California Educator

December/January 2022

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Page 15 of 63

" T H I S H A S B E E N the worst semester of my career." It wa s th e third tim e th at d ay I h eard a t ea ch er e xpre ss thi s sentiment. "I didn't think anything could be worse than distance learning, but somehow this year has been harder." Sitting in my office, I listened to this teacher who has been teaching and coaching for 23 years. She is that beloved teacher who is always willing to engage and re-engage in the work, even when things are dif- ficult and morale is low. If this joyful canary is singing a frustrated tune in the coal mine, we must listen. As an instructional coach, the most important role I have is as a listener. e best part of my job is bearing witness to the deep self-reflection that leads to perspec- tive shifts and instructional changes. So I listened as teachers articulated what has been making this school year so difficult. Even though teaching from home introduced new challenges for teachers across the country, it also gave many a break from all the nonteaching tasks that get piled on their plates: campus supervision, submitting unnecessary paperwork, lengthy observation and evalu- ation processes, maintaining and often cleaning physical classrooms, and seemingly constant fire/earthquake/ active shooter drills. For many educators, coming back to in-person instruction also meant coming back to all the daily frustra- tions we experienced before the pandemic. But this year, we just don't have the patience for it anymore. Teaching through the pandemic — online, in person or hybrid — took a toll on teachers. One teacher I work with, Maria, confessed she was angry and bitter by the end of last school year. Her students stopped turning on their cameras and stopped responding despite her best efforts to keep them engaged. Without seeing faces or hearing voices, her empathy diminished. She felt disconnected and demoralized. She A 1997 band photo of Jennifer Yoo-Brannon's husband, who is now a teacher. He uses it to connect with his students. By Jennifer Yoo-Brannon We Must Make Schools said she felt like a machine just pushing out work for students to do. is was something I heard over and over again. We have all expressed the same phenomenon of being dehumanized in our work as educators. We are not just educators, of course. We are moth- ers of multiple school-age children, parents of students with special needs, individuals with anxiety disorders exacerbated by the worldwide anxiety of the pandemic. We are human, too. While we transform our schools into welcoming spaces, we must also make them a human place to work. We can't forget that we saw each other's humanity and shared a universal human experience, and then return to business as usual . We must make schools human again. How do we do that? In my role, I 've heard what teachers need. This is what they are asking from their colleagues, administrators and communities. 1. Avoid toxic positivity. Toxic positivity is the belief that no matter how bad a situation is, we should all have a positive mindset about it. Toxic positivity rejects or refuses to acknowledge how difficult things can be. is message is for administrators in particular. To humanize schools, listen to and validate the real emotions teachers are bringing to campus, even the neg- ative ones. Don't just talk about "moving forward" when the pandemic is still playing out in the world and in our 14 Spotlight Y O U R V O I C E Jennifer Yoo-Brannon

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