“Have you taken any time to grieve COVID?” my therapist asked. This question took my breath away. Immediately I thought, “How dare you! Grieved? We’re still in it! What time have any of us in education had to grieve anything? We’ve adjusted, put our feelings aside, sucked it up, gone above and beyond like we always do. Of course not”.
Then I thought about it a little harder, and after the initial wave of anger, I felt permission. Permission to admit that we have felt an enormous amount of loss in our profession. Not only is it okay to grieve that loss, but it’s imperative that we start coming to terms with what happened, how it happened, and where we go from here. We are always asked to reflect on our students, our scores, and schools, but hardly ever are we able to truly reflect on ourselves in a way that helps us heal and grow. Without such reflection, what hope do we have of authentically guiding our students along their own paths of growth and healing?
As educators, we know (according to Maslow’s hierarchy) that students must have their basic physiological, safety, and love/belonging needs met in order for them to learn. Without those three things as a solid foundation, there is no room for students to take in new information, at least not to any degree of depth or permanence. This past October, when we all began to realize this year was going to be one of the hardest we’ve ever faced, I asked the teachers at my school to look at Maslow’s hierarchy and think about how it has been impacted by COVID. Immediately, being the amazing teachers they are, they started talking about the impact COVID has had on their students. I quickly realized they did not understand my question. “No,” I said, “I meant where are YOU with COVID when looking at this pyramid?” Immediately, tears flowed. For the first time, we began to process the grief that we have not allowed ourselves to stop and feel in over a year and a half. Everything is different now, yet expectations are almost the same. We are feeling trapped in the ways of the past while trying to figure out how to meet the needs of the new “post-COVID student” at the same time. It’s exhausting, heartbreaking, and defeating when you feel like every tool in your toolbox is no longer enough.
While we may still be trying to figure out the best way to tackle all of the post-COVID aftermath everyone is seeing in their schools this year, I do know that we need to give ourselves grace, time, and permission to grieve. None of this is going to be solved in one month or even one school year. We, of course, will continue to put on a smile for our students and evolve, as we always do; but we cannot try to help our students come out on the other side of this if we have not yet let ourselves process and feel it – all of it.
The Elevating Teachers blog is a platform designed to elevate educator voices. It’s a space to share stories and tips for maintaining a sense of purpose and wellbeing in and out of the classroom.
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Erin Rigot is an Instructional Coach at League Academy in Greenville County and Co-Founder of ExposED Resilience.
ExposED Resilience is an education leadership company aiming to expose the resilience of educators today, while coaching current and future leaders.