Opinion
School & District Management Opinion

‘This Is Not What We Signed Up For’: A Principal’s Plea for More Support

COVID-19 mitigation, staffing shortages, and uncertain funding
By Kristen St. Germain — November 16, 2021 3 min read
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This is not what we signed up for. Nobody else who entered the field of education years ago did. For 27 years, I have loved my job and never dreaded going to work. I have certainly faced many challenges in my times as a teacher and principal, but nothing compares with what school is like in 2021. In fact, the face of education has shifted significantly since I began my career in the classroom.

Today, parental involvement is down, if not totally absent. Too many families are overstretched and cannot give the support to their kids that they need to make parent-teacher partnerships work.

Today, teachers and principals have become health-care experts. We are social workers, counselors, and therapists. We must buy food, clothes, and school supplies for many students—and more each year. Today, we spend more time on social and emotional development than reading and mathematics.

Today, we can tell you the length of our lunch tables and hallways and how many feet between desks in every one of our classrooms. I can recite COVID-19 protocols in my sleep. Instead of observing classroom teachers for quality teaching, we are monitoring safety protocols to make sure we are doing our part to keep the spread of COVID-19 at bay.

Teaching used to be about instructional practice and student growth. We used to be able to attend some of the top-notch conferences in the country and bring back practice to make our schools better. We used to be able to talk about student learning and what we can do to help all students achieve regardless of socioeconomic status. Today, we are fighting to survive and stay standing even as every protocol and demand is physically and emotionally exhausting.

Today, we are teaching students how to talk respectfully to adults more than we ever have. We are spending hours of each day tracing social-media posts that cause educational disruptions in our schools. We are trying to get our students to see that, yes, one post can ruin their lives.

Today, we are on the phone with outside agencies daily to protect children who need protection and we are watching as those same children and their families don’t get the support they need because there is always a case far worse.

Today, we can spend up to four hours of a 10-hour day contact tracing while navigating tricky privacy laws for vaccinations. Today, we have to answer to very angry parents about why their healthy child must quarantine for 10 days and how that child is expected to keep up while out of school. Today, we are questioned about protocols: Why do we require three-foot distancing in the classroom but six feet everywhere else? Why must students be quarantined even though they were wearing a mask?

Today, we can’t recognize our own students in the hallways underneath their masks. We can’t see their pain or support them if we can’t even see who is struggling.

Today, we are desperately seeking teachers with qualifications to fill positions that used to be competitive. We are rescheduling sporting events because staffing shortages prevent us from getting our students to and from contests.

Today, we are being called “communists,” “dictators,” and other horrible names when we enforce the rules to wear masks on school grounds. We are doing so without help from the necessary personnel because, throughout all this, people still vote down educational funding increases if they don’t have children in the system. Today, we are spending hours to gain grant funding with so many limitations on it that is it almost impossible to truly make a difference for students.

Today, we spend more time with teachers who need social and emotional support for themselves. We are trying to keep their spark, which is what truly makes schools wonderful places for learning. Those sparks are fading. Today, we keep adding to the plates of teachers and principals and never remove any responsibilities that the profession already placed on them before the pandemic hit. We are not able to compensate anyone for this extra work. We are not able to take care of our teachers and our principals like we need to.

Today is not what any of us signed up for. Today is driving outstanding teachers and principals far away from the profession. Today is breaking an educational system so far beyond repair we might never succeed in fixing it. And, today, in spite of these difficulties, we are still held accountable for student-test scores, which our communities use to sell homes and raise property taxes.

Today, people need to listen and understand the toll is being placed on schools. Today, we plead that you stand up and take care of these people who spend more time with your children than they spend with their own.

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