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We Must Carry It with Us

Maya Rudolph, the actress and comedian, recently nailed the plight of teachers at the end of this school year with her Saturday Night Live sketch, “Teacher PSA.” 

If you haven’t had the opportunity to watch it, I highly recommend not just watching the whole sketch but reading the comments under the Instagram post from educators who proclaim that they feel seen

with this sketch, and even more depressing, that they too have let the students win and are leaving the profession. The focus of the sketch is on the phrase, “Ya’ll won”, and what’s meant by the term “Ya’ll won” is that in a battle between student and educator, the students have won. Their behaviors, needs, struggles are too much, and educators simply give up and quit the profession. 

The irony of this sketch, though, is that when educators leave, no one actually wins–not the students and not the teachers. Educators who felt passionate about teaching and who spent years investing in an education to gain their certification and then hours of learning to remain qualified do not feel victorious when walking away from the profession. Clearly, though, students also do not win when their classrooms are not led by highly qualified and passionate educators.  A life without a meaningful and excellent education is not a win. The sketch, absent of its satirical intent, would more aptly be named, “We BOTH lose!”  

I love a good SNL sketch, and I really love when humor helps us see reality in a new light. I don’t have a problem appreciating the sketch for what it is. What I am struggling with, though, is how to navigate the reality of the loss. 

  • What do we do when educators want to give up? 

  • What do we do when the crisis of educators leaving the profession is so common that SNL is creating skits about it? 

Educators I connect with have often proclaimed the crisis is not theirs to own. That until the reality of the school environment, the classroom, the job changes, they can’t be expected to stick it out, and I agree. I don’t think that educators can be expected to simply suck it up and teach. That’s not a good outcome for anyone because it leads to serious mental health breakdowns, burnout, and apathetic teaching. Clearly this is not a winning strategy. 

Societal, systemic, and cultural shifts need to take place. We need better support systems outside of the school environment for families, guardians, and parents to enable them to feel equipped to raise a child. Parents and guardians need a richer understanding of the importance of a child’s hierarchy of needs–starting with the basic physiological needs–everything from healthy foods, restful sleep, and proper boundaries to the importance of safety, security, and structure. A cultural shift in valuing the role of a teacher must also take place if we are going to move from “parents always know best” to “teachers are professionals who are highly qualified in developmentally supporting a child’s growth and education”–a shift I obviously feel needs to take place. Structural decisions need to be made to reduce the workload (aka the number of students in a classroom) for our educators and administrators. 

With all of that said, though, we also need educators to stop focusing on where the grass might be greener. I too hear educators’ comments about when “kids used to be better” and when “parents used to care about their kids’ education.” I know there are lots of educators who think about past administrators, past curriculums, past evaluation processes with rose colored glasses. I also know of individuals who are making their money telling educators that professional life is much better outside of education. However, if all we do is look backwards or forwards, we forget to be present.

In a recent conversation with a friend, we were talking about the difference between being available and being present. Availability is passive; presence is active. An available life is one where we wait around for beauty to come to us; a present life is one where, as Emerson says, we actively carry beauty with us. I long for all educators to practice presence–one where they actively seek out and carry with them the beauty of the profession instead of waiting for others to paint the beauty for them. If we wait, we might be waiting a long time, but when we take back control, we get to decide what colors we use and what images we capture. 

Changing the sketch from one where both lose to one where there are no losers will require not only the external change but also the internal shift in educators. We have to start believing that we have the ability to enjoy our jobs again because if we don’t, even when the systems and structures are shifted, we will miss it in the fog of our own misery. Let’s create and carry our own beauty. 


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