Educator shea martin knows a few things about being a frustrated teacher—and not being able to say anything about it. Back when they were in the classroom, martin, who uses they/them pronouns and styles their name in lower case, says they would often get complaints about their social media posts relating to racism and education.
Currently martin is taking time away from the classroom to work as a research consultant, meaning they are perhaps more free to post without fear of reprisal. That consideration helped to inspire “An Anonymous Teacher Speaks,” a project martin started on Twitter last Friday that chronicles the thoughts, feelings and frustrations of hundreds of anonymous teachers—posted to martin’s personal account.
The resulting archive captures the zeitgeist of an extraordinary moment in U.S. education. It is a bracing look at the struggles beleaguered teachers are facing as they juggle concerns over their health, overburdened schedules, racial equity and apathetic or insensitive administrators (to name a few).
“When we are trying to keep the kids safe, and help them learn, please don’t ask us to do self care PD, or request our goals for the year,” read one posting from a teacher. “We clearly know the goals—keep them safe, and help them learn. It’s terrifying and real… respect that!” Another read simply, “This job is impossible.”
By Friday evening, the same day they launched the project, martin ended Twitter submissions and set up a Padlet board for anonymous teachers to share their thoughts. (You can also share yours with EdSurge using the Google form at the bottom of this page, which will help guide our coverage on the return to school.)
Shortly after the call for submissions began, martin spoke with us to share what teachers are feeling, why the work is important and which messages hit home the hardest. The conversation has been lightly edited for clarity.
EdSurge: Why were you inspired to post anonymous teacher messages?
shea martin: One of my really good friends, Christine Nold, tweeted something like: Teachers, we need you to stay in the classroom; please don’t tweet anything that could get you fired. And I read the tweet and thought about how I often felt in the classroom, not being able to express my opinions and share what was going on. I feel like this is a super isolating time for teachers, because we don’t have that in-person community. So I just decided to send out a tweet, and shortly after sending it out, my messages exploded. I’ve been getting tons of things from teachers.
Were you surprised about the volume or the content of the messages?
Was I surprised about the content? Not at all. I work with teachers every day so I have a pretty good pulse on what’s going on in schools and online. I was kind of surprised at the volume. On Twitter you just never know what’s going to spark interest or conversation. One of the first people that messaged me was someone I knew. And then people just started coming out of the woodwork. It’s been interesting. People send me five-paragraph messages and say, “You don’t have to tweet this all. It just helped that I could vent to someone because I just feel so helpless right now and hopeless.” I am surprised at the amount of information and the amount of space that teachers just needed to share with someone.
Do you think this is just venting that everybody does, or is this a breaking point?
I think that we are at a turning point for what education looks like. I think that we’re at a point where teachers are no longer willing to sacrifice their health and their lives. And I think that the number of teachers that I’ve heard from who are either resigning or who are thinking about resigning or taking a leave of absence this year is astounding. And these are not teachers who are in their first or second years. These are the veterans who’ve been there for years and years. Teachers of the Year, the staples of the community, are saying they love kids, but they are also having to choose (and rightfully so) to love themselves.
I noticed that a lot of the messages you were getting focused on the experiences of teachers of color. Do you think they have unique frustrations that are not being met by administrators?
Absolutely. We have a long history in our work of people of color, both teachers and students, being overlooked and overworked by the system. I think what we’re seeing is that in a pandemic, inequities are not popping up, they’re being illuminated. What you’re seeing is an illumination of BIPOC teachers and the concerns and the inequities that they face that’s been there all the time. It’s just worse now, or they’re talking about it more now because it’s just happening more frequently. Some of the things that they have been saying in my DMs [direct messages] I’ve been hearing for a while, but now it’s happening via Zoom, or they’re being asked to come back and do things at school. I’m not surprised that they’re BIPOC. They have frustrations, but it’s just the reality of education right now.
Why do you think that it’s important for you, or for anybody, to share these frustrations with a wider audience?
In my work I’m all about creating space for people, and in that space affirming them fully as humans. At this moment in our country, I do not think that teachers’ humanity is being recognized and affirmed. I do not think that people are treating teachers, and people who work in education with students, as people who deserve to live, who deserve to be safe, who deserve to be able to breathe sometimes, who deserve to not be worried about infecting their families or worried about how they’re going to feed their families if they choose their health over their job.
Right now, there’s a lot of focus on the students—which, I’m a teacher and I definitely know that students need to be taught. But I think so often in our society, we expect teachers to be invincible with little appreciation. Sometimes teachers, and people who are underappreciated, just need to feel seen and heard. I think this is a way that they can feel that way without having to risk their jobs because of social media clauses in their contracts or policies they have at their jobs.
I think this is a way to make sure that teachers’ voices are included in the archive of this pandemic.
Was there a message or a tweet that really stood out and resonated with you?
Every time a teacher says, “I’m scared,” or “I am terrified,” or “I just want to live,” those are the tweets that stick with me. Because I remember back in March when we were all feeling that way. When it first hit and no one knew what it was or what we should be doing, I remember being up at night. I was nervous about how to cope with this. And I think at this moment, a lot of us in this country have gone back to normal life and are trying to figure out how to do normal things. But every time I get a message saying “I’m scared,” it really hits because a lot of teachers don’t have the option of working remotely or of saying no. So for them to have a safe space and say “I am scared” and be allowed to share that, those are the ones that really hit the most.
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