I have not been blogging for the past few weeks. No, I have not been sick (for which I am incredibly grateful), nor have I dropped into quarantine depression (yes, the limitations placed on our lives is frustrating, but with the healthcare heroes out there risking all for the greater good, it would be inexcusably selfish for any of us not to do our part). The reason I haven’t been blogging is simple – work.
I have been a teacher for almost 30 years, and while I have always given my best in the classroom, distance learning has been a completely different dynamic that has reawakened the awe I have for my colleagues. Today, I want to pay tribute to these behind-the-scenes heroes who are quietly working harder than ever.
The phrase “homeschooling” has been used often during quarantine, but that is not what is happening. To be homeschooled, someone in the family does every aspect of educating family members, developing curriculum, creating lesson plans, meeting state curriculum requirements, monitoring attendance, interacting with students, assessing work, etc. What is actually happening is called distance learning, where our dedicated parents are monitoring and supporting, and often sitting with students as they do work developed, created, and sent by teachers. It has been a wonderful team effort and parents deserve a parade.
Teachers, trained to educate dozens of students at a time in the classroom, using all their gifts and training to take attendance while getting students seated, focused, and working, introducing new lessons and concepts while constantly monitoring for attention and assessing understanding, rephrasing on the fly, questioning to measure evolving comprehension, breaking students into pairs or small groups remaining mindful of classroom dynamics, interpersonal relationships, academic strengths and weaknesses, emotional needs and hazards, even if just having them turn to a partner and discuss, share, or compare. And they do all this while moving the lesson along, one eye on the clock to make sure everything planned and approved gets completed during that lesson.
They are also charged with ensuring students have all they need from Chromebooks to facial tissue to hand sanitizer to paper and pencils, while maintaining an orderly classroom, addressing misbehavior positively, supportively, and privately as they always move forward with the lesson, maintaining records for all of the above as well. Additionally, teachers are expected to continually assess students’ physical, social, and mental health, addressing any issues that arise while keeping each students’ privacy, as well as reporting attendance, any potential health problems, or potential student personal crises, all while respecting and maintaining privacy rights.
Teachers do all this and more in school on a daily basis.
Or they did.
These days teachers are being asked to do all that at a distance, utilizing technology they have just been introduced to and keeping daily track of all of it to ensure we are all moving forward, making progress, and maintaining a positive, quality academic environment.
And teachers are doing it. Mostly through their fingers. This amazes me.
And that is what I mean to celebrate today. What was once dozens of decisions, assessments, comments, and teaching per minute live in the classroom all has to be written out now, and posted, commented on, and emailed about. Students who do not attend class or submit work get emails, parents get follow up emails, and then there are calls home, all of it logged in, forwarded to guidance counselors and administrative supervisors.
I have almost 100 students and posted 2,000 grades over a three week period, the number of interactions rising to over 5,000 with comments on work and assignments and emails. Add to that calls, incorporating administrative directives, learning new technology and how it applies to students (for example, a Zoom meeting among adults is one set of skills, conducting Zoom class creates very different requirements and dynamics), lessons to recreate with videos, screencastify presentations, and so on.
And here’s the thing: teachers are doing all this, for each student, every day. The result is full days of work beginning well before the kids log on until way after they log out – just as school has always been. Somehow, teachers have increased their workload without leaving home and without complaining. With administration, they have creatively and dynamically recreated their physical school environment online, digitally, in the form is distance learning that seeks to conquer distance and make sure students know their teachers are there for each of them. And they developed it, evolved as needed, executed, assessed, adjusted, and raised their game every day while quarantined, from before we went into quarantine.
That is astounding.
But it comes with a price.
The teachers I know from two states and at all levels (pre-k to college) find that 1) they are working harder than ever, 2) would much rather be in the classroom with their students and 3) are profoundly exhausted by all this. And yet, none I know have bailed on these new job requirements. The same can be said for so many other professionals, yes, but this moment is for educators.
And then they get up from their “school space” and are instantly at home with all the family responsibilities that come with it. No speaking with colleagues in the hall or class room to bolster each other, no sharing jokes or pleasant conversation at lunch, no drive home listening to an audiobook or Nirvana at top volume to decompress. We log out and are instantly home, just like the rest of the quarantined world. And that’s how it is. So be it.
The price is that other things fall away, joyous things we no longer have energy for, time for, or the freedom to do. This virus has take from each of us, and forced us to make sacrifices, work as a community in ways we haven’t before, and assess our priorities. Without question, educators have risen to these challenges.
I am so proud of teachers who have done so much more to make sure our kids get everything we have to offer. I know this blog isn’t much but here is my standing ovation for each of you.
You are heroes in my view, and I thank you for inspiring me to get back to writing in this space.