Returning to the Schoolhouse: Why is it so Painful?

Tara Lingeman
5 min readFeb 3, 2022

previously published in the Detroit Free Press

During the year and a half that I taught high school virtually, I underwent a transformation. The chance to work more flexibly and efficiently, along with the absence of interactions with anyone oozing negativity, left me with energy I hadn’t felt during a school year ever. I was less burnt out, more present, and able to read, write, and create outside of the classroom. My students also shifted into more flexible patterns that allowed them more time for hobbies, for work, or for helping out their families.

In the fourteen years I’ve been teaching in and around Detroit, I have always pushed against the grain, but the pandemic has thoroughly “de-systematized” me, along with my students.

Even though we missed being together, we are struggling to fit back into this antiquated system designed to push out uniformly educated workers ready to punch proverbial clocks.

Returning to school has felt like I’m standing in front of hurricane winds pummeling me daily. I am seeing with a fresh lens — a sharper lens. I am invested in doing my job well, and to do this job well, my heart and mind must be open and present with a lot of pain right now.

The events of the past couple of years have made me more conscious than ever of how systems of oppression like white supremacy and the patriarchy show up in schooling and harm students. It’s in the lack of representation when the teaching staff is nearly all white and the administration is exclusively male. It’s in the complaints in staff meetings about school of choice; it’s in the focus on control, the desire to ban hoodies, and in demanding unearned respect; it’s in the quickness to involve police with Black teengaers and in the scoffing at the name and pronoun change of transgender youth. I find myself trying to engage staff in self-reflection on where we could do better as a school, only to be met with resistant eye-rolls and denial. I wonder if they’ve been living in the same country as I have?

Many of my students also became more awake, more conscious, during the pandemic. They are witnessing the system with clearer eyes as well, and listening to their teachers with new ears. They are, at times, appalled — as they should be. Sometimes they have the language to pinpoint what bothered them. But many students just feel it and don’t have the language. This is the most dangerous for their spirits. It…

Tara Lingeman

Seeker, Lover of Stories, Writer, and Teacher. Author of a memoir about searching and finding and a novel, Salamandra. Find both @