For many teachers, administrators, and school employees around the world, August has meant returning to campus for the first time in 4 or 5 months.
Some are teaching to cameras in empty classrooms while others are trying to figure out how to teach with masks covering the expressions of everyone in the classroom.
For some, it has been an extension of the waiting game in this weird Twilight Zone in which schools are having to decide how to balance what is in the best interest of their students, their teachers, and their community.
The common denominator is that all teachers are first-year teachers again, learning new ways to do things, dealing with the triumphs and defeats that come with each task they attempt, and wading through uncertainty and anxiety.
Regardless of how you feel schools and the government should handle this pandemic, the powers that be are making big decisions that affect teachers, students, and the community at large, and most teachers do not have the luxury of being able to walk away if they disagree with those decisions.
But, take heart in knowing that once the challenges of the first day or week have been faced, the dread of the unknown begins to wane, you start to learn what works and what doesn’t work, and you begin to find the unique opportunities that this unfortunate situation has presented.
We want to acknowledge upon the recent passing of education reformer Sir Ken Robinson, that in many places, the state of education has plateaued for a while, stuck in the systems and structures of the Industrial Age, but this tragic and devastating global pandemic is forcing schools to recreate themselves and find new and innovative ways to meet the needs of their students in 21st Century. This chapter may be a challenge, but the trajectory of where education is headed is actually pretty exciting!
There have been plenty of problems during these first days of this school year, such as internet outages, lessons and documents getting lost or not being shared properly, and unexpected “guests” popping into virtual classrooms, but if there’s one thing teachers are good at, it is rolling with the punches and adapting when things don’t go as planned.
There seem to be more testimonials of great things happening than reports of absolute failure and despair. One school administrator said he felt like he was at a fishing tournament walking down the hall the first day of virtual learning as he heard teachers shouting from their rooms, “I got one!” when students popped into their virtual classrooms. Teachers and students alike were so excited to see each other again!
And, a high school art teacher recently shared how wonderful it was to have students attending class virtually from their rooms, sitting in front of the artwork they had on display on their walls, and taking the class on virtual gallery walks around their house, sharing the art they have around their homes.
Cindy B., an elementary principal in Oklahoma, had this to say after wrapping up her third week of school: "It’s so good to see these kids having normalcy. I teared up today watching them in the cafeteria”
Teachers have come up with some great ways to work around the disconnect that can be caused by wearing a mask. While some are wearing masks with a clear plastic window that allows their students to see their mouths (particularly helpful for hearing impaired students), some have had masks made with the image of their smile on the mask. Additionally, some schools have had buttons made that have the teachers’ pictures on them (an idea inspired pediatric nurses).
One teacher was having trouble teaching in a room full of empty desks so she printed pictures of her students and propped them up on the student desks.
Melissa W., an instructor in Illinois, responded to a virtual student who reached out to her, apologizing for submitting an assignment late. The student has COVID-19 symptoms but is unable to get tested. The teacher’s response is a good model for us all:
“I am so sorry you are sick. Please do not worry about missing the due date. IT IS FINE. I am not worried and there will not be a late penalty. We can chat about the course when you are healthy again.
“More importantly: 1. Do you live with an adult who can care for you (and any children)? 2. Do you have enough food and essential supplies? 3. Since your caregiver (if you have one), will be quarantined for at least 14 days, do you have a way to get more food?”
This may be our new normal, maybe this will all be short lived, or it could even be that we are part of the transition into the next phase of what the education world can offer. Regardless of your position on the matter, we want to say thank you for working so hard to find the best way to meet the educational and social/emotional needs of your students regardless of the situation.
And, remember to take care of yourself! We know that at the end of each day, teachers and administrators are going home just as exhausted as they would on the first days of any school year (if not more so).