Eager. Anxious. Willing. Hopeful.

More than 80,000 students entered Baltimore City public schools this fall largely optimistic about the new year. Sure, many were nervous, but behind that nervousness they felt an energy unlike any other time of the year.

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Students cannot wait to come to school.

Turns out, we teachers tend to have these feelings at the beginning of the year as well. Like our students, we want to be the best version of ourselves. We are here to make a difference and believe we have it within ourselves to do so. We spent our summers preparing. New teachers have spent years planning.

Teachers cannot wait to come to school.

It would be wonderful for these feelings to remain within both teachers and students for an entire school year, with children coming to school excited to learn every day, from teachers who are prepared and energized to teach them. But by the time winter break comes around, those same students and teachers will feel:

Defeated. Angry. Unnoticed. Hopeless.

Students say "I hate school. I don't care." Teachers say "I can't do this anymore. It's not worth it."

Students cannot wait to leave school; teachers cannot wait to leave school.

Why? What happened in those four months?

Some point to the new curriculum with more rigorous standards. Other discuss the needs of students. Many students in the city are reading below grade level, and the responsibility falls mainly on the teacher to decrease the gap in skills. Students are frustrated because they are behind. Behaviors also come up. Students can be disrespectful, seemingly unwilling to learn.

The increase in demands on teachers is also a common theme. Teachers are required to analyze data, come up with a variety of strategies to teach a variety of students, confer with parents, go on home visits, provide a nurturing and engaging learning environment — essentially, to be on be on point at all times.

The new teacher evaluation system is nothing short of intense. It requires teachers to show a certain amount of growth on test scores. Part of the evaluation also includes a measurement of school performance. Meaning teachers are evaluated partially on how the overall school performs on tests and evaluations. The instructional rubric requires students to be engaged in high level academic conversations, working on various tasks that are appropriate to their learning level, and achieving individualized learning goals. The stakes are high.

The increased demands on teachers and students often lead to a culture of blame. Some teachers blame students. Some students blame the teachers. Administrators and teachers are blaming each other. Parents get thrown in as well. Teachers blame parents for not doing their part at home. Parents blame teachers for not understanding how their child learns best. The blame game is getting us nowhere. Everyone still ends up frustrated.

What would happen if we changed blame to support? The entire last paragraph would change. Teaching and learning would change. School culture would change.

Teachers support students. Students support teachers. Administrators and teachers support each other. Teachers support parents in doing their part at home. Parents support teachers in understanding how their child learns best.

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The demands of teaching and learning will always be changing. Support should not. Students need a supportive teacher who helps them learn. Teachers need the support of other teachers and administrators in making their instruction the best it can be. Parents and teachers need the support of each other to help their children thrive.

Systems of support will keep those willing teachers and eager students from the beginning of the year in classrooms for the whole year — and for many years after that.

In all the demands that come with teaching and learning, we cannot forget that relationships matter.

Katie Scotti is a teacher in Baltimore City Public Schools; her email is kmscotti@bcps.k12.md.us.

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