Over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers around the world have been put in a unique and decidedly unfortunate position. The landscape of the teaching profession has changed dramatically over the course of the last year as teachers are either teaching in virtual classrooms on Zoom, or to half-sized classes of masked students. The truly unlucky are forced to go “back to normal” in areas where COVID-19 is still raging, putting their lives and the lives of their families at risk.
It’s something that no teacher signed up for. What makes the current situation worse is the near-constant bashing that teachers are taking on social media. People, especially parents, are angry and frustrated with the logistics of the current situation. For some people, that anger comes through, sometimes quite viciously, in social media comments berating teachers.
Teacher Hate from the Frustrated Masses
This phenomenon started with the first wave of shutdowns that the pandemic brought about almost a year ago. When schools first started transitioning to online learning, millions of distraught parents had to learn to manage full-time childcare. This was often on top of their own jobs, while their children adjusted to online school. Understandably, parents were distressed and frustrated and often deeply in over their heads.
Some dealt with their frustration with the consequences of the pandemic by unabashedly criticizing teachers on social media. The overarching narrative is that teachers are advocating school closures out of sheer laziness. According to keyboard warriors, virtual learning amounts to time off, and teachers just want to get paid to stay home.
Not So Simple
The reality of the situation is, of course, much more nuanced than heated social media rhetoric would have you believe. Virtual learning is still very much work for teachers, and possibly even more work than before. Like the students they teach, educators have had to learn entirely new systems. They have had to completely rethink the way school works. Educators have had to completely revamp lesson plans and find new ways to hold students’ attention through a computer. For in-person teachers, they’ve had to adjust to teaching with masks on and teaching amongst ever-changing safety protocols.
Teachers, like almost any other group of people, are not a homogeneous unit. The educators of the world are not banded together in agreement on what school should look like in the midst of a pandemic. Some want remote learning, some want in-person schooling, and others think a hybrid model is best. Others still support remote learning but think that the way officials have gone about implementing these changes is chaotic and unhelpful. Individual teacher’s views vary based on location and what COVID-19 looks like in their respective areas. Views also hinge on who else lives in their households, and whether those family members are high-risk.
When it comes to social media criticism, however, teachers are a monolith. For these social media users, teachers are lazy, demanding, and don’t care about the parents they’re inconveniencing or the students they’re supposed to educate. There are comments saying that teachers are just angling for more money or simply don’t want to work.
As is the norm with social media discourse, the epicenter of the teacher-bashing is Twitter. There are pages of tweets in this vein. Parents and other people who are just angry are calling out teachers endlessly.
Breaking News Stoking the Flames of Discontent
The latest round of teacher-shaming came when news broke that primary schools in London will stay closed due to rising COVID-19 numbers. They were originally planned to reopen in January. The decision was reversed as numbers are rising and a more contagious strain of the virus is spreading in Britain.
The social media reaction was swift and extensive. Brits and Americans alike are outraged that students will not be immediately going back into classrooms with the new year. The same critical rhetoric blaming the situation on teachers reemerged with renewed vigor.
Several users proposed abolishing public education altogether. The idea of hiring private educators as a way to punish public school teachers for the implementation of virtual learning was one of the most extreme viewpoints in the anti-teacher discourse.
On Monday, the Prime Minister announced a new lockdown that means all schools will transition to virtual learning until at least February. After the holiday break, students in England went back to school for one day before the announcement. As of tomorrow, schools will immediately transition to virtual learning. The reaction to further school closures is likely to be more of the same as the reality sets in that children will be home for at least another month.
The United States has no such consistency when it comes to schools, but many students, especially in more populated areas, remain in virtual learning limbo. My elementary school-aged siblings in Los Angeles haven’t set foot in a classroom since March. Some students have gone from virtual to in-person and back again several times. This leaves millions of parents and teachers left in limbo themselves. Teachers, students, and parents are unsure of what is happening or how to make this all work.
The Root of The Problem
The source of all this anger towards educators stems from the constant confusion and misinformation that’s been abundant throughout the pandemic. Some still believe COVID-19 is a hoax or no worse than the yearly flu. This viewpoint makes closing schools and sending all the children home seem like a dramatic overreaction. Others think that children cannot spread the virus and do not get severe cases. In that case, there is no reason to keep them home. Among the angry and misinformed, teachers are sharing in the blame along with the elected officials who ordered the shutdowns and school closures.
Government officials are also fanning the flames of discontent with last-minute decisions, like the one the British Prime Minister announced earlier today. These quick changes in direction make already unhappy parents think that those in charge have no rhyme or reason to their choices. The last-minute changes of plans are making everyone feel on edge. These decisions leave teachers unprepared to provide the best education possible for their students. This only serves to further anger parents and critics.
All of this criticism and chaos is having a negative impact on teachers. It’s not just the criticism, teachers are also faced with constant instability and daily new challenges in school and at home. Like the rest of us, many teachers are feeling isolated and a little stir-crazy. Unlike the rest of us, however, teachers are also subject to rude commentary on social media every time they log on.
These combined factors are leading to a mental health crisis among teachers. Various surveys and studies have shown that rates of depression are rising among teachers. Most teachers report working longer hours with less support. Teachers are experiencing a time of unprecedented crisis, and unlike other essential workers, are doing so without thanks.
Not All Bad
While the social media masses seem to have turned on the teachers that shape the minds of our children, there are still messages of support amidst the vitriol. Teachers and their allies are tweeting out reminders on the realities of teaching and teaching in a pandemic.
Parents and students alike are also sharing heartwarming stories of how their teachers have excelled and made life better during this difficult time. The majority of tweets about teachers are negative, as is the nature of social media. However, there are also touching tales of teachers overcoming times of crisis to provide a wonderful environment for their students. It’s not enough to provide true balance to the conversation, but for the teachers out there, there are still some who appreciate the Herculean effort.