What Education can Learn from “Emergency Teaching”

What Education can Learn from “Emergency Teaching”

The first few weeks of Distance Learning I was chugging along, planning & excited at the prospect of trying new things with my students. These past 2 weeks however I felt a sense of giving up because my 110% of effort was consistently met with 20% effort across the board and 80% anger to match. The hardest part was not being able to “read” my kids faces and body language when they walked in to my classroom and the fact that I HAD to go through parents as an intermediary for nearly all situations. Those two things made adjusting curriculum, expectations, and having meaningful interactions all but impossible. All I can say is that I am glad this is our last week of “teaching;” I can’t imagine those schools who go into late June.

Read more: Things I have Learned about Myself as a Teacher during Social Distancing

I won’t say my effort all worthless or I hated every moment of it, because I didn’t, but I do wholeheartedly feel that public education cannot be caught with its pants down again like this. This upcoming fall will look different; public education might be changed forever and we have to be ready to make those adjustments NOW. This past quarter of “emergency learning,” obviously caught everyone off guard by COVID-19 but if this happens again, it will not be an emergency, it will be poor planning.

Read more: One Teacher’s Perspective on the Coronavirus Outbreak

Luckily our district is already preparing and talking about how to go back in the fall, I know this because my husband is on the taskforce as part of his Teacher of the Year duties. I hope they take this as an opportunity to look at how we can redefine safety for our students on campus, how we can build online and in-person relationships, and how we can help our lowest students gain the digital tools they will need in the 21st century. This whole thing has sucked, BUT we can use this to catalyze a conversation for the future of education.

Necessity is the mother of invention.

What good can we take from this to redefine our understanding of the purpose of schools?

We are not just storehouses of knowledge and books; we are places of peer-to-peer social interaction, mental health providers, food relief, and for many students, the only places they feel loved and heard. The moment schools went totally digital many communities lost a resource and a safehouse.

Can schools redefine themselves to bridge the digital divide?

We have been sorely underfunded for so long for proper technology in the classroom and training for teachers to help students become responsible content creators not just information regurgitators. I hope this pandemic and the scramble to get access to technology into our most disadvantaged students’ hands will open up financial opportunities to ensure every student has equal access to the internet and technology. You cannot succeed in this world on analog, so why do we expect education to do so much “old school”?

Can we, as teachers, reframe our purpose in and out of the classroom?

If we go back part-time to school this fall how can we foster meaningful relationship in the classroom that continue to grow in the digital world? This transition to 100% digital was hard and uncomfortable for an industry based on 100% personal interaction. Heck many teachers NEVER assign homework because they know they have no control when the kids walk out their door. But the world doesn’t work like that anymore. The 9-to-5 life is eroded; how can we help prepare our students to increase their personal responsibility and individual motivation when we are not there to remind them over. . .and over. . .and over again?

Can we stop stuffing kids into our classes until they burst?

No educator will ever tell you 30+ students is the perfect learning conditions yet that is what many people have for 6 periods a day. Do that math: 30 kids per class for 6 periods = 180 students (and I know teachers with more!). Teachers were losing their minds trying to keep track of all their kids online. The definition of “attendance” kept changing, the amount of time we were expecting from them ever shrinking, all the while personal responsibility of the students completing eroding. One teacher cannot keep up frantically with mounds and mounds of late work and emails and redos for 150+ students! And in the classroom, social distancing cannot happen when you shove us in like sardines, we need a new way of balancing student-teacher ratios if we are going to go back into the buildings.

So I have a crazy idea floating around for high school.

Why don’t we try to mix the best of both worlds to further education and, heck, maybe even make it better? Take a class of 28, for example, and split it in half: A days and B days. That leaves 14 kids coming in on A days (let’s say Mondays & Thursdays) then the same number coming in on B days (Tuesdays & Fridays). On Wednesdays, teachers do not see any students, it’s a work day for meetings and grading. On their non-attendance days, the students are expected to do assignments online. This way, we can maintain some level of student safety with more social distancing in the classroom, schools can sanitize on Wednesdays, we can build stronger relationships by having less students in the classroom, all while also helping students practice with both the “digital” and “analog” worlds.

Is my plan perfect? No. But life isn’t perfect and this pandemic has shown us “normal” was hella not working for anyone. So let’s throw away the education rule book that is a relic of the industrial model of the early 20th century and reinvent education for the 21st century. Who knows where it’ll take us?

Oh the places we {might} go!


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