It’s been several weeks now. And some parents have begun to complain quite audibly about their children having to learn at home. As one parent put it to me a few days ago, “too bad they couldn’t switch to virtual classrooms, keeping kids in the same daily routine and receiving direct instruction.” Essentially, she wants students like her high school-aged daughter to attend all their classes via Zoom, following the same class schedule they had in school, for the same amount of time each day. I found her stance deeply troubling.
Sure, from a parent’s perspective, having teachers on-call throughout the day would be wonderful, virtually precluding any need for parents to be involved in their children’s education at home. There’s even some merit to the idea in that parents who do attempt to assist their children may be struggling at this point, ill-equipped for the role of quasi-teacher. However, there’s so much more to this story than meets the eye of irate parents.
First, as I’ve noted before, not all students have access to technology at home. With schools and libraries closed during this pandemic, students who lack home computers and wi-fi have no means of attending online class sessions. They can’t even access online assignments. Clearly, a call for virtual classrooms effectively excludes this significant segment of students. Bearing this in mind, countless teachers are reaching out to students by multiple means, including online, by telephone and by mail. They do this to ensure that every student receives learning materials by whatever means is available to each student as well as to provide a means of contact with their own teacher as needed. That’s dedication.
Additionally, with very short notice and exceedingly little time to prepare before schools closed, teachers had to devise new lesson plans as well as new means of delivery. Plans that included class discussion, partner activities or group work suddenly had to be scrapped. Turning on a dime, teachers scrambled to construct new plans and lessons that covered the curriculum, engaged their students and were student-centered to an extent that required no onsite teacher assistance.
A monumental task, indeed, yet even teachers without prior technological experience have risen to the occasion. Whether via Google Classroom, Zoom, YouTube, Edmoto, Edgenuity, Remind 101 or any of the myriad other apps and websites, teachers have expanded their toolboxes to include digital teaching methods. Then they recreate all that work in hardcopy packets for students without the internet. That’s far more labor-intensive than their original lessons, yet teachers willingly produce all of this for their students.
Moreover, perhaps most overlooked of all is that the tragic impact of this pandemic has slammed teachers and students alike. Were I to recount the number of teachers posting on social media of the loss of a parent or spouse to COVID-19, it would be stunning. Imagine the strength exerted to face such a loss, especially in the absence of the normal mourning rituals, which are denied in our current situation. Yet teachers across the country, particularly in the hardest-hit areas, endure this pain and continue to teach their students, assist their own children with distance learning and try to grieve privately so as not to add to the burden of students already weighted down by the emotional toll of the pandemic. To paraphrase Maya Angelou’s poem, and still they rise.
Teachers are doing yeoman’s work amid an unprecedented crisis. Often they are learning new techniques as they go along. They are revamping tried-and-true methods and finding innovative ways to make learning come alive for students across the miles. They are making themselves available beyond their teaching hours, not only for academic needs but for emotional ones as well, so that students know they are neither forgotten nor abandoned. Indeed, teachers are even caravaning through students’ neighborhoods, horns honking, arms waving, as they call out to their students, letting them know how much their teachers care about them and miss them.
Yes, this is a stressful time for everyone. And everyone is adapting to a good deal of unexpected change. Not the least of these are the students. Having their lives disrupted by long-distance learning—sometimes in less than congenial home settings—combined with a shortened academic year that destroyed the long-awaited graduations of many, partnered with the fear and grief that accompany losing people they love while also fearing for their own lives, is all quite overwhelming for them. That’s absolutely understandable and deserving of compassion.
Meanwhile, teachers are facing the same stressors. Yet they set about transcending them. That’s just what teachers do. Most teachers teach for the love of both their students and their work, and they’re still doing it. Shouldering a good deal of the educational load, while hiding their own emotional turmoil, and improvising to ensure that their students obtain the best education they can provide under the circumstances, teachers are making a very difficult situation work. And while they may not be perfect, and you will find a slacker or bad apple now and then, teachers certainly are demonstrating their excellence. That’s deserving of praise. So, take a bow, teachers; you’ve earned it.