Lessons I've Learned While Teaching During a Pandemic
It's been almost a year since we've experienced school in a normal fashion. It's crazy to think that teachers have been doing this for a year. A year of reinventing the wheel, a year of learning new technology, a year of teaching like we've never taught before.
In that year, I've learned a lot about students, parents and how our society views the educational system. These lessons that I've learned may look different for some teachers, but I can assure you that there is some overlap. I've spent a lot of time talking to teachers in different parts of the country, so I know that there are things that we are all seeing.
Lesson #1: Teachers are heroes until they're not.
Last spring, the world turned upside down. (Go ahead and hum that Hamilton lyric...you know you want to.) Teachers were given the highest level of praise with going above and beyond to reach out to students and their families. In my district, we were supposed to provide enrichment activities for an entire 9 weeks. Our state kept changing guidelines on whether it was going to allow for grades or not, but we kept teaching. We made phone calls home, created packets or uploaded things to our online platforms.
While our buildings were closed, we did everything that we possibly could to check in with students. Our teaching didn't stop. We provided meals to students and built the plane as we were flying it.
Then the fall came. We were no longer the saints that society made us in the spring. We were now power-hungry, unionized teachers who didn't want to work. Despite the fact that we had spent all summer training for an abnormal year, we were not living up to the standards of society. We had a break after all (some people's words, not mine). At the height of a pandemic, we were told that we were now frontline workers. I have been amazed at the amount of teacher bashing in the last few months, and I can guarantee that we will see a major shift in the amount of educators that stick this career out.
Lesson #2: Students of the 21st Century aren't technologically savvy.
I know that this is a super broad statement, but there are a lot of expectations put on teenagers and kids who have grown up in a world full of technology. See my post called "What the tech?" for more information about this. To sum it up, I feel that students need to receive more instruction on how to use tech for educational purposes.
Lesson #3: Our educational system needs a reboot.
This might sound a little revolutionary, so just bear with me. For a very long time now, students and teachers have been fixated on traditional grades. I've seen an increase in this in the past few years. In my classes, we do a lot of hands-on activities that may or may not count for "points". However, given that everything we've done being online this year, I've noticed that if I don't put a point value on it, students won't complete it. Students are more concerned with doing work that counts for a grade rather than focusing on the learning that goes behind it.
We are also hyper-focused on students being "behind", and I think this comes from the long-standing tradition of standardized testing. We, as teachers, should be setting the goals of what we want students to be able to do at the end of a course/program. Politicians and testing companies shouldn't be the end-all be-all when it comes to what our standards should be. We are professionals at the end of the day, so we should be respected enough to come up with these.
In my language classes, I've been meeting students where they are. There's a lot that plays into language acquisition, and I want to honor that as much as I possibly can. This means going WAY slower than I could have ever anticipated and explaining things in multiple ways to give students as much input as possible. At the end of the year, I hope that they come away with language, but also know how much I deeply care for them. This is what is important right now.
This year has caused a lot of teachers to rethink their careers. Even I've thought about leaving. It's hard to imagine what "normal" will look like again, and if it goes back to the status quo, is that really what we want for our educational system? If you are a teacher, know that you are heard by many, even if it's not necessarily by the people you want to hear you. If you aren't a teacher but have school-aged kids, ask them what they are learning. Don't ask them what they have to do. Education shouldn't be watered down to a checklist of things to do. If you have no ties to the educational system whatsoever, get involved. This generation of youth right now will once be adults, and you have a means of influencing what they choose to do in the future. It's pretty powerful stuff!
I hope that at the end of all of this we can grow, as humans, students and educators. Because if a pandemic can teach us anything, it's that some things have to change for the better.