I decided to write about being a teacher during a pandemic as many people have asked me what it is like. Crazy is probably the first word that comes to mind. Never in a million years did I ever expect to be working from home as a teacher! My school began hybrid instruction in September. It was expected that half the students would attend school Monday and Thursday and the other half would attend Tuesday and Friday with Wednesday being an at home day for everyone. As we began the roll out, more and more families made the decision to have their children learn from home. This means that my large school of 1500 students now has approximately 245 students daily. Unbelievable. I equate my day to being a Broadway star, except I do 5 “shows” each day. I sit in front of a computer with about 22 faces staring at me from little boxes on a screen while the 3 or 4 students in front of me battle to keep their masks on all day. I really give all of these kids a lot of credit. Just like us adults, they have had to be flexible and open minded to all the challenges of the day. It is my job to bring an energy level that rivals a cheerleading squad to convince my students that we can learn, even in this environment.
I spent my summer taking as many in-service classes as I could to learn all of the new and developing technology that would engage my students and foster a love of learning. I now consider myself to be a technological genius. My daughters have been very impressed with my new found computer prowess. On a daily basis I am troubleshooting kids’ Wi-Fi issues as well as their inability to access platforms like You Tube, Brain Pop, Edpuzzle, Mentimeter and Adobe Spark. I feel totally empowered that not only do I know how to utilize these programs, I can actually fix them when they are not working.
I have welcomed students into my home, virtually, and have been a guest in theirs. I have listened as younger siblings wail in the background and have watched students try their best to absorb the material presented while trying desperately not to be embarrassed by the background noise or the fact that their house is definitely more chaotic and poorer than their classmates. We have laughed together as my cat, Madison, walks across my keyboard and disrupts the lesson or as a student’s pet insists on being part of class that day. As we finish class I am always amazed at how many students wish me a good rest of my day. We wave to each other as we say goodbye and I must admit, at times it brings a tear to my eye. I am sad because I never got a chance to really know these students, I am sad because they are so young and many have suffered emotional, social and financial stress and I am sad because as a teacher my natural response is to pull my students close when all I can do now is ask them to stay a safe distance away from me.
My work day doesn’t end when I say goodbye to my students. In fact, my work day first begins. I have had to develop and tweak lessons that translate to a virtual environment. This means utilizing various platforms to engage my students. When we are in “normal” school, I don’t need to collect every piece of school work my students produce because I can lean over their desk and give feedback. In a virtual environment, I am constantly going to various platforms to check student progress. With over 100 students on my roster handing in multiple assignments daily, I am checking 200-300 pieces of student work each day. It is a formidable task. When I do this, I am also keeping track of students who are not meeting expectations and keeping accurate records of their progress. It is exhausting! I am up late each night preparing lessons, grading and returning student work, emailing parents about students who have either fallen behind or have stopped joining our daily Google Meetings, and I need to respond to the seemingly endless amount of emails from students. Every time I open my email, I get the feeling of being in an avalanche. The sheer amount is unbelievable and it doesn’t stop. Students email me at all hours of the day, night, and weekend. They have questions about assignments, they are checking in on grades or are turning in late assignments. Conversations to update or help students that used to take under a minute in the classroom have now become an inordinate amount of work to keep on top of. I am drowning. I eat dinner with my computer open, sit with it balanced on my lap as I sit on my couch and check it as I play with my cats. Many people believe that teachers are overpaid and lack dedication to their students. If you could see the staff at my school, you would change your mind about that. We are warriors! We show up each day. We are exhausted, overwhelmed and scared about getting sick. But we do it. We do the best we can. It’s hard to listen to a portion of society bash us when most people have no idea what we are doing and how we are doing it. That’s okay because at the end of the day, I know the commitment it takes to do this job right and I know I am doing all that I can do to support and educate the faces on the screen in front of me.
Many people are debating the damage this year of virtual learning has brought to our students and to society. Yes of course there will be deficits. But these deficits will be felt all over the world, so hopefully this shouldn’t put our children at a disadvantage. Also, there are children who have thrived during this time. Students who felt marginalized or bullied at school have confidently attended virtual classes with no fear of retribution for being who they are. Other students have matured and have become independent learners and critical thinkers who have learned how to maneuver this difficult situation. As a society, we ask our educational system to prepare students to be critical thinkers as they go on to higher education and eventually into the workforce. Hopefully, the pandemic has enabled students to access these skills in a “real life” situation and has prepared them with the knowledge, technological skills and flexibility needed to be a productive member of society.