Pandemic Teaching: Entry VII
As a 12th grade teacher in Clark County I return to my classroom on Monday, March 15th. I will begin having students in the hybrid model on Monday, March 22nd.
There is a strong sense of ambivalence from all sides about returning to school. Teachers who aren’t excited about the chaos that will come with a whole new schedule. Students who can’t come back full time and who would rather stay in their beds. Parents who wish their kids
were gone for a full day the entire week. All of these feelings are legitimate. At the same time, we have to take steps back to normalcy. Even if the steps aren’t the steps we want, we have to start moving forward. We can’t stay in this fake online pandemic world that was created as a survival mechanism for much longer.
The return to school model being proposed changes on a daily, sometimes hourly basis. Plans are made and plans are changed. It was hard to change gears in August and adapt a whole new teaching model. We have become adroit with digital learning. Now we are being asked to redirect again to a new hybrid model that we have never done before. There isn’t a whole lot that I know about our upcoming schedule and duties. I do know it will be confusing and frustrating. Especially as teachers it isn’t what we want. We don’t get to see our kids as often as we would like. We don’t have an orderly daily or weekly routine that is at the heart of planning for educators. Even with all of these drawbacks I think it is past time for us as teachers to be in per
son with students again. We are professionals. We have to adjust. We are essential workers. We need to be practicing our craft in front of our students rather than in front of a screen if we want to show that we are truly needed.
I feel bad for the students in many ways. The class of 2021 are my faceless, forgotten, intrepid seniors. It is such a strange phenomenon that three quarters into the school year I would not be able to recognize 80-90% of my students. I have never seen them in person. Only a small handful of students even turn on their cameras at this point in the school year. I know my students by their profile picture or the letter of their first name if they are unwilling to even use a profile picture. This unique dimension is compounded by the fact that I know my students’ thoughts and beliefs fairly well. I have been reading their political point of view and their opinions on the events of 2020 and 2021. But, I don’t even know what they look like, it is sad.
The suddenness of the pandemic last spring brought out a lot of compassion for the seniors who missed out on life milestones. All of those feelings seem to have been spent by the public at large. Not many people around the country or the state feel bad for the seniors of the class of 2021. In a school district like ours, this year’s seniors have missed out on even more than the class of 2020. Yet the sympathy well seems to have run dry. Maybe it is because of the uneven school reopening responses across the country. Maybe the seniors’ hard luck has become another victim of politics. Maybe we just can’t be sensitive towards people’s suffering for such an extended period of time.
These students have been forced into being intrepid young adults, taking on more maturity than they are meant to at this age. Their adolescence and high school years have been taken from them the entire year. They have had to take on more responsibilities than a typical high school aged student. I have countless students who have picked up a job to help at home. Some students are now the caretakers of the younger children at home during the distance learning. The last few carefree months of high school life has not been a part of their lives.
Many students have already moved on. In order to cope without any high school experiences they had to accept that they would not be going back to school. They couldn’t keep having hope after it had been pulled away from them so many times with the countless times our school district said m
aybe we will go back, maybe we will have a sports season. They adjusted to being at home and making do with the situation. Their excitement about going back has dissipated after such a long absence. Many of them don’t even care about getting back in the building. Some of the lack of care comes from laziness. Some is from other responsibilities that they have taken on like work or helping their family. For some it is from a genuine fear about being back in the school during the still ongoing pandemic. Whatever the reason, a large percentage of my seniors have opted to not return to in person learning.
As much empathy as I have for them I also don’t feel complete pity for them. Through all of the changes some kids have done fine or even excelled. Others have taken it as a chance to be in full time veg mode. The veg mode students roll over in bed at class time and log in. They stay in their bed and in their cozy clothes all day, maybe paying attention, maybe not. Then turning in their work at their leisure. This certainly is a minority of the students, but at this point in the school year each student bears personal responsibility for the choices he/she is making regarding their education on a daily basis.
Parents are worn down because their children are home all the time and the continual battles they have to wage to try and get their children out of bed and onto the computer for school. The levels of learned helplessness that parents are exhibiting this year is drastic. The number of unanswered phone calls and emails have skyrocketed. When a parent can be reached, the number of parents that have said, “It is on my child at this point, I can’t do any more to get them to do school,” is shockingly high.
There are a lot of complaints to go around, but we shouldn’t avoid stepping back out into the world just because the world we are going back into is not perfect. It is past time to be back. I know it is different, I know it kind of sucks, I know it is too late. But, I am excited. I’m looking forward to being physically back in front of my students in my classroom on March 22nd. It will be a good day!