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A Mile

Native American Bison Hide Moccasin Photograph by Millard H. Sharp

A month or two ago, I babbled about heading Into the Unknown with reporting for the start of the school year and how, as a professional educator, it was something that I and my colleagues would just do because, again, we’re professional educators.

But we’re still human.

Now four-ish weeks and two confirmed cases of covid amongst school personnel on my campus (none of which are purported to have had direct contact with other faculty members and/or students—which isn’t all too reassuring, given how long the virus can survive on sundry surfaces, coupled with the all but careless handling of everything from masks to food to touching things I’ve observed in my comings & goings) in, I’m not ready to completely eschew what I wrote but am given pause to reflect on not only my station in life but also my own mortality. Many of my fellow teachers have, too, in addition to pondering just how on earth we’re going to get done all the things we have to get done.

I don’t know if it’s because I’ve been in the education game for some fifteen or sixteen years now, have a master’s degree, or somehow give give the impression I know what I’m doing and/or talking about—or maybe because some find me “approachable” (teachers, right?)—I find myself as audience to others on almost a daily basis now.

Don’t get me wrong: I enjoy listening to my colleagues. I literally am here/there for them anytime they need an open ear. Heaven knows I’ve agonized them excessively with all the struggles I and my family have experienced over the past few years as Nicholle’s MS symptoms have worsened, her health declined, and all joy not stocked up in our children sucked clean out of life, so to listen to their concerns over the present struggles over the present situation is naught but part of what I am here/there to do.

Only this year, it’s been a lot more than usual; as I mentioned, it’s almost daily. Sometimes multiple times a day. And—this is new—sometimes tears are involved.

It’s not just one or two teachers, either, nor is it the same teacher, nor is it the new teacher who’s trying to figure out if they made a bad choice in profession.

These are supremely educated colleagues who are literal experts in their fields, at what they do. But what they do has produced more challenges in these first few weeks than several years’ worth of teaching ever did. And, yes, “challenges” is a euphemism.

This isn’t a situation isolated to just my campus, just my district. I’ve friends across the country in the education game and follow others on social media, so I’ve heard of, read of, experienced folk in the education game either experiencing for themselves or knowing first-hand someone who is experiencing…

  • Stress eating
  • Stress drinking
  • Weight gain/loss not necessarily related to above
  • Insomnia
  • Fatigue
  • Depression
  • Exacerbated symptoms associated with chronic illnesses, such as asthma, diabetes, and so on
  • Excessive doom scrolling
  • Inability to stick to a schedule or plan for one—even if planners themselves (these are teachers, ya know)
  • Suicidal thoughts
  • Considering leaving the teaching profession

I get it: Everyone is struggling, everyone is hurting, but when seasoned professionals, veterans (often in both military and school service) are having a difficult time in soldiering on each day, keeping pace with the demands of in-person and remote learners, as well as providing support to parents and responding to their questions—to say nothing of juggling an attendance and grading interface that shuffles students daily—it gets to be a bit much. And it doesn’t look like it’s going to get much better anytime soon.

With an increasing false sense of security with restaurants and bars and sports again reopening (I type this from my office annex while streaming a replay from today’s stage of the Tour de France—a race typically held in July but delayed twice with strict restrictions in place—restrictions that still didn’t keep the race director himself from contracting covid19), to say nothing to the fact that so many Americans either won’t or don’t wear a mask in public and/or take other precautions to keep themselves and their countrymen/women safe, I’m not entirely optimistic of how the fall is shaping up. Labor Day weekend was just a week ago. Coast-to-coast natural disasters, including some in the middle, are causing some folk to move when they wouldn’t normally, causing fluctuations in population all over. Oh, and it’s almost flu season, too.

This is not an easy time for anyone. This an especially hard time for teachers because we’re supposed to be the ones with the unbreakable poker faces. Schools are one of those institutions to be counted on to always have their collective acts together to support the community at any point in the game.

For a good chunk of my adult life, I’ve been an endurance athlete. I’ve done countless triathlons of varying distances, run and paced many half and full marathons, ridden my bike (indoors and out) thousands of miles each year, and have persevered with my wife through the struggles and challenges of multiple sclerosis, so it might seem that I’m at a unique advantage to handling the endurance event that is covid19. But even I’m not as strong as I used to be. The miles don’t tick by quite like they used to.

Rather than muse or wax over why (age, decreased mileage due to increased demands on my time by others, environmental factors, etc.), I’m just going to reflect on this sign my great-uncle & great-aunt had on their kitchen wall that said to the effect of…

Do not judge a man until you have walked a mile in his moccasins.

Same goes for women, natch. And children, too. And everyone, to be honest.

We’re all suffering, we’re all challenged. If you find or feel your suffering is impacting you more than you can handle, please, seek help. Find someone who will listen, preferably a professional. But my door in B227 is most always open, and so is DM on Twitter. Take care of yourself, because this is really hard. But I think you’re doing great.

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