September 13, 2021

A story about teaching

Teaching is incredibly different in 2021 than it was in 2010 when I started. Technically, I started in 2008, as a student teacher and then subbed the 2008-2009 and 2009-2010 school years, in Pennsylvania and Alaska, respectively. 

When I got my first job in Alaska for the fall of 2010, the teacher I ended up working most closely with was a veteran teacher. She'd been teaching for over 40 years at that point and wasn't slowing down any time soon. I taught there for 3 years, and we moved away in 2013.

In February 2020, I got a phone call from another teacher friend in Alaska, saying that this teacher had passed away. I was devastated. Mostly because it was the middle of the school year and how awful and I knew how absolutely ticked she would be, knowing she'd not be going back to school. 

Secondly, I had never made it back to Alaska to see her again. 

There was a moment back in 2018 where we were thinking of going back to Anchorage for 18 months for Scott's Corps of Engineers job. I had always thought how great it would've been to take Wells up to meet her and everyone else I had worked with. We'd ended up going to Pittsburgh instead.

She and I had talked on the phone a few times a year since 2013 and shared emails.

It wasn't until I read her obituary in February of 2020 that I realized she had been born in Laramie, Wyoming. There is one hospital there. If she was born in a hospital, it was the same hospital where Wells had been born. The world isn't small enough for a coincidence that big. 

I knew her family was from southeast Alaska and they'd hopped around from Juneau to Valdez to Kenai and I knew she'd gone to college in Oregon and had hated it because it was "too hot" and got a sunburn for the very first time. I knew her first teaching job had been on the Kenai Peninsula and the giant earthquake of 1964 had literally rocked her family's world with her friends dying and her dad *almost* dying in the tsunami at Valdez. He was the only one smart enough, she said, to realize what was happening when the water went out and ran for higher ground. Everyone else on the docks was washed away. 

And, a fun fact that would be absolutely unheard of today: When she had both of her children, she took less than a week off from school. In the case of her son, she "had him on Monday and was back by Thursday". I think my jaw dropped at that. She was not a snowflake, union-protected teacher of today. She'd make Randi Weingarten cry. Our district had well over 1,000 certified staff; she was listed as the one with the most seniority. 

As February 2020 dragged into March and that slooooowly dragged into April and May, I realized that she was taken home to Jesus at exactly the right time. This was not a coincidence. Virtual school? Zoom classes? Forcing your students to wear masks all day and not touch each other on the playground? 

This was not her world. It's not really of my world either. 

I don't like everything we're doing. I don't agree with it. I don't see how it's "helping kids grow and learn". But I am a unique mix experienced enough to use what I already know and young enough to maybe stick it out. 

This teacher in Alaska always told me that if I stuck it out long enough, I'd see the cyclical nature of education...everything comes back around again. Open classrooms (1970s) turned into the flexible seating of 2018, for example. Math practices that were outdated in 2000 are coming back 20 years later. There is nothing new under the sun. 

She also told me not to quit (and I have multiple times!) because I was a good teacher. I swear this is why I keep trying to go back. Knowing she thought I was a good teacher means a lot but, I'm pretty sure, it took me the entire 2010-2011 school year to win her good graces and then she realized I was more like her (at my inexperienced 24 years of age) than I was not like her, when it really came down to it. 

So part of me feels like if I stick it out, I will see this all come to an end and school will return to the way it was intended to be. 

What makes me feel awful is that there are young teachers out there who have never known what teaching is actually supposed to be like. They think teaching is 100% "social-emotional"-based (because of the HORRIBLE mental health issues that have been created in the last 2 years), they have never been on a field trip, and they'll never be able to have regular old class parties or assemblies. None of this is changing any time soon.

While sometimes I feel very old in my field, if I didn't have my experiences to fall back on, I wouldn't be doing this right now. I worry about not only the kids who are the real victims here, but the brand-new teachers who won't have prior experiences to keep them going. 

This pic is 10 years old so the kids are unrecognizable. It's a screenshot from a movie I have saved. I just wanted to share that I used to do really fun things. This class got so into a reader's theater we did that I assigned parts and let them create a set and put it on as a play for another class and for their parents. This is would never happen today. Parents aren't even allowed in our buildings anymore.


  1. Oh Kristen, I can relate. I’m sorry about your friend and that you didn’t get to see her again. I have a feeling she knows what you’re up to, Hat a cool coincidence about the hospital.
    I made it my pledge to do everything I used to do in 2019 but in a mask but it isn’t quite possible. I didn’t get to bring in my food for La Tomatine and I have an October field trip that I guess isn’t happening.
    The kids have changed because of this. They have disengaged. Some I can’t get off their damn phone. I fight it most days but Friday I just documented who disregarded my reminder.
    I used to want to go longer than 27 years but the added demands and the out of touch policy makers will drive me out.
    I could talk about this topic all day.
    What I am holding on to is that the kids need me and you. The new teachers need us, too.

    1. I can't imagine what this is like in high school, where kids really understand what they're missing. It's almost cruel to the little kids because they're coerced into it all by the fact that they don't know any different :/
      That's why I keep doing it: I tell myself kids need a normal teacher who is going to treat them like it's 2019.
      Ugh the phones. We don't have that issue where I am but I can't even imagine (totally why I don't do high school!)

  2. I know you are a dedicated teacher who is really touching lives today, despite the tough circumstances. I taught high school from 1992-2002, and thought about going back once the kids got in elem. school. I subbed for awhile, and realized it just wasn't the same. My teaching happened before smart phones and smart boards. I'm so sad when I hear about the restrictions many places still have. I'm thankful that school is mostly normal here now, with masks optional. I can't think of any special rules they have at all, and the Cov numbers are ok. Hang in there. Loved hearing your reflections.

  3. I hadn’t thought about how this impacted the young teachers, and the differences they’re seeing. Wow. I would not make it as a teacher right now, that’s for sure.


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