Reinvent the wheel, put it on your bike, ride it backwards, while standing on your head, singing show tunes.
That’s a basic summary of what it feels like to be a teacher navigating virtual learning in 2020. Add being a coach, a wife, and the parent of an elementary-age student to the mix and the challenge to succeed seems unattainable.
I’m a Teacher, and a Mom. This is my Side of Virtual Learning
We were sent home in mid March, right before spring break, but most people know that. Like many, we waited patiently, day by day to see what the future would hold. That time of year it was the same everywhere in the Country; we were not going back to face-to-face instruction for the rest of the 2019-2020 school year.
Now what? Some districts required student activity and some did not. I teach in one that did not require the kids to do the work. As a teacher, I felt like I was beating my head against the wall over and over again. The first week – kids were engaged, and slowly but surely they stopped showing up, stopped doing work and I began to question everything that I was doing and my sheer existence as a teacher. On top of that I was trying to help my then 2nd grader complete work, stay active and most importantly, happy. To say self doubt crept in would be an understatement. My child was sad. My students were sad. I was sad.
After, what felt like an eternity, the school year finally came to an end. However, the future was still so very uncertain.
Most teachers spent the summer trying to plan and prep without having any idea what was going to happen. Would we be 100% online, hybrid (what would that look like) or 100% face-to-face? Imagine making 3 different meals for dinner, hoping one will be what your family eats. That was what summer planning was like. Then what happened? You tossed out all of the dinners, because the State made a last minute decision that sent everyone back to the drawing board.
Unpopular opinion, I was thrilled that we would be back in some way. I needed it, my daughter needed it and my students for sure needed it. Being excited about going back did not mean it would be easy. We did not require online learning, and had to decide – now what? We had to make up the learning loss, but not hold the kids back. So we picked up the school year where we left off; same kids, same classes, different year.
The challenges that would lie ahead were beyond anything I could have prepared for. Not only in my classroom, but also at home. My husband is also a teacher. He went back to school, “normalish.” Students were 100% face-to-face, but only 4 days a week. He is responsible for all in-school and online students. He has to create lessons and engagements for kids whether he sees them at school or not. On Fridays, he plans, catches up, goes to meetings, and meets virtually with the online kids.
My daughter is on a hybrid A day-B day Model, and goes every other day. I am on a hybrid A day-B day Model, my students go Monday/Tuesday, every other Wednesday or Thursday/Friday, every other Wednesday. Clear as mud, right? I’m not responsible for the 100% online kids in any way, however, I do have to prepare lessons that engage in the classroom and online since I only see half my kids at a time. Is your head spinning yet?
My daughter is a third grader and after not having to worry about the expense of daycare for 4 years, we were once again in a position to figure out who would watch our child when she was not attending school, and on top of that, how it was getting paid for. The YMCA put a program in place, but it is hard to explain to your child why she can go be around more than 50 kids at the Y, but cannot go to school. She missed her friends and the joy that school brought her. Her frustration over trying to teach herself was clear and mom guilt set in, hard. Or, more accurately, mom guilt AND teacher guilt.
My daughter struggled with this “new normal,” gosh I hate that phrase, and my students struggled, too. Tears were normal at home. She didn’t want to go to the Y because it wasn’t school, she didn’t want to go to school, because it made her sad that she couldn’t go every day. She missed her friends, her life. Tears were shed with my students as well. They too wanted things to be like they were.
I was probably the one who cried the most. I cried for my daughter, I cried for my students and I cried for myself. I have never felt more like a failure than I do this year. Many of my students are high risk. Due to socioeconomic background they are high risk for the virus, but also to not complete high school. I have spent the year watching grades fall and kids give up. I have tried using that new wheel a thousand different ways, and none of them seem to be the right fit for anything. To throw more on top of it, three weeks ago we were sent home. Time to teach 100% online. Again.
On November 13th one of my students hugged me, thanked me for everything, because he didn’t think we’d be back. Knowing the kids have lost faith for the future was almost more than I could handle. If I hadn’t already felt like a failure, being home made it that much worse. Trying to teach a writing class online (a class I had never taught before), was worse than giving birth. Not seeing my students faces (because you know they can’t turn on their cameras), not having conversations, not getting to know them and building relationships – made my heart hurt every day.
There is no easy job during a pandemic. I wouldn’t want to be a doctor, or a nurse. I can’t imagine working in a long-term care facility. There are some that have been forced to work during this entire period of time. Worse, some lost jobs and didn’t know how they were going to stay afloat.
I want to be at work. The virus doesn’t scare me personally, but I know it does scare a lot of people and I respect that. As a teacher, we are seeing all sides of the virus. We’re seeing kids who are quarantined and trying to navigate being a student and staying on top of virtual learning while locked at home. We know kids are getting sick, their families are getting sick, and there isn’t a lot we can do. We’re short teachers and subbing for others every day. That means giving up prep time and time to breathe during the day. Time that is so valuable as we prepare both in-person and online lessons. We’re all working 10 times harder, and have people questioning every single move we make.
We can’t make it better for anyone. Kids have lost a lot. We have to try to not focus on that, but rather focus on what we have gained; an appreciation for things we often took for granted. All we can do is have grace. Give yourself grace as a parent. Support your kids in whatever learning style they are in. Remind them it’s okay to mess up, forget things, and to make mistakes, but they have to learn from those as well. To grow.
I’m giving myself grace as a teacher. No one has ever charted this territory before. Virtual learning and hybrid learning is a new concept for all of us. Some are thriving and think this way is better. I am not one of them, and that’s okay. I have worked to balance this crazy time by making sure my daughter knows her dad and I support her. I have also done this with my students. I told them day one, that my goal is to make sure they are okay and have their needs met. I told them the learning will come, the lessons will be taught, but it is most important to me that their mental health is taken care of.
Most days I’m a duck. I’m calm on the surface, but paddling like hell underneath. Wave after wave keeps hitting me, but I will stay afloat. I’m going to have failures, as both a mom and a teacher, but I have to remember that we are all going to have failures. Life is not the reality that is filtered on social media. Anyone can post smile-filled photos and brag about the new person they became during quarantine. It might be true, it might not. So don’t worry about what others are doing and just focus on keeping those feet moving and taking it one day at a time.
I heard a quote recently. I don’t know who said it, it was just posted on Facebook. It said, “Plot twist: 2020 has actually been the best year of your life. You’ve faced challenge after challenge, you’ve adapted and you’ve overcome. 2020 has forced you to grow exponentially. Don’t take that for granted.”
“Plot twist: 2020 has actually been the best year of your life. You’ve faced challenge after challenge, you’ve adapted and you’ve overcome. 2020 has forced you to grow exponentially. Don’t take that for granted.”Unknown
I can’t say this year has been the best of my life. I can say that it has challenged me. I have cried a lot, but I have picked myself up, wiped my tears, and taken on the next challenge. It has helped me realize even more that teaching is where I am meant to be. I hate working from home, but slowly I have figured out a way to make it work. I’m excited to get back in the classroom where I feel like I thrive. I don’t know if I’m giving my students everything they need, not academically, not socially, not emotionally, not in any way. But I hope they see I am trying. I don’t know how long it will take my daughter to recover from all the changes, but kids are resilient and I do know that I love her more than anything, and whatever she needs will be taken care of.
2020 has been a challenge for all of us, but it will make us all stronger and I hope we won’t take that or anything for granted.