Some say 'crisis in classroom.' This teacher says 'opportunity.' | Guestview

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Jonathan Austin Peacock teaches English at Tate High School in the Escambia County School District.
Jonathan Austin Peacock teaches English at Tate High School in the Escambia County School District.

There is something fascinating about what it takes to survive as a new educator. As a young teacher, I spent many nights crying into my wife’s shoulder over my fragile need to succeed at everything, but was frustrated by failure for the first time in my privileged life. I felt remorse for every advantaged opportunity previously afforded to me. My mentors insisted that I never let the students see me as weak. Never become emotional. Never cry. Be swift. Be precise.

Being an educator, as it turns out, is hard.

I had my first panic attack on a rainy September morning in 2020. It took ten years to get to that moment. The doctor called it a “stress-induced event.” I know the truth: The global pandemic began its influence on my career. Public education as we knew it was reborn.

On that September morning, my mind returned to the moments that should have shaped me into an authentic American educator – a slideshow of still frames: writing, planning, pleading, explaining, justifying, and atoning. That year marked a decade of teaching, and that September I was neither atoned nor authentic. Not yet. I, like many American teachers, was vulnerable to a new reality.

I don’t mean vulnerable in the sense that I had doubts about my abilities. Teachers’ brand of vulnerability is one of promises and production. We want to deliver what we promise, and the best teachers are vulnerable to the fear that we may not. When the teaching seas are rough, we are adaptable. When faced with problems, we are solvers. Great teachers know what is best for their students. We know quality teaching is a choreographed dance. It’s performance art, and doing it well requires a series of steps balanced by routine, consistency, and sheer will.

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But with the pandemic and the years that have followed, educators realized what we once called “teaching” in the traditional sense no longer existed. We redefined pathways to success for our students. The new age of education in America was born.

But on that rainy September morning in 2020, my anxiety got the better of me as I faced another day of lessons in a dim classroom of laptop light-illuminated faces. I became the performer with forgotten lines. I became the misguided sycophant wordlessly pining for my students’ attention. I became the embodiment of hasty pandemic pedagogy. This was the new beginning in education – disorienting, alarming, and barely graspable.

But in education, this new beginning is everything. The same professional questions exist now that existed previously: How do we recruit and retain the most talented educators to teach our students? How do we ensure all students learn? How do we engage all community stakeholders? How do we reaffirm that the work being done in public education is purposeful and necessary?

Just as I had to re-learn what it means to succeed in education post-pandemic, so must our legislators revise policy to meet the needs of teachers and students now that the teaching and learning processes have been redefined. We must value our veteran teachers with fair pay while continuing to boost the starting salaries of newer teachers. We must trust teachers to be classroom experts because teachers know students best.

Sensationalist newscasts in local media often refer to a “crisis in the classroom.” While the plight of public-school teachers can often feel like a crisis, I take pride in knowing the finest teachers in Northwest Florida approach each day with determination. Teaching and learning have undergone dramatic shifts as of late. Luckily, the educators and support staff of the public schools in Northwest Florida are up for the challenge.

Crisis yields opportunity for growth.

Jonathan Peacock teaches English at Tate High School in Escambia County, as well as Creative Writing workshops at the University of West Florida.

This article originally appeared on Pensacola News Journal: Some say 'crisis in classroom.' Escambia teacher says 'opportunity'