Well I think it’s safe to say, nobody saw this coming. Or maybe a more appropriate statement would be, who knew it would get this bad this fast? What appeared to be some rare virus, that really only affected older people with underlying health issues has killed hundreds of thousands of people.
I remember leaving work Friday March 13, 2020 thinking, “oh I’m just glad they cancelled Saturday Regents Review,” because now I get to sleep in finally. Little did I know, that day would be the last day that I would be teaching in my classroom for a while. Who knew we would have to switch over to online learning, making videos, and grading work digitally so abruptly?
To say this has been a challenge, would be an understatement for sure. Every week day, I wake up to prepare for my hour long virtual class. What will I say to them? Which questions can I ask that are effective enough to pull information from them? What problems should we do, so that we can address the common mistakes they could make, before they make them?
Normally this would be an easy task, planning a lesson for a certain topic. Having the students physically present, was just different. Don’t get me wrong, a part of teaching includes redirecting students when they are not focused. Every day, on a normal day, I am tasked with redirecting students several times during each period. This isn’t because the kids don’t care or because they don’t want to be there. At the high school age (9th grade to be specific), students don’t have the capacity to sit in class all day “focused.”
I say this to at least one person each week, students included, “Just because they walk into this building, doesn’t mean their problems go away.” While being at school, can be a break from students’ at home reality, when they leave school that reality still exists. So, it’s common for me to have a student who is having a day where they just can’t deal with their reality. By that I mean, whatever lemons life has handed them are consuming them to the point where they can not function as a student.
When I see it, on their faces or in their actions, normally I can pull them out of the class and have a talk with them to see whats going on an counsel them a little. That conversation usually goes, “you can’t hold everything in, you have to find someone, preferably an adult, that you feel comfortable sharing with. Someone who can give you advice and help you to navigate the feelings you are having. If you don’t do that, your thoughts will consume you, and it’s just not healthy.”
Well what the heck am I supposed to do now? Students are not in the classroom with me. I can’t simply pull them to the side and give them some encouraging words to get through the day. Students are now stuck at home with the same distractions, they try to get away from every day. School for some of them was the only safe space they had. Now that safe space is gone. All of those distractions, which could be as simple as too many people living in one house, or as rough as emotionally abusive family members, are in front of them day to day. There is no escape.
So as educators, what do we do? How do find the balance? How can we be flexible but still hold our students accountable? The thing with children is, they will do what you allow. So if you continue to move every deadline there is no incentive to get the work done on time, for those who can. If you have strict deadlines, there are students who simply can not meet those deadlines for reasons outside of their control. So how do you find the balance? Is there a perfect medium?
I’m not sure there’s a real answer to that because every teacher and student is different. What I’ve done is, instead of giving a daily assignment, meaning giving an assignment one day and it is due the next day, I’ve giving students all assignments and deadlines at the beginning of the week. Sunday night, I email the students with all important updates and information, as well as what work is due and when it is due. This gives them the opportunity to do the work at their own pace, and still be able to complete it by the due date. I also make videos that are posted on Sunday, to go with each of the worksheet’s students are assigned. I’ve made the Zoom class calls optional, because I want to respect their time and not have someone sit through a lecture on a topic they already understand.
But most importantly, I try and monitor the amount of work I assign. It’s easy to get caught in the idea, “Well they are home and have nothing else to do.” Well for one, they have other classes with teachers that have the same mindset. If every teacher gives loads of work, then it leaves the student to decide what work they will and won’t do, because there’s too much. Secondly, most of our students have become instant babysitters, which is a huge responsibility that they didn’t sign up for, but also can’t opt out of.
So, as we move forward in the remainder of the school year, I ask that teachers take into consideration, student’s home lives. Before you aggressively reach out to a parent or a student, because their child hasn’t completed any work take a few things into consideration:
They may not have internet at home (library’s are also closed)
Stores that have free wifi have also been closed
The student’s home life (that you may not be aware of)
The relocation of the classroom (from a school building to their house full of distractions)
The student’s actual ability to complete the tasks assigned (if they struggle in school they will continue to struggle at home)
Please share any stories, thoughts, or ideas about finding balance during this tough time for us all.