We thought, as teachers, that we had seen it all. We thought we had endured every kind of stress imaginable. We thought we had this adaptability thing down.
And then COVID-19 hit.
And in the span of a day or two, we had to create a whole new learning environment for our students. We had to shift our mindsets completely and toss together a new plan – for six weeks, eight weeks, the rest of the school year – like we had never done before.
You would be right in one area – we do have this adaptability thing down.
But that doesn’t mean it’s not hard. That doesn’t mean that we’re not stressed out, anxious, and still feeling like we’re not enough.
Many of us have taught for long enough that we know how to shift the classroom atmosphere to fit our students’ needs. We sense that they’re bored – we adjust the teaching pace or add in some movement. We sense that they’re confused – we back up and re-explain something. We sense that their emotions are spiraling – we pause and take care of their emotional needs over their academic needs.
But we can do all this because we are face-to-face with them. We know our kids better than anyone after their parents. We can look them in the eye and know exactly what they need. And we have a system, a plan, a schedule, and a routine that lends itself to academic, social, and emotional growth.
We don’t see that growth every day. But because of consistent, faithful, loving work, that growth happens. And we can sense that, too, just by being with them every one of our 180 days together.
Physically not being with our students is the hardest thing we’ve ever been asked to do as teachers. Because even on their blow-out days, at least we can tell where they’re at and what their needs are since they are right in front of us.
In our new reality, we create checklists and tasks for them to do at home – we post links to websites – some of us make videos – some of us video chat with them – and it goes out into the airwaves, and we have no idea if our students are doing the work or how they’re doing at it.
Yes, they can post a record of what they did each day. They can email us and video chat with us to ask questions. Sometimes we even see samples of their work. All of this brings some relief to our anxious teacher minds that can’t stop worrying about how our kids are doing.
But many of our kids won’t do this at all. And even the ones that do still can’t provide us with that live, immediate feedback as to where they’re at in their learning – just like we give them right back when we’re teaching. It’s what we were made to do as teachers – it’s what makes us good at what we do – because we are adept at reading human signals and adapting to them.
And this most important component of what we do has been taken away from us.
And it’s been handed over to parents who now feel the anxiety and burden of trying to keep their kids on track. Now they’re trying to teach their kids things that they know but haven’t been trained on HOW to teach them. They’re trying to keep them motivated to keep going in these strange, uncertain times. All this while still trying to work from home or take care of the family.
It’s a situation none of us would have ever asked for.
And yet. Here we are.
So, what do we need to remember while we’re trying to teach in this strange new land – both teachers and parents?
My teacher friends, remember this:
Take a moment and breathe.
You ARE doing enough. Teaching for us right now will not look like it does in our classroom. It cannot. And we have to accept that. We do what we can to provide resources, feedback, and connection with our kids – and then we have to take a step back and allow the rest to be out of our control.
Not all of our kids will do the work. And again – we can’t control that. But for the kids who need the routine, the connection, and the learning, we can give it to them. So only four kids showed up to your video chat – or maybe only one did. But for that one or four, it was the best part of their day to see their teacher and have that connection.
Maybe only two kids listened to that read-aloud video that you made. But for those two, your voice was exactly what they needed to hear in their long afternoon at home.
Not getting responses to emails or posts feels frustrating and like the work we’re doing is going to waste. But it is not. There are kids who need it, even if we don’t ever hear of that impact. So keep at it.
Give yourself permission to rest. It feels strange to have these open pockets of time in our days when we’re used to having every minute of the day planned and executed in the classroom. But we are going through the trauma of adjustment just as much as our kids are. We don’t need to feel like we have to learn every new online program and plan out elaborate learning activities every second of the day. Take a nap. Go for a walk. Read a book. Take care of your own mental health so that you can keep being there for your kids and their families.
For all the lovely parents out there:
My word, you all are such heroes right now. Home and family life might feel a little overwhelming right now as you adjust to this new normal.
Don’t despair. You don’t need to teach your kids all new stuff. Don’t panic and start researching all the standards they have to have mastered by the end of the year. It will only stress you and your kids out even more. Take what their teachers have given you as resources and help your kids discover. Or let them do the discovering on their own. Just giving them a structure and a routine is more than enough.
And sometimes – just let go and love them. It’s such an anxiety-ridden time right now. If you sense yourself and them overflowing with frustration because of schoolwork, it is okay to let it go for a bit. Cuddle with them. Let them have some space. Do something creative or fun together. You can start over in a few hours – or maybe even tomorrow.
Please reach out and connect with their teachers – and have your kids do the same. There is nothing we love more than hearing from you. In fact, there’s not a lot for us to do UNLESS we hear from you! So getting email updates from you brightens our day – interacting with your kids brings us the most joy – and seeing their faces and hearing their voices is the best part of having to stay home right now.
It is an unknown territory that we are traversing right now, all of us curled up in blankets on our couches at home, praying for relief from this worldwide tragedy.
But it won’t last forever. And the day that we get to walk through our school doors again, hug each other, and laugh with relief at being together at long last – I’m pretty sure we’ll be shedding a few tears. Tears of sadness over what we’ve lost these long weeks apart – but also tears of joy and gratitude that we can be back where we belong again.
In our classrooms. With our kids. Doing what we were made to do – teach and learn, love and grow.
Until then, may we join hands over the Internet and walk bravely through the barrenness of this strange new land.
We’ll make it. I know we will.