students the previous school year? Was it that I put so much energy into making sure my students and I stayed in the target language? Was it the amazing learning activities that I chose to do even though they were labor intensive to prepare and would be done in a matter of minutes? Was it the constant behavior management? Was it the disrespect and defiance of students? Was it all the cheating and all the hours I started spending to devise ways to prevent cheating?

IT WAS ALL OF IT! It wasn’t until I joined the team here, at Construct Education, that I started to realize it wasn’t just me. I’m honored to work side by side some amazing former educators. As we’ve chit chatted between developing online learning for clients, so many common stories are shared. Everywhere else when I talk about my experience teaching high school, I have to explain why it was hard. My friends and acquaintances who have never taught try to understand and show compassion, but until you’ve taught you can’t REALLY understand the nuances of teaching. In the 8 weeks I’ve been at Construct Education, I’ve felt more supported and part of a team working toward a common goal than any other time in my life.

I’ve left teaching, but I am so glad I’ve found a way to stay in education while getting what I need from my workplace and my colleagues. With a husband who is immunocompromised and children in the K-12 system, I have been following the COVID-19 updates very closely. It has been amazing to see the way the country has banded together to help each other educate our children. So many educational technologies have been made free to the public at this time and I’ve witnessed so many of my friends across the country who are either currently teaching or have taught in the past reach out to help any student or parent who needs help navigating online learning. I’ve seen teachers offer to help other teachers transition their teaching online. I’ve seen my own coworkers being willing to dedicate as much time as they can to helping get our clients’ courses migrated online. There is an increase of compassion being extended throughout the country and the world. It warms my heart.

At the same time, my heart goes out to teachers. It still holds true that if you haven’t taught online, you can’t understand the challenges of what it takes to teach online. There is a difference between online learning and learning migrated online. Right now educators across the country and the world are doing their best to do what is best for students, but it is impossible to create amazing online courses overnight. As a former American Sign Language teacher, I tried to post as much as I could online so that when students were absent it wouldn’t require multiple one-on-one sessions to get them caught up. So, I can commiserate with teachers having to get learning online so quickly right now. I can also commiserate with all the teachers out there who are perfectionists. I know it can be so hard to lower your standards, but in this state of emergency we all have to simplify.

In education and in all aspects of life, this pandemic is requiring us to slow down, simplify and think about what is most important. Think about what is absolutely crucial for your students to know and be able to do. Think about the most straightforward way you can present that information. Lean on educational technology that is free right now. Don’t reinvent the wheel. Use what’s already out there or adapt it to work for you and your students. Reach out to the resources around you. Everyone wants to help; we are all in this together. Asking for help does not make you incompetent. Remember what you tell your students. You are not alone, and we all want you to be successful!

Robin Van Dusen

Learning Designer at Construct