The days just before the start of a new school year is always a bit of a slog for teachers. Districts often kick off the year with days of professional development that is pointless, dispiriting, or just plain bad. Veteran teachers learn to put their heads down and push through to the real work—getting their rooms and their materials ready to greet students.
This year is different. Last year was a hash, a disorganized mess, and teachers had to try to get through as best they could. This year, teachers are excited and anxious about returning in a landscape marked by new pandemic developments, a small but vocal group of protestors, and general uncertainty.
Here’s what teachers don’t need on their first day back. Chirpy icebreaker activities. Special guest performers to pep up the staff. Free teacher appreciation golf shirts, coffee cups, or memo pads. Spirit rallies to get excited about raising test scores this year. Or the pretense that everything is now completely normal.
As they head back, teachers are looking for support and safety in their workplace. Teachers need serious answers for serious concerns. They need some confidence that administration will hear what staff has to say. They need to believe that administration is worried about education and safety more than about optics and PR. They need more time in their classrooms, and less in meetings.
Teachers face some unique challenges this fall, and the landscape will look different for every local district. Teachers need to know that they have a team backing them up, and that that team is serious about facing the challenges of this year. They don’t need happy talk or empty promises or useless threats.
There has never been a better time for school leaders to use the seven most powerful words in education: “What can I do to help you?”