Teaching During COVID-19

“I know we all have a lot of questions right now, so why don’t we take the first 5-10 minutes of class and I will answer any of your questions that I can, to the best of my ability, about the Coronavirus.”

14 of the 31 hands shoot up in my first period class. A rare sight to see in a classroom full of teenagers at 8:16 in the morning. This is my “quiet” class- it will be interesting to see what the next 4 batches of 30+ kiddos bring.

It’s Friday, March 13, and a few schools around the country have closed due to the global pandemic. At this point, our school was still open, but there were rumors running through that halls that we would close a week before spring break, allowing for two weeks for the virus to “calm down” and for us to sanitize our school properly.

Pretty much every question that you imagine 11-14 year olds would ask, were asked over the next 10 minutes. I have a very, “I will be honest” policy with my kiddos and I tried fervently to stay well read on the virus outbreak for purposes such as these- when you have 31 sets of eyes staring at you for answers.

I answered to the best of my ability- how did it start, what a virus is, why is it spreading so quickly, how does it spread, will you die if you get it, will we all die, will my parents die, will school be closed next week, will school be closed forever, etc. The questions, and of course jokes (because have you been in a middle school classroom?), went on for a solid 10 minutes. I did my best to answer, even when I quite honestly didn’t have concrete ones to give- which I disclosed to them early on. ‘These are uncertain times’ was pretty much my tag line.

An hour later, between 9:21 and 11:46, I began receiving texts from friends, families and coworkers- “Did you hear your school might be closed for the next 3 weeks!” It was already broadcasted on the news, but of course it would be hours before teachers were informed.

By 12:00, the school was buzzing with the news that we would be closed for the following two weeks. The rest of the day was a blur- managing a bunch of preteens and teens who just got the news they had “no school” for 3 weeks was a task within itself, nevermind the unknown lingering questions of what this all meant. Little did anyone know, we would not be returning at all for the rest of the school year.

I left school that day with the materials I thought I needed for the next three weeks. In a way I was even a little relieved- an unplanned 3 week “vacation”? What teacher wouldn’t walk with a little more pep in their step?! But in the back of my head, and the pit of my heart, I could feel all of my uncertainty rise with- “But what does this actually mean?” 

Schools hadn’t closed down like this… well… ever. 

A day later, a stay at home order is put into place, days go by and the pandemic is clearly spiraling into something much bigger than anyone could have imagined. Every single person’s life has now been changed and/or transformed in some way. I cannot speak to some of the challenges that many are now navigating, I only know my own. So I will speak to what I am feeling, and more relevantly, I will speak to how I am feeling in regards to being an educator. 

The quarantine started with the internet flooding with tons of memes of “homeschooling”. The jokes of, “Teachers should earn a million dollars a year!” were funny at first, but they eventually brought up grief and sadness. It was of course a reminder of how little my salary is compared to the quality and quantity of work I put into my profession, but it was also a reminder that my kids are stuck at home.

This means some of my kids will be ok while they are stuck at home, but it also means that some of my kids are stuck in violent homes, unstable homes, unhealthy homes, or homeless. 

As the weeks roll on, more and more school districts are addressing how they will proceed with online and distance learning. Pretty much every district across America is addressing this in their own way- no one knowing what the “right” way is- and every district addressing the needs of their diverse student population (that they may or may not have). This uncharted territory ensures that there is no scenario where everyone will be happy. There is no scenario where the federal government, state government, district level employees, site administration, teachers, school staff, students, parents, and families are ALL on board with the plan that unfolds.

Side note- I am a firm believer in everyone being entitled to their own opinion- but it’s my *favorite* when non-educators have an opinion about how I should do my job, when they have never stepped foot into a classroom.. ahh but I digress.

I don’t want to bore whoever is reading this with the nitty gritty of what my day to day looks like. Some days I am only working for an hour or two, checking emails, connecting with students and staff. Other days I find myself in a time warp of lesson plans, creating units, learning a new tech piece, Zoom meeting after Zoom meeting, grading, answering questions, making calls, recording live videos, etc- and then all of the sudden I realize I have been sitting at my desk for 10 hours (thank god my home office/home classroom happens to be in the kitchen of our 400 sq ft apartment- at least I always have snacks).

What my day to day looks like interests and concerns me far less than what the day to day looks like for my students.

My students are the reason I do what I do and knowing that this pandemic will have major repercussions, not just academically, but emotionally, mentally, and physiologically, is what saddens and scares me the most. 

This pandemic is forcing us to think outside of the box. I am ready to take on whatever is thrown our way in the field of education. The ‘glass half full’ personality trait that I possess chooses to believe that this might be the start of the education reform we most desperately need.

We are educators- we are experts at putting out fires and thinking on the go. We are made for moments like this, where things aren’t going to plan, and as that plan is crumbling, we are orchestrating a new one. 

I have no optimistic way to end this post, for I have no clue what the future holds- for any of us- regardless of our occupations. But I do have my opinions and hopes- which are that this global crisis acts and serves as a global wake up.

There are a million more words I could write about this subject, but I will cut myself off here:

To all of my students (former, present, and future)- I miss you, I love you, I am here for you even when not physically. 

Learning is never and should never be confined by the walls of a classroom, however, if I may speak on behalf of all teachers, we sure do miss that particular type of learning.

Keep your eyes open and your heart curious.

Stay safe and stay healthy.

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