First of all, there are no good answers. Not only are there no right answers but truly no good answers. Nothing we do is going to truly serve everyone involved. We’re in an awful place and it is hurting everyone. It is definitely hurting some folks more than others, however.
Right now I am working harder as a teacher than I have ever worked in more than two decades of this career. At the same time, I am doing less for my students and their progress (academic, social, emotional) than I’ve ever done. I can’t do for them all they need and all I’m capable of doing in this virtual setting.
- I can’t have a quick conversation with a student to check on how they are doing, academically or emotionally or whatever.
- I can’t see the work students are doing to ask a prompting question or suggest a strategy or just engage them in conversation about it.
- I can’t make quick, on the fly changes to group kids or offer kids breaks or whatever. (I can make some changes, but the virtual environment is far more rigid than our physical classroom.)
- Things take longer in this virtual environment. Breaking into groups requires waiting for the software to move everyone into breakout rooms. Even if that only takes 5-10 seconds each time, it’s adding up. Wait time is longer because we can’t see each other to gauge people’s needs to talk or not.
- Kids can’t talk to each other. They can’t turn and talk to a partner about a book we’re reading or the math strategies they’re trying. They also can’t just have a conversation for fun about anything they want.
- We can’t glance back at our previous work on the board or the walls as we keep going. We can save our work (I’ve got plenty of screenshots of charts we’ve made and of student work) but we can’t just have it around us and visible to us all at any time.
Those are just a few of the challenges this current setting involves. And that’s just from my end of things. The challenges for families who are now serving as instructional aides for their young children while working from home or taking care of other kids or finding a safe place for their child to be while they are at work are also significant. The lack of social interaction and, for some at least, of physical activity for young children are more challenges. It’s not a good answer.
Going back in person isn’t a better answer. It might solve some of the above challenges, but it brings new ones. The most obvious is the risk of infection to students, staff, and the families of both. That’s a significant concern.
Going back in person doesn’t look like school looked a year ago. Many of the things that aren’t working in virtual learning are still not going to work. Kids won’t be able to work in small groups in meaningful ways. They won’t be able to turn and talk with a classmate. And they can’t all be in the classroom at the same time which means we either double the number of teachers or we have some kids in the classroom and others joining online at the same time. Oof.
There are no good answers.
The question, it seems to me, is what school means to us. Do we have to get kids back into school buildings so families can get back to something more like the normal we knew? What is the most important goal for schools? Teaching students academic content? Helping students grow as thoughtful, productive, caring people?
Until we decide that, we can’t know which of the possible options, none of which are good, is the one that makes sense. And when that decision is made by a district (or school or state or whatever) it will highlight the values of that organization. For better or worse, it will tell us what matters.
With the caveat that we often see what we want to see. So assuming that an organization that is returning in person doesn’t value teachers may not be accurate. It may be. But it may not. This is complex. And, no matter what, it sucks.