Teaching through the Tears by Erika Felack

Teaching through the Tears by Erika Felack

Teachers have shown remarkable endurance in the face of all the twists and turns created by the COVID pandemic.  Sometimes the exhaustion is overwhelming and a good cry is in order. Yet, so many teachers dry their tears and press on to make sure their students receive the best possible instruction possible under less than optimal circumstances. The reflection below expresses this mix of exhaustion and determination.  Share how you have manged to stay the course and find the strength to continue meeting the demands of teaching as the pandemic continues.


Teaching through the Tears

Erika Felack


If you want to know what teaching during COVID is like, let me explain.


Teaching during COVID means occasionally crying at the end of the day. You’re not really sure why you’re crying, but after all of your students have left (if you’re even lucky enough to have in-person students), you sit down at your desk, and you realize you have tears in your eyes.


It could be because you’re exhausted from trying to teach in-person learners while also running a virtual classroom and that just feels impossible.


The empty desks, the silence of the room, and the endless cleaning supplies are enough to bring you to tears.


You might be crying because you have 12 unread emails, 7 unread Teams messages, and the voicemail button is blinking on your phone, and you don’t know how you’re going to find time to respond to everything.


You might be crying because you’re not a janitor, but you just wiped down all of the desks in your room, the light switch, and the doorknob  for the 6th time today, and you don’t understand how this has become your responsibility.


The tears could be from the fact that you still haven’t heard from several students despite sending Teams messages, calling home, emailing, and reaching out in whatever way possible. But somehow, it’s still not enough.


You’re also probably crying because the stack of ungraded papers on your desk continues to grow taller, and the list of ungraded online assignments gets longer, but you just don’t know when you’re going to have time to grade everything, because you’re trying to create an entirely new curriculum and way of presenting content.


The fact that you need to record a lesson for the next day while simultaneously planning for in-person learners could also be a reason for the tears.


You might be crying because you went to school to be a teacher and don’t have any IT training; yet now you’re expected to somehow solve technological problems for students when a video won’t work or an assignment won’t load.


The fact that your school is woefully unprepared for a pandemic and that all students still don’t have devices or internet access is definitely enough to bring you to tears.


The tears have possibly come because you’re really good at building relationships with students, but you’re finding that connection to the kids is gone in a virtual setting.


Once you think about your students, you also might start crying when you realize you probably wouldn’t even recognize them with a mask, which means you don’t even know what your students look like when they smile, and that breaks your heart.


Once your school has gone all virtual, you might be crying because you’re expected to keep track of homeroom attendance, live meeting attendance, who watched the live recordings after the live meeting (although there is no easy way to actually do this), and who’s completing assignments. This makes it feel like your brain has 52 tabs open at all times, and the stress of that is overwhelming.


When your school switches from virtual learning to hybrid with only a week’s notice, you probably start to cry because you have been given no training about how to teach hybrid and your Google search has not yielded any promising results.


You cry because you’re worried about your students’ mental health, and your own mental health is clearly struggling too.


You hear stories from more affluent districts, and you cry because you know that your poor, marginalized students are going to fall deeper and deeper into the achievement gap no matter how many YouTube videos you create or how many live meetings you schedule.


After you hear that yet another student has tested positive for COVID, you might cry because you’re surprised by how worried you are for your sick student, not to mention your fear of possibly contracting COVID from them too.


You’re also possibly crying because you feel like no matter what you do, you aren’t doing enough for your students.


You cry because you’re panicked and you don’t know how to do all of this. Nothing in your college training or professional experience has prepared you for this type of situation, and all you can do is put your head down on your desk and accept defeat.


To be honest, you’re crying because every single thing listed above has become a weight on your shoulders, and although you’ve stoically carried it for months, it has finally become too heavy to bear, and the only way to release that weight is through the tears that have clouded your eyes.


And once you’ve wiped away those tears, you do what every teacher heroically does: you just keep going, because you know that global pandemic or not, your students need you and teaching and learning is still going to happen.

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Gianna Faraj
Gianna Faraj
2 months ago

Hi Erika! I am a Pre-service teacher going into my Junior year of college in the Fall, and I have been asked endlessly by people, “are you sure you still want to do that?” and many other questions just like that. I have had two semesters of school classroom experience, and it has left me with many fears that I had never even thought of before especially in relation to Covid-19. But as I reflect I think if not me, then who? Who will help the students who are just as confused and scared if not more than the teachers? There will always be hard times, whether it’s navigating teaching in a pandemic or trying to teach student’s whose home lives are less than ideal. No matter what the circumstances, teachers are called to step up, lead, and above all love the students through all uncertain times.
Thank you for your beautiful words and inspiration to keep going!

27 days ago

wonderful article. I love the authenticity of the reality of how hard teaching can really be. It is good to know what to expect. I will start teaching next year. The part that struck me most was how a teacher needs to be well rounded, working as a janitor and computer technician.