Any career can be difficult. Navigating changing circumstances, finding a work-life balance, dealing with a difficult boss or coworkers – these are all near universal grievances people have about their job. However, being a teacher during the Covid-19 pandemic is its own beast. But it can be a genuinely rewarding experience, too, says Olivia Bertels, a Chicago teacher.
Bertels is a middle school teacher on the city’s southwest side. On top of the usual stressors of being an educator, Bertels has the added weight on her shoulders of teaching during the pandemic and being in the middle of tense discussions between the city and local teacher’s union.
Olivia moved to Chicago a few years ago. She didn’t always know she wanted to be a teacher, she says. It was more of a gradual decision she made through her time in college and early 20’s. “I graduated and took the first job I was offered,” she says, noting that teaching fit her skill set. After working at a few schools in Kansas, she moved to Chicago to teach middle school, the age range she has stayed in.
There are a lot of great parts of being a teacher. But it’s a very challenging job that not everyone is ready for, Olivia says. “Teacher preparation programs are not doing enough to prepare people for what this job actually is. There are so many places where I can see an institutional shifting needing to be made that would make so many things better,” Olivia says, speaking of her own experience when she started teaching, where she noted feeling overwhelmed.
Some people are better suited for the roller-coaster ride of teaching, too, she adds. But there isn’t enough done to help teachers. “What tends to be lacking is caring about the people who are caring about the kids,” Olivia says. “It’s not all unicorns and rainbows.” Prioritizing her own mental health, through therapy, doctor’s visits and walks outside, is crucial as an educator, Olivia points out.
The pandemic was an unexpected left turn the world took in 2020, a crisis that forced teachers to figure out and adapt to online learning, isolating their students but also themselves. “The last few years have been rough,” Olivia says. At the beginning of Covid, Bertels speaks of living with 2 other teachers, each adjusting to working all from home. At first, it was optional for students to join class virtually, so a lot of the first weeks of the pandemic had Olivia staring at her screen. “Whoever showed up, that’s who you’re teaching.” As the pandemic continued and the world and education system adapted the best they could, the initial shock wore off, and the darkness and reality of the situation set in.
With all of the things that make her job challenging, there are still many things that make teaching an enjoyable job.
“I have great relationships with my kids and that’s one of the things I pride myself on. One of my first classes just graduated high school and I got some invitations to their grad parties in the mail. That makes you feel good,” she says.
“It’s rewarding to help a kid and be able to be there for them. To be able to influence the path of somebody’s life is something I take very seriously,” Olivia says. “I just go in every day and try to leave things a little better than I found it.”
You can check out Olivia’s instagram @missbertels_.
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