Distance Learning Educators: What It’s Like
For many, the pandemic has slowed the pace of life. Certainly millions of people have turned to unemployment relief as their jobs have literally evaporated. But many of those who have maintained their jobs have seen a recalibration of expectations, a shift in what is expected, and, of course, a major downshift in travel. So if you are “enjoying more time with your kids” or “have had time to pick up a new quarantine hobby,” please consider, for a moment the plight of your children’s teachers.
Just a few months ago, there were memes aplenty, calling for million dollar teacher salaries – and cases of wine alongside. Now there are unrealistic expectations and a real risk that we will burn out our already shrinking cadre of educators.
Teachers are social beings. Even those who are introverts are accustomed to seeking feedback from their students, the vast majority of it non-verbal.
My very first year of teaching a colleague and mentor took me aside and let me know that the very best form of classroom management (with which I was struggling mightily) was an excellent lesson plan.
So began my commitment to plan and organize my way out of the chaos. And while I was able to both find my sanity – and refocus on what I was supposed to be teaching anyway – the students benefited in ways I hadn’t anticipated. The environment of my class became one of structure, of clearly anticipated benchmarks. No surprises. No “gotcha” tests or quizzes. Just well-thought out, clearly organized lessons – and assignments.
Though a social studies teacher by trade, I was teaching very scientifically. The blueprint for standards-based grading that so many of my colleagues are moving to now was not available to me then, but I would have embraced it fully if it was on my radar.
My husband, on the other hand, a science teacher, is an artist when it comes to teaching. He strings ideas together to weave a compelling narrative, drawing on personal stories and connections to make his often abstract content as relevant as possible.
Both styles of educators – and all those in between – are being negatively impacted by pandemic education. Being distance learning educators is new for us all.
Whether it’s your first year or your thirty-first year, in 2020 pretty much everyone feels like a new teacher.
In full distance learning, we try to gauge feedback from little blank Zoom squares, constantly wondering if it is more of an issue of glitchy technology, or of teen angst, that prevents them from hitting the video button.
When screen sharing, it is nearly impossible to see them anyway, let alone read whatever might be coming through in the chat.
In places where schools have reopened fully in person, educators are walking on eggshells, trying to support and connect with kids from literally across the room – or gym, or field or tent. Feeling committed to their students and yet their health – and that of their families – imperiled by every minute of in-person class time.
Unless these schools are tiny, with stable cohorts, they are being shut down for quarantines, (as are many colleges and universities without aggressive testing plans). We are used to being on the front lines of meeting our students academic and social needs – but to risk our health, and that of our communities to do so is unconscionable.
The Double Whammy of the Hybrid Model
Which is why so many districts have moved toward the hybrid model, touting it as the best of both worlds. But the hybrid model in typical public secondary school leaves teachers in the worst possible position. Risking their physical health to teach the kids in front of them, and their mental health in keeping up with the ones at home. Trying to teach live and via Zoom simultaneously, all with a mask and face shield obscuring their face and voice. And planning the same content for both in-person and remote learners officially makes a hybrid two jobs in one – with no pay increase.
In the spring, we were “building the plane while we were flying it” In the summer, we were waiting on pins and needles, for school boards and governors to determine our fate. And now, with no breather, we are here, hurtling through fall.
Your kids’ teachers started this year tired and stretched thin. If you want them to be able to function in the spring, or next fall, or for the next crop of kids, you need to take your foot off the gas – and put in on the brake.
Julie Mason has done an incomparable job here making a case for why this year isn’t – and can’t be – normal. Running our teachers into the ground shouldn’t be normal either.
Educators are Overachievers
Most teachers are overachievers- the career that chose us, however, does not compensate us accordingly. While we feed our hearts, minds and souls with our work, we often do so at the expense of the cash in our wallets, the hours of sleep we get, and our overall well/being.
This is a profession that is dominated by women, many of whom still maintain a disproportionate responsibility for the day to day functioning of our homes. And with utmost respect to our comrades in scrubs, save for that week of Million Dollar Teacher memes we have been somewhat invisible compared to nurses as we navigate this new landscape.
We have been going above and beyond for so long that no one remembers what the baseline is – or should be.
As in all professional areas, there are a handful of individuals who are phoning it in – but they are the exception, not the rule.
The vast majority of educators are feeling the pressure of meeting an ever-increasing academic demand while simultaneously meeting the social-emotional needs of a diverse, often evolving, classroom population.
Time for a Change
Though it was published in 2013, Amanda Ripley’s, The Smartest Kids in the World: And How They Got That Way is still a seminal work is this area. Her findings continue to resonate today.
We “do” more school – and more homework than many other industrialized countries, particularly those with more highly ranked educational systems. We want teens to master time management yet we offer few opportunities to practice that skill – instead they complain of boredom, “trapped” in class. We over-focus on standardized tests, at the wrong times, when it’s clear that students who are taught well do well on these tests as a byproduct of their learning, not the sole purpose of it.
Perhaps shorter days should be the new norm for elementary schools. Perhaps fewer days of each class per week should be the model going forward for secondary schools. Perhaps everyone should do – and therefore grade – less homework.
For years, we have heard “don’t sweat the small stuff,” for months we have heard “less is more,” but until we actually allow our educators the time and space to breathe and recalibrate our curriculum and , we will undoubtedly end up burning out many along the way.