Spend any time in online teacher communities or talking to educators this year and you will inevitably hear them express with exhaustion in their voice what a tough year this has been.

But dig a little deeper and it gets more difficult to put your finger on exactly what is different about this year. Is there more work for teachers? Yes. Are we covering classes and writing lessons for vacant positions? Definitely. Are the students less mature than we normally expect for their age? Of course.

And when I try to explain it to non-educators, here is how I make it clear.

For most years of my career, I’ve spent the start of the year teaching my students how to learn, so that I can guide them gently through the rest of the year. I compare it to what it’s like to go surfing. You work hard paddling out to the break. But then you let the wave push you while you work to keep the board in the right spot. There is a zen flow state that you fall into along with your students when their desire to learn and to succeed takes over from the extrinsic motivation that we work hard to provide at the start.

But this year feels like that transition never comes. We keep paddling and paddling but the wave never takes over. The momentum never transfers to the students. They don’t seem to be able to become independent in their learning. The behaviors that they usually shake before eighth grade—throwing paper balls, chasing each other around the classroom—are present and persistent. Combined, the effect of disruptive behaviors and reluctance to motivate themselves is like paddling against a current all day every day.

And that’s the look you see in our eyes.

photo credit: MidJourney