Pandemic Teaching: Entry VI
I have had a difficult time writing a journal entry lately. It has been over a month now. Part of it comes from lack of time. It has been a very busy start to the school year. I haven’t spent this many weekends grading and working on lesson plans since my first year of teaching in CCSD 15 years ago. Another aspect comes from the pessimism that the students, most educators, and I have to fight each day to keep a positive attitude about the whole distance learning experience. These factors leave little time or energy for writing.
I feel like I spent the first quarter learning a new career. One where I do a little bit of teaching and then A LOT of administrative tasks. I don’t get the interaction with the kids that I love and and I don’t get the interaction with my fellow educators that I (usually) enjoy. We have been told numerous times that students cannot be required to have their cameras on, although I ask the students to turn them on once or twice a class. But, I am often teaching to a computer screen packed full of 35-40 profile pictures. LOL. It is funny, among other things, but humor seems to be the only way to deal with it.
Our recent faculty meetings have been about how we as teachers and educators can help the students. The students are struggling academically and mentally. Every teacher at my school has more kids failing than in a regular year. Every teacher is trying to limit how much work we give to ensure we aren’t overloading our students. The mental health of our students is a concern, too. Our kids are isolated, overwhelmed, and don’t see an end in sight. Suicide has become a major problem. The rate in our district is way up. Even at my school suicides have increased. Unfortunately, we had a student at my school pass away in the spring during spring distance learning and another one this fall during distance learning. Less eyes on vulnerable students and less caring people around them mean less help and care for the students who need it.
Mental health is not given much attention in our district. Suicide is given even less. It is sad, but it is a reality in our schools. Several students at my schools throughout 15 years have committed suicide. Many of these have been my own students or athletes. It is tough and something that pulls at my heart every time I think about it. It is certainly a challenging subject to discuss, but I think with the district’s insistence that it be swept under the rug and moving on in life we don’t ever bring to light the difficulties our young ones are experiencing. On top of that, we don’t educate students to recognize the signs in themselves or their peers nor do we give educators the resources needed to help. Without addressing suicide we can’t ever get to a place where we can limit its occurrence.
As we have begun the second quarter with distance education the level of frustration and helplessness from our students is palpable. They don’t see an end in sight. They don’t have anything to look forward to. We aren’t in the building for classes. We don’t allow them to do sports or activities at school. The economy is crumbling. Many of them are facing economic hardships within their families with hundreds of thousands in Las Vegas alone laid off. These myriad challenges are tough for adults; they are even tougher for a teen whose brain is still developing and whose hormones are surging. I wish I had more positive news or some hope to offer.
I worry about what the end will look like. Like the brainstorming that we do in my staff meetings we will have to adjust again what grading and assignments look like. We can’t fail 20% of the class of 2021 for not having reliable internet access. This isn’t the NCAA. We can’t just grant another year of eligibility because of the chaotic pandemic year. These seniors have to move on. They have to become part of the post high school world. Will they be equipped with the knowledge and experiences from their senior year? No, they won’t be, at least not in the traditional sense. One can only hope that these unique challenges will equip them with a better sense of perseverance than previous high school graduates. But, that is so much less desirable than a senior year of in person high school experiences. Adults tend to scoff at teens for being overly dramatic about all they are missing during their school years. As adults with developed brains and having been able to enjoy our own high school experiences, we don’t have a clue as to what they are going through.
Another concern of mine is that this lack of educational and social experiences is happening at all levels and more drastically for students from less privileged backgrounds. It is certainly having a negative effect on my high school seniors. However, the long lasting consequences on the younger children could be even worse. These young ones can’t reliably learn to read, write, and do arithmetic online. They can’t learn to make friends and follow directions through a computer. The compounding effects of keeping our kids at home is going to be with us for a long time. Additionally, this stay at home education is more negatively affecting our disadvantaged students, the widening achievement gap between rich and poor students, minority and nonminority students will be a larger chasm when we get to the other side of this pandemic.
I will continue to put out fun and exciting lessons for my kids. I will keep smiling and being positive in class. I have to model that for my students if I expect them to keep pushing through this challenging time. I know that is a small token for my students, but I hope that it can be something that helps them through to whatever the end looks like.