According to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, there are currently 290 million students out of school. In February, China was the only nation mandating school closures. Just a month and a half later, 22 countries on three continents have closed schools. Schools bring normalcy and safety to a great number of students. Teachers are missing that normalcy, also.
Please know that teachers are not sitting at home doing nothing during this pandemic. My wife and I are both teachers. We were up at 10:00 PM the night before school was canceled to find out if we were getting up at 5:30 AM to go to work or not. Since that email telling us we weren’t, we have had plenty of educational work to fill our time, in addition to worrying about our health and family in this uncertain time.
Today, I spent an hour and fifteen minutes in a staff meeting with 103 high school teachers who had never used the online meeting platform before. I know a lot of people in other industries have used off-site meeting platforms and conference calls, but teachers have not. We have always been an in-person institution, so this is new ground. My meeting was at 8:00 AM. My wife’s staff meeting was at 10:00 AM and lasted for an hour and a half. We both listened to each other’s meeting, trying to gain even one more piece of information. Simply getting to this first meeting back was a Herculean effort that has taken two weeks for our district to pull off.
To prepare for this Wednesday staff meeting, teachers had two days of online video education from our district to teach us how to even get to the meeting portion. In 45 minute stretches, people taught us how to navigate, login, and learn some etiquette of our online meeting platform. It wasn’t hard, but it did demand attention to detail in a setting that was unfamiliar for most teachers.
These learning videos are also on a new platform. As when most technology is used for the first time, these classes did not run smoothly. Demonstrators were blocked from the class that they were supposed to be teaching. Attendees didn’t know their camera was on and everybody was looking up their nose. Mics weren’t muted and dogs and kids were heard and corrected. The classes went better as time went on. People figured out their mistakes and the problems with the technology. Getting something like this started takes a lot of time and effort from everyone involved.
I started my Corona Break communicating with students. The first Monday we didn’t have school, I sent emails to my students. I tried to reassure them that this was a weird time and when I knew any information, I would pass it along. I also tried to reassure them that we would deal with the academics when it was time and once I was given direction. In a lot of ways, we are all still waiting for direction.
As with most of the world, education is in unprecedented territory. The information and the directives change daily, if not hourly. I am not criticizing the people who are tasked with making these tough decisions; I sure don’t want the responsibility. But a large part of teachers’ new normal has been monitoring emails at all hours of the day. Over the last three weeks, teachers have had every directive from “don’t respond to parent/student emails” to “continue on like everything is normal.” Many directions have been in exact opposition to the last set of directions that was given. The emails come from our principals, our co-workers, our district personnel, the College Board, the State Department of Education, and are in addition to the usual emails from 200 students and their parents looking for direction. Staying current with information and up-to-date with a plan has been a large task.
Now, districts and states are piecing together a plan that educators never thought they would need. Most districts and states don’t know how long this plan will last. Due to the changing nature of this pandemic, it is difficult to plan more than two weeks in the future. Currently, schools are scrambling to get laptops in the hands of students who need them and Internet availability to families who need it. Teachers are calling students to check on how families are, who has tech, and what students need for success. Teachers are compiling who we have contacted, who we missed, who we are worried about, and who needs further help. For a 30 student class, this takes most of the day. For a 2,300 student school, this is a big task. For a 40,000 student district, this a monumental challenge.
On top of all this is the knowledge that people, including our students, are scared. People are getting sick and dying. Students are bored. Parents are annoyed. Everybody is tired of being trapped inside. And we are going to have people in our community with severe financial struggles. This will be like 2008, where I watched some students and families go from having it all to having nothing. People know that we are currently living through History and this will eventually end up in the History books. There is a lot of uncertainty out there and the quicker schools and teachers can get closer to normal, maybe that helps others get closer to normal.
Our principal’s message to us this morning was one of kindness: make this work for our students. Help. Be compassionate. Ask families how they are doing.
I think that is all we can do. Lots of teachers are going to struggle philosophically with some parts of an online plan — what if students don’t do the work? What if they cheat on a test? What if somebody else writes their essay? Again, back to the message: just make this work for kids. Nobody asked for this. Nobody planned for this.
There is a lot of uncertainty out there, but don’t think teachers are only sitting on their couches watching Tiger King in sweat pants all day.
I did finish Tiger King a couple of nights ago. I also attended a digital staff meeting in Nike sweats on my couch this morning.
But in between all that, most teachers have been working — and will continue to work — their butts off to make this work for students and to help get a part of our world back to normal.