As I sat in a hotel ballroom, watching a poor eighth grader bubble in a standardized test, I found myself googling “truck driving beginner reddit” and “truck driving training west michigan.” A colleague of mine and I had been texting, griping over rescheduled SAT make-ups and less-than-helpful parents, when I jokingly threw out that my back-up plan once I got sick of making pennies was to become a truck driver. My coworker latched onto the idea—apparently she had some truckers and loggers in her family—and talked enough about it that I actually started to wonder if I would ever make the jump out of teaching.
These days, teaching feels like you are on a ship whose age has finally caught up to it, and you are watching it sink underneath your very feet. The profession was already in a tight spot with low teacher prep enrollment and general cultural disregard (despite what people said March through May 2020), and the pandemic was another nail in the coffin. This year, though, was supposed to be a normal school year. Ish. But it most certainly hasn’t. Listening to one of the most recent This American Life episodes made me almost sob in relief in the grocery store parking lot; it was the first time this year that I hadn’t felt crazy about nothing seeming to go as expected.
Decrying my job seems particularly ironic as a virtual teacher. Virtual education can be an amazing opportunity. At state testing, another eighth grader told me that they enjoy not having to worry about social pressures at school, and a seventh grader couldn’t stop talking about how much her teachers care about her (and how much she hated her previous school). At the same time, it’s very clear that the education system is broken, grinding up and spitting out both students and teachers, and online ed is no exception. The number of students I’ve seen in class since spring break and the number of on-time assignments has dropped roughly forty percent. Due to state mandated testing, I’ve lost half of my regular teaching time this month.
It’s not all doom and gloom. I love my job; I’m not signing up for trucker training. I’m lucky to get to work from home and help students unlock the magic of technology (or at least know how to click the right buttons), and I’m beyond excited to meet some of my students face-to-face at graduation this year. But as much as I love my job, I worry about the days ahead for teaching as a career. It seems unlikely that teachers will suddenly become more valued or supported concretely, and I don’t think online school can be the panacea the education system is looking for.
My old high school celebrated their seventy-fifth anniversary this past week, and my dad told me about a segment where they recognized teachers that had taught there for over thirty years. (My family and I then got derailed calculating whether my mother would have made that landmark by this year; she wouldn’t have.) As he rattled off their names, mostly names of my former teachers, all I could think was, Thirty years is a long time. I’m not sure if I’ll make it that long.
Alex Johnson (‘19) is a virtual computer science teacher and a proud resident of Grand Rapids. When she’s not brainstorming the newest project to inflict on her students, she’s cooking semi-vegetarian food, reading too many romance books, and playing rhythm games.