This is part of an occasional series featuring educators’ thoughts on teaching and learning during our current health crisis.
Breann Sai is from Modesto, California and has taught Kindergarten for thirteen years at Hart-Ransom Elementary School, most recently as a distance learning teacher. She resides in Modesto with her husband, two daughters, and her cat and dog. Connect with her via email at email@example.com.
Starting the School Year as a Distance Learning Teacher
With the announcement that schools will begin, not the complete year mind you, but begin with distance learning I have noticed a peppering of parents in comment sections in various posts expressing their rage at…. teachers. Calling teachers scared, lazy, even saying that it must be nice getting paid to do nothing.
So just a few things: teachers did not create this global pandemic and we have no control of people in this country not following health guidelines, throwing tantrums over wearing a mask, or throwing indoor parties. Teachers have no control over that. I’m not sure why the idea of closures have become politicized, perhaps because our president demanded everything be opened up giving people a false sense of security. When science is the deciding factor, the county health officer made the correct decision.
Now, let me make this very clear: I WANT TO BE BACK IN MY CLASSROOM. It is my second home. I want to be starting in person with a new crop of my kinder babies. I want to be teaching them how to be in school, learning our alphabet and numbers, learning how to be kind little humans, hearing the funny things they say, and developing little bonds with each and every one of them. My heart aches, I would love nothing more. Which makes it all the more heartbreaking that that is just not a safe option at the moment.
Take a little trip with me and lets flash back to March. I was told our school would be closing and moving learning online. I was recording lessons for my students and teaching online in 3 days. 3 days. My colleagues and I had to completely change the way we teach in 3 days.
The Realities of Being a Distance Learning Teacher
Now let me walk you through a typical day of distance learning for me since some are insinuating that teachers are doing nothing and are being lazy and do not want to return to work. My husband works from home, my teen had school, my toddler is chatty as all get out and wants someone to play with at all times.
So here is how this went: I would wake up early, feed the toddler, wake my teen and get her going on her school time, all the while keeping the toddler somewhat quiet so my husband can do his conference calls and meetings. During this time I am answering parents messages about various things. Next, when my husband was not on a call, I would get out lots of the toddler’s toys, put on a cartoon for her and get my tripod and materials into the dining room to record my lessons.
I recorded 4-5 videos per day because I wanted my kids to still have their morning story time from me, a lesson on their language arts work for the day, a video of me doing an example of what I wanted them to do, a lesson on their math for the day and examples, and then another video that I maybe did in the morning, if I could keep my toddler at bay, of a writing activity or a science lesson.
All of these videos corresponded to a work packet of physical materials that my aide and I made for them. Some days my lovely teen would help with the toddler, but I could not depend on that because she had her own school work to do. I would have to stop video lessons on occasion because my toddler would scream or be banging on the door.
Then when lessons were up parents would send me messages with questions or pictures of the kids’ work, and I would help or assist where needed. I would then often face time individual students to say hi and chat or give a pep talk.
Throughout all of this I did a weekly virtual dress up/spirit day to keep spirits up because a global pandemic can be scary. I would make ridiculous videos on top of my lessons to make my kids laugh. I would send pictures of my cat or dog to make them smile.
During all this I am doing google meets and zoom calls with my team about what we are teaching, checking in, supporting one another because distance learning is quite a beast to manage. On top of this I would toss and turn at night worrying about a student who I have not heard from. Where they were, why aren’t they doing their work, why isn’t mom answering my messages or phone call?
The Unwelcome “Side Effects” of Being a Distance Learning Teacher
Another really fun part of all of this – and this is personal – but I feel the need to share since some parents are forgetting that teachers are actually people, when this all started I developed severe anxiety. If you have ever had a kid in my class you know I am a type A planner, and operating in the unknown did not bode well for me. I had to seek medical attention because a few times I thought I was dying of a heart attack.
I had an EKG, that thankfully was normal, and I had to wear a heart monitor for two weeks to rule out any other issues. I carefully chose my outfits for my video lessons during those weeks to hide my heart monitor because I did not want to alarm my students or parents. The anxiety was exacerbated by losing the time with my students. I mourned, sincerely mourned, that loss of time.
Not for the academics, but for all the things that make Kindergarten magical that I could not do with this group. I would cry myself to sleep many nights that they would not get those experiences with me. I would video chat other teachers and we would sob together on particularly bad days. All the while putting on a huge smile everyday and giving my video lessons all the energy and enthusiasm that my students deserve so please do tell me more about how teachers are doing nothing and don’t deserve to be paid.
Distance Learning Teacher 2.0
We got through it. It is not something I want to do again at all. It’s hard. From March to June was more difficult than my first year of teaching. Now I have to tackle it again. Every teacher I know wants to be back in the classroom with their kids, it simply is not the reality of our situation right now and it is not in our control. Thank goodness I have an amazing grade level team. We are going to make it even better. We are going to give it everything we have because its for the kids, and that’s what teacher’s do.
Parents, I understand your frustrations, I really do. However, be mindful of where you are directing your anger right now. The teachers whom you were praising in march are not villains now. We are still those same teachers that love your kids and are trying to navigate this situation to the best of our ability. Please work with us, not against us.
Distance Learning Special Education via the Piece of Mind Retreat