I'll Take a Side of Pressure and a Pinch of Pandemonium with my Pandemic Teaching, Thanks.
My Ode to 2020-2021 Pandemic Teaching
This has been a year like none other. This is essentially my last week with in-person students and I find myself being very reflective upon this experience. As I told my students during morning meeting today, this has been a year like no other. It will go down in the history books. When I said that, my students were very curious. “The history books?” one asked. “Why?” questioned multiple individuals.
“Because of COVID… duh!” said one boy, rolling his eyes.
“Tell me more… what about COVID makes this school year one for the history books?” I inquired.
All the students seemed to ponder the question. Then, slowly, the chat box lit up. Students expressed the fact that this was a time period where they were sent home from school — that had never happened before. Someone else said that more than half a million people died. Another typed, “We became sad and afraid of each other, even our neighbors.” A different student unmuted and spoke plainly: “People lost their natural minds… acting like ‘Rona wasn’t real.”
One by one, my classrom friends shared how they had been affected this year. How they had lost friends and playmates due to different beliefs and value systems. How they experienced the death of a loved one without being able to say goodbye in the traditional way. How they were separated from parents who lost jobs and had to seek employment in other cities and states. How they were sick of hearing parents argue during quarantine.
I noticed that one girl had turned on her camera and had a slight frown on her face. I asked her what she was thinking.
“I kinda feel guilty because I loved quarantine,” she whispered softly. I turned my volume up to make sure I was hearing her properly.
“Go on,” I encouraged.
“I like the quiet time to be with my thoughts. I like not being interrupted when I’m writing or working on something. I started walking more and because my parents are gone in the daytime, I learned how to cook healthy stuff watching YouTube. It wasn’t so bad…”
The other students gazed at her with astonishment.
“I hadn’t thought about it like that,” a classmate responded. One by one, other students began to chime in with positive things that had happened while we were going through this pandemic educational experience. Students weren’t bullied, they could speak to the teacher privately in the breakout rooms, they had more confidence knowing they were behind a computer camera and couldn’t see the faces of other students.
“What about you Ms. Tate?” a student asked inquisitively. I thought long and hard. The words were slow to come at first. But, I determined to make myself vulnerable in that moment, as so many of my classroom friends had done and began…
I told them how I had learned a lot about myself. I learned how to “switch it up” and adapt quickly. Normally, I like order and for things to be planned ahead. I like to know what I will be doing. But that was nearly impossible during this pandemic school year. We started off remote, then went to in-person, then went back remote, then came back in person, had to implement a brand new math curriculum remotely, had to figure out how to navigate Zoom, and screen sharing, and teach without hands-on tools like manipulatives. I had to figure out how to digitze EVERYTHING. And… I did it.
“Friends… I almost feel like I can do ANYTHING!” I nearly shouted. One gregarious student suggested I put “Enseñé en una pandemia, ¡puedo hacer CUALQUIER COSA!” [I taught in a pandemic, I can do ANYTHING!] on a T-shirt and sell it. “I bet you would make a lot of money,” he said, nodding sagely. I loved this idea!
I don’t know what’s next or what the future holds. I suspect we will never be able to go back to “normal” again. I don’t even know if we want to. In the midst of this difficulty, this tragedy, this struggle and this dawn of new learning, a rose has nevertheless stubbornly pressed forth and risen from the depths of the hard concrete. Perhaps I didn’t teach in the way I wanted, with all the resources I needed, but the students nevertheless persisted. They learned place value and powers of ten; about author’s craft and mood and tone; about how to find their voices and express themselves through writing “long and strong.”
Actually, WE did it. I think I will put that on a T-shirt, instead.