Francoise Jaffe: Teachers’ Anxieties Are Real

Francoise Jaffe read yesterday’s “06880” post about the Candlelight Concert with interest.

The longtime Westport psychoanalyst was impressed with how hard it is to bring this event about, and “how impossible it is for the public to understand the enormous effort and dedication it takes to maintain this hallowed tradition.”

She wants a light shone on “the dedication and creativity of the teachers, parents and students involved.” Done!

But Francoise hopes readers will understand something else too. She writes:

Everyone needs to know that their actions affect so many others. When people gather for parties, sports events or large family meals, they do not just put themselves in jeopardy.

The ripple effect is enormous.  The school system was humming along until Halloween. It fell apart afterwards. Students and teachers alike were affected in many ways. 

Teenagers stay in their cars, practicing social distancing — but hang out together at Longshore. (Photo/Kimberly Paris)

Working with patients from many different walks of life and backgrounds gives me a privileged look into their lives, for which I am enormously grateful. I would never have realized how COVID impacts teachers had I not been lucky enough to hear in detail the obstacles they have had to surmount since last March.

One does not understand the workings of any system until confronted with it. I believe that most people have no idea what the life of teachers during COVID has been. Some of my patients are educators.

I think we would all benefit from a closer look at what this professions endures right now.

My patients mention many challenges. At first it was figuring out how to adapt their curriculum to an online environment. This was much harder for some subjects than others, and some teachers more than others.

Some teachers were not familiar or comfortable with technology, so just adapting to it was problematic.

But they had no choice, and no time to climb the learning curve. Some schools switched immediately from in-person to online.

Last spring, Staples students prepared for the “We the People” competition online.

How to make an effective online lesson plan requires training that was not available. This created a lot of stress and pressure.

Another issue is asking students turn on their video function so they can be seen by teachers and peers. Many don’t, for many reasons: the absence of privacy, shame about their living situation, not being motivated to get dressed and groomed as they would if they went to school in person, to cite a few.

Summer afforded teachers the possibility to get up to speed and plan for new ways of presenting their materials, but then they were called back in school in person and had to prepare 2 different sets (or more) of lesson plans for different scenarios (in-person or remote). That was both onerous and time-consuming.

It became even more complicated for the mixed models: half the students are in person, but another half is being taught remotely, sometimes simultaneously.

Classrooms are much emptier these days.

Teachers could only hope that the protocols put in place would actually work. In some school districts, they were not given a choice of working remotely if they had health issues. They were forced to take a leave of absence, unless they had been exposed to COVID themselves.  Some lost health insurance as a result.

Teachers rely on not only verbal but non-verbal clues from students to be effective. If you cannot see your students or get a physical sense of what their mood, attention and body language reveal, teachers cannot be as effective. Knowing their limitations can be anxiety-provoking for educators.

In addition, rhere is pressure to project confidence and an upbeat outlook for students (and their parents), something many teachers do not feel internally.

However, little thought has been given to helping professionals with their struggles. But being given the sense that only a positive attitude is acceptable makes depression more likely. It is isolating and guilt-inducing.

Many therapists are now online.

These are unusual and challenging circumstances. They have gone on for a long time. Normalizing feelings of discouragement, loneliness and anxiety (to name a few) go a long way to helping overcome them.

Teachers should be celebrated, for the right reasons: Their job is hard and sometimes thankless, but they get up every day to do it.

I think that one of the many reasons we cannot abate the spread of COVID is that it is such an invisible disease. Those affected go into isolation. If they end up in hospitals, it is far away from view from most of us.

It is easy to “not see it.” We have to make it more visible and more vivid to help with the very understandable fatigue that has overtaken all of us. Rebuilding a sense of communal responsibility begins with eliciting empathy, which can only be done by sharing information.

8 responses to “Francoise Jaffe: Teachers’ Anxieties Are Real

  1. Excellent and insightful comments! Thank you Francoise. Myra Skluth

  2. Well said, few have an idea of the difficulties they endure.

  3. Clark Thiemann

    My daughter has been doing elementary school distance learning all year. Her teacher was given this assignment 2 weeks before the school year started (she’s a literacy coach full time before this) and has jumped full-on into this for our daughter and her classmates.

    I have been awed and impressed by the pivot and the rapid learning and improvement that they keep doing (new software and approaches as they try new things). I also know how hard this must be to do while going to work every day with a ton of other people in the middle of a pandemic.

    I say this to give huge amounts of credit to our teachers both in terms of the quality of their teaching and their flexibility to do things differently when needed!

  4. Julie Shapiro

    She is sooooo right – teachers have a very difficult job, managing the academics, technology, emotional and social welfare of students, dealing with parents, keeping up with new teaching methods, grading papers or and let’s not forget taking care of their own families. Everyone should value teachers

  5. Barbara Zwick

    Thank you, Francoise. So thoughtful and a well deserved tribute to the
    hard work, patience and endurance of these educators.
    Also a real sense of the fall out emotionally from COVID.
    Barbara Zwick

  6. Sharmishtha Roy Chowdhury

    Teachers are essential workers. Without them education and the core mission of raising young people in a community would collapse. We are fortunate that our community probably does compensate teachers better than others but they do need more support for their work. All school systems need to pivot now to channeling more resources to teachers and the classroom.

  7. So very thankful for the teachers and administrators in this district who have worked so tirelessly, and often thanklessly, to deliver education to our children in these unprecedented times. With 3 children distance learning, and one attending hybrid my family is grateful for all that the teachers and administrators have done to keep my children engaged and enthusiastic about learning. Thank you.

  8. Jeanine Esposito

    Thank you for this look into what we are asking of our teachers, what they are delivering, and the unseen costs of their risk and heroic efforts. It highlights how far reaching the effects are of each individuals actions on the workings of a community.