Covid-19 virus has brought me out of retirement and back to the world of education…virtually, that is. I’ve been reading everything I can get my hands on in the New York Times, in teacher/union magazines, and online to find out what’s happening in education and how teachers are coping with the monumental changes taking place in schools everywhere, virtually or otherwise. I’m simultaneously horrified by what’s happening in terms of teaching and learning during Covid-19 and awed by the ability of most teachers to carry on despite all the new demands placed on them.
To get a more reality-based point of view on the above, I participated in a virtual workshop hosted this past Saturday by the Long Island Writing Project (a local chapter of the National Writing Project started in Berkley, CA in the 60s). The topic was “Writing the Moments,” … an effort to get teachers to document in writing the monumental changes occurring in education as they and their students struggle to adapt to remote and in-person teaching and learning. The presenter offered several options for documentation including notebook entries and using such online programs as Padlet to minimize the writing output from teachers pressed for time.
Teachers spoke of the toll it sometimes takes on them to teach online for three or four hours straight, unlike in-person teaching which allows them to walk around the room, take short breaks, observe students working at their desks, lean over students to help them and so on. Several described odd combinations of co-teaching a subject online, while a second teacher is simultaneously teaching students the same material in the same classroom. A shared complaint is tech glitches that interrupt the flow altogether, forcing teachers to stop in mid-lesson and run up three flights of stairs to a colleague who is more tech savvy. One of my former colleagues told me she retired from teaching because she couldn’t imagine being videotaped while teaching all day, every day, which is the option she was assigned.
There were several expressions of genuine frustration about how best to engage students in their new learning configurations. More than ever teachers are sharing approaches with colleagues that are and are not working for them on their own time and on weekends. Their school days are jam packed with inservice training, planning with co-teachers and struggling to maintain contact with students and parents. It’s not going to surprise anyone that younger teachers who are more tech competent are feeling more in control of their teaching than those who are older, non-digital natives, struggling with computers, computer programs and the myriad applications of them currently in use. As an “older” teacher I spent my final five years of teaching acquiring these new tech skills while also adapting to the national Learning Standards. (From what I understand from reading articles about current teaching, the Standards have pretty much taken a back seat.) It was a pretty tall order for someone on the cusp of retiring!
But there I was…from 1 to 3 p.m. on a Saturday, with two trainers, and six teachers (including myself) spending precious time meeting online to discuss common concerns and ways to address them. I am sure it wasn’t the measly 1/2 professional credit that convinced any of us to give up a beautiful Saturday afternoon. It was, instead, the same old story. Being a dedicated teacher requires many more hours per week than just showing up to a screen or to a classroom of actual children for seven hours a day. It means putting in the time and effort to be the best teacher possible, no matter the circumstances.