DONE – Goodbye to The Extraordinary School Year of 2020-2021

Yep – the photo above, which I took today of a mug I symbolically broke, shows how I feel after this absolutely exhausting school year. I was given this mug, with the school logo on it, last August when I began to teach at this Catholic high school – the largest in the diocese where I live.

This morning, at about 10:45, I turned in my last items and walked out of this Catholic high school building for the last time. It was a particularly poignant moment as it may well be the last time I end a school year in which I was a classroom teacher.

Yes, there’s some big news in that paragraph! After seventeen years of teaching on the Social Studies side of things – specifically Religion/Religious Studies/Theology – in five Catholic high schools (in three states) – I am almost certain that I am done with this way of living my vocation as a faith-filled educator.

As I drove out of the parking lot, breathing sighs of relief, I hit shuffle on my “Job Hunt Summer 2021” playlist. This great sing-a-long song came up:

##########

So, why am I seeking to shift my career back to what I did for about twelve years in the Aughts? Am I simply one of the flock of teachers leaving the classroom because of how hard it was to teach during the Pandemic Period from which we are emerging (after at least 14 months now?)

Sort of. Yet not really.

Yes, it was tremendously taxing to teach this year for each and every teacher, regardless of experience level and the “format” their teaching took, e.g. fully on Zoom, students in the classroom plus students on Zoom, all students in the classroom.

I experienced this baseline challenge each and every day. Perhaps I’ll reflect on this experience in a subsequent post.

Two other factors made my year even more difficult. First, I was a first year teacher at the school. And every teacher, regardless of how many years he/she has under their belt, will tell you that the first year at a new school is tough. You don’t know the rhythm, the students, your colleagues, the overall culture and so much more about the school.

My second challenge was that I was teaching a course/level I’d not taught in many years. Again, every teacher knows the amount of content creation needed day to day when you’ve not previously taught a course. It’s difficult and time consuming to simultaneously create content, assignments and assessments while you’re also assessing those assignments plus quizzes/tests.

Any teacher would face these challenges regardless of the subject area taught.

There’s a third, unique aspect – call it the “wild card” – to the subject of Catholic Theology that I have taught for seventeen years (eight consecutive years after college and graduate school and then nine more years which ended today.)

https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2019/01/24/like-americans-overall-u-s-catholics-are-sharply-divided-by-party/

##########

Due to this division within the U.S. Catholic Church, what and how I taught this year was scrutinized, critiqued and criticized. A Social Studies teacher might be scrutinized in a somewhat similar way, but not with the vigor and passion that religion adds to the political/partisan maelstrom. Mathematics, Science and other teachers are almost never criticized for what and how they teach.

Can you actually imagine a parent emailing their child’s principal complaining: “My son’s Algebra teacher is talking about the quadratic equation in ways which are wrong and harmful to his faith.”

Yet, a parent could and did email his daughter’s Theology teacher and the principal of the school on Sunday, February 21, 2021 at 10:15pm. The email to me began with these two sentences:

We would appreciate an explanation as to why, on January 20th, you neglected to do your job as a teacher of Catholic Theology and instead decided to have your class, for the entire class period, view the inauguration of a man who is the antithesis of Catholic Theology – a man who not only believes it is permissible to stab a little baby in the head with forceps or scissors as it is being delivered but to use taxpayer dollars to pay for the procedure.  This is the same man who wants to use taxpayer dollars to fund infanticide outside our borders.

##########

Yes, those are the first two sentences of the harshest email I’ve received in my seventeen years of teaching. I am still stunned by the lack of any kindness or even basic politeness from this parent to me – especially in the midst of the most difficult school year in memory.

A tone of attacking Theology teachers was set early in the school year. On October 15, 2020 at 9:53pm, one of the school vice principals sent all of the Theology teachers an email which began:

I am sorry for sending you all an email so late however, our Superintendent reached out to [our principal] tonight regarding a message he received from a priest of our Diocese regarding a theology lesson from [our school] today. Apparently, he spoke with a group of our parents who were very angry after hearing from their children that one of our theology teachers showed several Black Lives Matter and climate change videos and when students asked questions about the content, they were referred to as “racist,” “against science,” and “part of the problem.” The parents are very upset and are even thinking of leaving [our school]. This priest has also mentioned this to [our Bishop]

##########

Since I wasn’t the teacher who did this, I don’t know how this was resolved. Like so much else at the school this year, the silence on this and so much more was deafening.

And so, this morning I walked away from teaching Theology. Teaching this subject, in this diocese, at this point in history is too fraught and perilous.

Feeling the significance of the day for me personally and professionally, I thought to take this selfie as I headed out. I often took photos of my children on their first day of school each year.

So, I thought it apt to take a photo of myself on my last day:

##########

I am glad that I caught the butterfly wind chime in the photo (even if it looks like it is coming out of my head.) That graceful insect is a sign for me of rebirth and renewal. I felt both of these today.

And I also feel hopeful that God is in this process and that I will be shown to my next job soon. I don’t yet know where or what this will be. I do have much work to do starting tomorrow in finding it.

God has me. God has this. So be it.

3 comments

  1. Rick! I read your post and…..wow! I cannot relate more, even though I have been teaching eighth-grade E.L.A. at public middle schools for ten years now. I am still learning the profession, but one role for teachers really sticks out for me, beyond pedagogy and subject area knowledge: to simply bring the world outside the classroom closer to the kids. I teach my kids ELA, life skills, and all that other stuff that you know about, but also making sure that I can help my kids learn about the world around, or give them the keys by which they may discover it for themselves.

    Your dilemma feels like you were being stifled in this, and all I can say is…I hear you. To deny the realities of life to our kids as teachers is to lie to them. I would have a problem with that.

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s