“How has teaching online been going?” is an incredibly frequent question I have been asked by others lately, and every time, I have answered honestly.
Teaching online has been hard. It has been unprecedented and emotionally draining. Things that would take very little time in the classroom are taking hours online, but that is only a small fraction of why it has been a challenge.
Within the last three weeks, we have shuffled to get lessons together, distributed technology, called parents, and attempted to forge a community through telephone calls, emails, and video chats. Within weeks, districts were able to pull together and set up an online platform for our students to receive remote instruction. While this has promoted a sense of normalcy, it also has been made abundantly clear that our current obstacle of virtual teaching and learning comes with its own set of hardships.
Recently, teachers at our school were asked to call our classes to see if families had a device, wifi and if they had any questions regarding our assignments that we posted earlier on Google Classroom. Through those phone calls, harsh realities were faced and unfortunately, the amount we could do as educators was heartbreaking.
I had families who were sharing a single device between seven people. I had parents who fortunately still had a job, but their four children were attempting to do the assignments at home with very little assistance. I spoke to students that had extended family living with them, and between the lagging internet and the unhappy baby in the background, communicating was made incredibly difficult. There were parents who exclusively spoke Spanish and had a hard time deciphering what was expected of them from the automated district phone calls and emails. The extent of resources needed to make virtual learning successful was too overwhelming for many families, especially for those that no longer had jobs and were struggling to provide even bare essentials.
But then there were the students that we weren’t able to reach. The emails that bounced, the phone numbers that were no longer connected or the messages that were never returned.
While this is not abnormal when working at a title one school, as teachers, I would like to make one thing clear- the work we assign will never be our first priority. We don’t expect our students to complete the Edpuzzle we put on Google Classroom, and we definitely don’t expect a fantastic grade on a quiz. Do you know what teachers are checking for when they create an assignment? Contact.
When a student is not responding on Google Classroom, the phone number is disconnected or the email has bounced, we-seriously-worry.
There are students who rely on the school providing breakfast and lunch, and we are worried that they aren’t receiving the notifications that the district is still providing meals. We have students that come to school to escape abusive situations, we worry that they are stuck at home while the neglect continues. We have students that need to be counseled or depend on an outlet within our buildings’ walls, we worry that they are using an unhealthy outlet elsewhere. But when a student is making contact, wherever it is, we have the chance to reach out and say, “Hey, I’ve been worried about you, how are you doing?”
Every week our faculty has virtual meetings where we are kept up to date regarding district and campus initiatives. During one of our previous meetings, we were notified of a student who attempted to harm themselves, and of several students that were desperately in need of food, and while my mic was muted, tears started to stream down my face. I started to imagine some of my students going to bed hungry, and the constant feeling of helplessness that has been nagging at my gut for three weeks now was no longer something I could handle.
You become an educator to help, to fight for the students in your room, and to be a voice for them. We can’t do that behind a screen and it is killing us. A vast array of emotion has been felt within this pandemic, but one especially present is grief. While you see us put together class assignments and reaching out to our students with a brave face, we are constantly suppressing the need to do more. We are grieving the normal that once was, we are grieving the time with our students that we no longer have, and we are attempting to adjust with a numb heart to the new reality that we are presented with.
So, as we continue to adjust and come together as a community that I desperately hope remains when we return to the classroom-I leave you with this, teachers want learning to take place if possible, yes, but most importantly, we want our students to be safe, to be loved, and to be happy and healthy within the walls that they live. If they can undertake these things, they are doing enough for us.