Go on any social media platform and inevitably you see the discussions cropping up about how the teaching during the shutdown was not enough. How educators failed their students. How kids are now so far behind. How removing grades meant that kids didn’t learn anything. How we must open schools up for face-to-face instruction for all or else our nation will fall even further behind, or else our children will suffer. How dare schools want to teach online? How dare educators try to put their own health into the equation, after all, we knew what we signed up for when we became teachers?
I had hoped that the conversations online wouldn’t be so predictable. After all it was not too long ago that educators were held up as heroes, as people who were part of the solution. And yet I knew that within the adoration would soon come the backlash. The predictability of how we had failed, how we were not enough, that we better get back to to work or leave the profession. It happens every time educators are held up as heroes.
I get the panic driving many of these conversation. I have four children of my own whose school district has just declared that they will be virtual for at least the first quarter. We don’t know how we will make that work. We don’t know how we will pay for childcare, who will be with our children as we both work full-time as teachers. How will our children’s education be changed because of the online format? How will the social components work? How will services and needs be met for my two kids with IEP’s? We have a lot of questions, but we also have a lot of faith, because we saw how their entire school rose up to the challenge the spring presented to us all. We saw the work that happened under incredible stress.
And so, I just want us to take a moment to remember what did happen during the shutdown in many places. How educators and school districts rose to the challenge and will continue to do so as we face an uncertain future. How almost none of us were ever trained to teach online, I don’t know many educators that were, we still rose to the challenge.
Because we educators tried. We did our very best when the world shut down around us. We lost sleep both literally and figuratively as we worried about the students we would no longer see, how we would translate what we had built face-to-face, how our students would still be able to learn at home facing unknown situations, some navigating life or death situations and we were no longer there to help.
I wanted to make it work for every child, for every child to feel that I was right there with them supporting them through all of this new unknown while myself grappling with a really scary time: a major family emergency and also being presumed positive for COVID-19. This is while we lost more than half of our income, much like many other families. And yet, I showed up with a smile every day because that is what we do as educators.
We took what we were supposed to be teaching live and tried to transform it to digital teaching, knowing that we had to cut back on our curriculum because it would be overwhelming otherwise. Many of us were told to not do synchronous teaching because it would be inequitable for kids. We were told to make it all accessible, to go deep but make it short, to not assign too much because the kids were barely managing it all.
We recorded videos for read aloud, lessons, check-ins and anything else we could think of to help kids understand and stay connected with us.
We created different paths for kids to choose their learning so they still had choice and voice in their education. This meant finding extra resources, creating extra resources, and then scaffolding kids through with extra resources. That takes time, time that we put in in order to somehow make this unfamiliar territory more familiar and inviting.
We set up opportunities for live question and answer situations whenever we could. We invited students to show and tell, to record videos, to do kahoots, and any other games and events just to give them a space to connect with one another in a way that had nothing to do with academics.
We mailed letters and sent postcards with encouraging notes, funny stickers, and quick hello’s just so kids knew we were there thinking of them.
We met one-on-one with students whenever they needed us at all hours of the day. My husband would have to remind me to turn my computer off every night at 10 PM, urging me to let it wait until morning. It was hard because I knew that some kids would be up late at night sending emails, I didn’t want them to feel alone.
We found time to sit in professional development to learn new digital tools in order to increase understanding and engagement. Then made time to implement it into our teaching on the fly whenever we could.
We continued meeting with colleagues to discuss needs of students and figure out crisis plans for the many kids whose mental health spiraled. We tried to think of new ways to reach kids who weren’t answering our phone calls, our texts, our emails, we tried to get them reconnected with their learning until the very last day. We continue to reach out over summer vacation.
We continued to communicate with all adults supporting their kids so that they felt included but also not overwhelmed, navigating a tight balancing act where the adults at home both needed information but also didn’t need all the information at the same time.
We continued to recreate resources that were locked in our classrooms without the necessary tools needed (even things like tape, posters, whiteboards, printer ink and such were things we had to find or pay for).
We coordinated and sent supplies to students so they could participate on as equal footing as we could create. We dropped off books on porches, brought food to those with no transportation, got internet to those whose applications were denied.
We purchased better internet plans or other tools for ourselves so that we could do our jobs, knowing that it was one more expense we would not be reimbursed for. We sat in parking lots when the wifi went down or when we needed to record videos and home didn’t have anywhere quiet. We searched for solutions to make it work whenever a new problem inevitably arose.
Many worked 12 hour+ days while trying to navigate online school with our own children as well. I had to place all of the needs of my students in front of my kids because that’s my job, and my job is our only income. I know many others in the same situation, whose own children were set aside because of the demands of work and not just within education.
We fought for the kids to not be unduly assessed on situations that were outside of their control. It’s easy to say that removing grades means kids were not motivated when your child has few obstacles to access their learning.
We tried to reach every child and provide the tools they needed to continue their growth.
We adapted, innovated, created, collaborated, grew, and rose up to meet the challenge that we were given little time or funding to prepare for. And we did it. And we will continue to do it, no matter what the fall brings. We will spend our summer preparing for a fall that many of us still don’t know what looks like. We will show up for trainings. We will create resources and lessons. We will collaborate. We will plan. We will dream. Not because we are getting paid to do so, because most of us aren’t, but because we care deeply about the education of our future students even if they cannot be with us face-to-face.
I know it will be better, after all, we now have more experience, we have had some time to think, to gather feedback and to learn. We have had more training and hopefully have more access to tools, to ideas, to resources.
So to say that we failed, or that we didn’t do enough, once again diminishes the extraordinary work that many educators and school staff put into a situation that none of us could ever have predicted. Was it perfect? No. Did everyone do all of these things? No. But did many go above and beyond because it is what we do? Yes.
I know that the fall will bring more challenges. I know that even as I plan for either a hybrid model or full online teaching experience that I have a lot of things to work out, a lot of obstacles to navigate. And yet, I saw what my own kids’ teachers did in the spring, how their school rose up as a community, and we will, forever, be grateful. So thank you to all who rose up, who tried, who continue to do the work, despite being in a nation that prefers to defund schools and blame staff rather than work on solutions.
So if we want to talk about failure, let’s discuss how a school system founded on inequity and systemic racism continues to push out children every year. Let’s discuss how schools are funded. Let’s discuss how in the US our population poverty is so large that many families depend on schools to feed their children. That in one of the richest nations of the world we have schools with unsafe water, with crumbling buildings, with unfilled positions because there is no money to hire staff. That the cost of living is so high that many people cannot afford childcare. Let’s discuss how education as a profession is disparaged rather than supported. How the voices of stakeholders are easily dismissed whenever procedural decisions are made, whenever federal changes are implemented. How our federal government failed to act in many ways to contain the spread of this virus. Let’s discuss that before we proclaim the crisis teaching that did happen as a failure. Perhaps then we can actually see some changes that we all could get behind.