‘What’s it really like for teachers right now?’ Another season in Hell

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graziano“I believe I am in Hell, therefore I am.”

-Arthur Rimbaud, “Night of Hell”

My wife Liz and I were having dinner in front of the television[1], watching the local news when a story about the proliferation of COVID-19 cases in New Hampshire public schools aired.

The story covered the challenges schools are having staffing classrooms[2], the exhaustion of educators, and the collective antipathy of the general public toward school districts discussing an option of limited remote learning to slow the spread of the virus[3].

Liz looked at me, and I shrugged.

We were both educators at the same high school when we met and courted—and later married—but my wife recently left the profession. After more than two decades working as a special education teacher/administrator, she followed the lead of many public educators in the COVID-era, jumped ship and found a new way to make a living.

However, in true Michael Corleone-fashion, I’ve stayed 22 years in education for a variety of reasons—most of which hinge on the fact that I enjoy my job teaching students the subject know and love.

But in the past three years, this joy has been tested, time and time again.

Liz watched the broadcast and sighed with what seemed like relief when the segment ended. Then she turned to me and asked, “Is it really that bad?”

I stared into my glass of soda water and considered spiking it with something harder from the cupboard. I then muttered something unintelligible.

“What’s it really like for teachers right now?”

“Let me tell you,” I said.

We’re enervated, we’re demoralized, and we’re feeling handcuffed as our own mental health hangs from the most tenuous of strings—which is to say nothing of our students’ mental health that has been profoundly affected by a virus that shows no signs of relent.

Each day, our work email inboxes are inundated with lists of students who have recently contracted the virus and will be learning remotely for the next five days[4], the expectation being that we contact each of these students individually to assure they’re caught up on their work.

Does this require the daily revamping of lesson plans to meet the needs of both the students in the classroom and those who are quarantining?

(That was a rhetorical question.)

Meanwhile, we’re watching our colleagues contract the virus and we’re barely able to staff classrooms. Teachers—not substitutes—are covering classes[5] because who wants to work as a substitute teacher and walk into a COVID Petri dish for $90 a day when they can make $25 an hour working at a Wal-Mart distribution center?

(That was another rhetorical question.)

And outside of the school milieu, we’re watching public protests of mask mandates that can help assure our safety as we attempt to teach their children; we’re called selfish and lazy if we suggest working from home to slow the spread of the Omicron variant.

Then you have the Moms of Liberty putting $500 bounties on our heads[6] if we have the audacity to suggest that this country’s history is rooted in systematic racism and prejudice that could help explain we’re so “divisive” as a society today. Can you imagine the dangers if our students learned to think critically and ask important questions about our society, our country and its history for themselves[7]?

(Rhetorical. Ironic.)

Teachers are tired, and the attrition from these past three years has whittled us down to twigs. Most of us got into education to serve the students, affect the future in a positive way and assure a better place through the acquisition of knowledge and the practice of empathy.

But, for many of us, these intentions have become obfuscated by a virus that has led to a gruesome glimpse at how many in the general public really perceive their public school teachers.

“Is it really that bad?” my wife asked.

I shook my head again then I made my way to the cupboard.


[1] For years, we tried to corral the kids to the dinner table, but with two of them out of the house and our youngest working most weeknights, we’ve capitulated to Americana.

[2] Case in point, I’m currently quarantining at home for five days after testing positive for COVID-19.

[3] This is also a moot point, seeing public schools no longer have the option of remote learning. According to the Board of Education, these days would have to be made up in June, unless a district can successfully petition to have them count toward the mandatory 180 school days.

[4] For the record, I was vaccinated and received a booster shot; however, COVID-19, in my case, is no vacation.

[5] Hat tip to any of my colleagues covering my classes this week. I owe you a drink when I finally break from the COVID jail.

[6] I really wish this was a joke, but it’s not. And there is currently some proposed current legislation is even more draconian than the original “divisive concepts” bill, aptly titled “The Teacher Loyalty Act.”

[7] Cue Rage Against the Machine.


About this Author

Nathan Graziano

Nathan Graziano lives in Manchester with his wife and kids. He's the author of nine collections of fiction and poetry. His most recent book, Born on Good Friday was published by Roadside Press in 2023. He's a high school teacher and freelance writer, and in his free time, he writes bios about himself in the third person. For more information, visit his website: http://www.nathangraziano.com