High school and elementary students working on classes from home during COVID-19 school closures. Photo by Sharon Mccutcheon.
Teaching Through A Pandemic: Adjusting to Support Student Needs
Three years ago, I did a webinar for Share My Lesson called A Good Start to the School Year: 5 Things to Stop Doing Right Now. It became SML’s No. 3 webinar of the year and its No. 5 webinar of the decade. I’ve always been a “live and let live” kind of person, and I value lots of approaches to teaching, many of which are really different from mine. However, I had just reached a point in my career when I had to say “enough is enough” to protect the children and families we teach. I wasn't accusing educators of maliciously setting out to harm anyone; however, pretending that education hasn’t had to evolve is irresponsible at best. I’ve leaned on Maya Angelou’s advice: “When you know better, do better.”
Here I am again, feeling compelled to call out socially, emotionally and economically bad practices for what they are. Practices, not people. I know as educators, we are doing our best, and here I am again wondering, “Who are you to tell other people what to do?” In the midst of a pandemic that is claiming lives, wreaking havoc on the economy, and inciting even more political divide than already existed in a fractured system, I’m willing to say something to protect the most vulnerable among us. Here are three things from my original webinar that we have to consider when we are teaching through a pandemic:
Teaching Through A Pandemic: Stop Grading Students on Responsibility
In this pandemic, the first answer is to stop grading. Period. That’s it. The inequities are magnified, and I haven’t seen a school yet able to seamlessly eliminate the most important part of teaching—the daily human interactions—and not skip a beat. We need to stop pretending that we’ve got this under control and that somehow assigning grades is business as usual. It’s not. Every time I see someone post about grading, all I can think of is the scene in Titanic where the musicians are still playing while the ship is going down. My own district has moved to Pass, Fail and Incomplete. No matter what happens with my students, I’m not failing anyone because they aren’t failing at school—if they aren’t participating in some crisis-education-build-it-as-we-go concoction, they aren’t failing. Failing would imply that there was some control of all the factors spinning out of control. At worst, I will say that my students’ education was Incomplete and do everything in my power to complete their learning when it is possible.
As educators, we cannot hold students accountable for factors that are out of their hands. Take one small example: printing. Don’t ask students to print things out. They may not have a printer. They may not have ink. They may have a family member whose health is compromised, and the last thing the family needs to worry about is this. Right now, we are out of ink at my house. We’ll be ordering this online, and it will take days. But, I’m lucky. I have a credit card. I have a job. My husband has a job. I have the luxury of adjusting to this pandemic, but it is ridiculous to assume that all of our students are learning in safe spaces where their situation has remained intact. Instead of coming at this assuming that our students are doing just fine, let’s come at it from the position that no one is doing just fine.
Read more about teaching through a pandemic and follow high school teacher Sari Beth Rosenberg as she blogs about her experiences.
Teaching Through A Pandemic: Stop the Shaming
The impetus for this blog was a tweet I read this morning from someone who was outraged about a teacher giving Dojo points to students for turning on their camera for their Google Meet sessions. There’s a whole lot to unpack there, but it is safe to say that not everyone has a home that you’d want people peering into or family members who will cooperate and stay out of the way, if they are lucky enough to have reliable Wi-Fi or Wi-Fi at all. I had a Google Meeting with my students, and it didn’t surprise me in the least that two of my students were outside—in Buffalo, N.Y., where it is still cold—and three didn’t turn their cameras on. I have to give my family a dozen warnings not to traipse through the living room without pants. We cannot presume anything about the situations our students are experiencing.
If students aren’t completing work, let’s give them mercy. I am the coordinator of an at-risk alternative education program. I was texting with a student using Remind, and his comment was spot on: “How do you expect me to do all this at home when it takes all of you to get me to do it at school?” My own kiddos are struggling. My daughter got a 6/10 on an online quiz that would never have happened “in real life.” My son has severe anxiety and is struggling to find much meaning in schoolwork when he’s obsessing on this pandemic. Frankly, we never should, but at this moment in time, let’s come at it from the position that we all deserve dignity and the right to decide if and when our vulnerabilities are shared.
Teaching Through A Pandemic: Stop the Treadmill
If there was ever a time to slow down, it is now. I’ve been shocked to find that “busy” can happen anywhere, even in my own home. In New York, we’ve been out of school just over a month, and I’ve talked to tons of educators, and we are somehow working more hours, doing more work, and feeling more stressed than we did when we were on our feet for eight hours a day with students. I’m taking steps to get the “busy beast” under control myself, and I want educators to know that no boundaries and constant work cannot be the “new norm.”
Here’s what I propose. Let’s all stop the treadmill. Let’s provide opportunities for students to learn. Let’s make sure they know that we care deeply. Let’s make sure that they know we can’t wait to see them. Let’s check in. Let’s chat. Let’s learn some things together. Let’s stop running and, instead, let’s come at this from the position that we are walking alongside our students—wherever this pandemic chaos takes us.
Truth be told, I’m not doing great. You probably aren’t either. I had a therapist in college once tell me that the correct response to a crazy situation is a crazy reaction. We shouldn’t be playing as the ship goes down. That would be crazy. We should be alternately thinking we’ve got this to feeling like failures. We should be feeling like the walls are closing in, and we have to just get away from our families. We should be feeling that you never want your family out of your sight again. We should be feeling triumphant that we are managing all of this, and the next minute we should be crying. That is the rational reaction to this moment in time. This pandemic is making everyone take stock of things like work/life balance, family, relationships, and how much we love our calling as educators. Let’s not let anyone convince us that we are anything more or anything less than people who are trying our best—just like our students.
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