The year is nearly half over, but in some respects it seems like it has just barely begun. Educators across the state are frustrated as we try to help our students navigate this virtual reality with results that seem to always fall below our own lofty expectations. Time is a resource that comes at a great cost to all educators who are doing everything they can to help their students. That cost leaks into our personal lives and into our very level of job satisfaction.
Keeping our students engaged in the classroom has always been a challenge. There are so many interpersonal skills and abilities that educators use every day that are critical for successfully helping our students succeed. Educators can refocus a student with a simple look or just physically moving into their proximity. A small cough, a hand gesture, a smile or a frown, a nod of the head, pointing at a white board (chalk board for you that still remember those!) are all tools in the teacher’s toolbox to help them quickly reengage with a student. Most elementary teachers are aware that simply saying open up to page 171 is not enough in a third-grade classroom. As they are talking, they circle the room and inevitably help reposition several students to the correct page without missing a beat. Sometimes it is easier just to slide a student a pencil or piece of graph paper instead of sending them off on a personal quest to find it in their lockers, a hunt which steals valuable minutes and could find them lost in the cafeteria along the way, sometimes with the same success rate as on “The Curse of Oak Island.”
These items in our toolbox are no longer as effective as before. We have students on our virtual classrooms who are brushing their teeth, letting out their dogs, televisions blaring in the background, cell phones off of screen, eating snacks, or simply distracted by their siblings who are going through the same issues. We have students who forget to mute their mics and we can hear all of the family plans for the weekend. Then we have students that leave their mic muted while they ask a very important question that no one ends up being able to hear. Many of the subtle ways we have learned over the years to keep our students engaged suddenly are no longer effective. Protocols like raising your hand and waiting to be recognized are now thrown out the window.
This has all led to our new reality, CHAOS. Anyone who wants to say “you only work until 3:00 p.m.” or “you are so lucky to work from home” simply needs to observe one virtual class to understand the true magicians our educators are. Things are not perfect, expectations need to be lowered, and we are no longer always in control. Yet, we are making the best of this because we will not quit on our students. We love our students and we chose this profession because we believe we can provide them the skills and knowledge necessary to do great things. I don’t believe many would argue that the standards for virtual education are below what we can achieve in the normal in-person classroom. Our current situation is not sustainable in the long run. The expectations on educators right now is extraordinary, and the quality of education for our students is below where it should be in normal times. But these are not normal times. We all know we need to return to the classroom at some point. Just know, you are not alone, and your efforts are appreciated by so many. Your students will never forget this year, and they will remember the efforts you made to help them in these most unusual circumstances.
The vaccine we have been waiting for seems to be on the horizon. We will overcome this; we will return to normal. The lessons our students and families take away from this experience will hopefully bring about a new appreciation for all educators. The lessons educators have learned will make us stronger and more adaptable in meeting the needs of our students. I hope soon that the most difficult question we need to deal with is what to do with the 53 masks we have accumulated in the last few months!
United we are stronger,
Published in our Winter Issue 2021 of News & Views.