I WANT to Go Back to School. Just Not This Way.

In January of this year, my wife and I performed in a community theater production of Christopher Durang’s play, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike. My wife and actually played sister and brother (it was weird, but Sonia was adopted, so we weren’t blood related). These were roles we’d wanted to play for some time, and we had a blast. Both of us had juicy monologues – mine was 4 and half pages! It was a terrifically fun, and touching, show to perform in and we loved every performance.

We couldn’t have known it at the time, but we were performing in Shoestring Theater’s last full-run of a show for over a year. Their next show stopped performances halfway through its run, and Shoestring has canceled its entire 2020/2021 season because of the pandemic.

We will miss being involved in theater next year. We will miss it a lot. Shoestring is our go-to theater these days. But not until the 2021-22 season. I still think they made the right choice. A small theater like Shoestring is not a great place to be enclosed in for two or three hours during a pandemic.

We don’t get paid to act. We do it because we love it. And because we love it, we will miss it. But we just wouldn’t feel safe doing it now.

There is an idea floating around that teachers don’t want to go back to school. As in, we don’t actually like teaching, and that this pandemic is an excuse to not have to do it. I think there is an overall vibe that most people don’t want to work, and that we must force them to work or they will just be lazy good-for-nothings. I see this attitude filter down into our classrooms. This spring I heard teachers talk about our need to hold grades over students’ heads in order to make them work, the idea being that without the threat of grades students will do nothing.

Here’s something I talk to my students about: If you are only doing a job for the money, it probably isn’t really worth doing, and you probably won’t do that great a job at it. The best teachers I know love what they do. The best anythings I know love what they do.

I suppose there may be teachers out there who loved the robo-teaching that took place online in many systems, who find that remote teaching is a lot less work. I was not one of those teachers. Two of my classes did an online course that I simply monitored. Four of my classes did my stuff – classes I planned out carefully and that actually engaged a good number of my students. I had a good time teaching online. But it wasn’t the same as teaching in class.

I was about to write a paragraph about all the things I miss about teaching in a classroom, but I realized that I’d already drawn a cartoon about it:

I miss all those things and more. I want them back. Desperately. Most teachers I communicate with do. So please stop implying that we are lazy and don’t “want” to go back to school.

But here’s the thing, aside from the possible health risks involved in going back, the measures we will be taking in order to make classes safe are also going rob us of the very things we love about being in a classroom. They very things that make our classrooms engaging for our students. There won’t be pair/shares or small group discussions. There won’t be casual conversations. There won’t be downtime during class change to greet students and connect with them.

I’ll be too busy sanitizing my room.

Please stop telling me I don’t want to teach. I do want to teach. My actor self and my teacher self are not far apart from each other. I love working the room. I love hearing the engagement. I love the communal vibe. I love performing my teacher persona. Not acting in person and not teaching in person are hardships for me.

But I think they are necessary hardships.

Why is my community theater smarter than the powers dictating what happens with our schools?