Hello! If you haven’t had a chance to read Part 1 of this two-part memoir, you can get caught up here. And for those returning, thank you for joining me and allowing me to continue sharing my experience teaching amid a pandemic. By no means is my story singular. It likely echoes the stories of so many other teachers across the globe rising to the occasion and proving themselves more resilient than ever.
Where I Failed
If you asked me to identify one area where there was potential for personal growth, it would take me an extended amount of time to respond on account of my internal struggle to contemplate, weigh, and prioritize one out of infinitely possible areas. I firmly believe there is always room for growth regardless of where I am situated in life. Part of that process is actively avoiding any falsehoods, so that I may lean all the way into my truths.
Understanding the Burden on Families
With that being said, one of the major mistakes I made early on in distance learning was not being fully cognizant of the tremendous burden that families would be facing amid this transition. Also, how that stress would directly affect their ability to monitor, keep track of, and support their children with distance learning. That isn’t to say I was completely devoid of empathy or compassion during this difficult time. Rather, I truly underestimated the complete toll and magnitude that this virus would have on all aspects of life, community, and beyond.
To give you an example, I remember feeling completely deflated when only roughly 66% of my students attended our very first “face-to-face” synchronous session. I had put a ton of labor, love, and energy into this learning segment. And more than anything, I was thrilled to catch up with all my students. Yet, a third of them failed to show up – without any prior notice. After the session ended, I couldn’t help but question where I had gone so wrong. I followed-up with the individual students who didn’t make it to try and better understand how and where I could support them moving forward.
One conversation with a student’s mother summed up the overall sentiment that so many other parents were feeling. As her voice cracked, she expressed how mentally exhausted she was from having to adjust. She explained that she was working from home while trying to monitor her three children and their distance learning schedules on top of being a mom, her number 1 priority. The stress of having to play all these roles simultaneously compounded and was completely overwhelming her. In that moment, I realized that families were experiencing varying levels of trauma.
Some parents could offer more support. Others had more pressing issues to worry about than getting their child to their next Zoom session. I had to come to grips with the fact that distance learning was going to have to look and feel different for every student because of that. All I could do was support them and be there for them without inducing additional stressors. And once I accepted that truth, the stress of feeling like a failure when aspects of distance learning didn’t go as planned slowly started to fade.
Supporting my Colleagues
Another area that I failed was the level of support and outreach that I offered my colleagues. I could have easily done more to reach out, to make them feel comfortable enough to seek my assistance, and to help them move beyond their individual insecurities with new and emerging technology. Yet, I felt more isolated from them than I ever have—a fact I absolutely hated. For example, within my own grade level, we communicated weekly but communication regarding planning was fragmented and limited.
My colleague shared with me that a parent completely berated him for not seemingly doing enough. This hurt me profoundly because I could have easily helped alleviate his problem had I known about it. However, I was caught up in my own trauma, pain, and sorrow. Amid all this playing out, my sweet and loving grandmother tragically passed away. I still remember how painful the funeral was. Especially given the fact that none of us could leave of our vehicles at the cemetery. Red roses topped my grandmother’s ornate-styled casket as I safely peered from a socially mandated distance with my N-95 firmly attached. It wasn’t the type of goodbye anyone should ever have to endure in their life.
Where I Excelled
Even amid the mistakes I made, I somehow managed to do some things well. For instance, I can say that the most impactful practice I fostered during distance learning was building and maintaining a strong sense of community with my students and their families. I did this by frequently listening to, acknowledging, and accepting the feedback they were kind enough to offer. That meant remaining flexible, maintaining strong lines of communication, and leading with compassion.
I originally intended to meet with my students “face-to-face” in 1-hour sessions 2-3 times weekly. Unfortunately, my plan unraveled and wasn’t viable for my stakeholders because of scheduling conflicts. So, I met them in the middle and hosted these virtual sessions only once a week. What was supposed to be a 1-hour session often turned into a 3-hour session. I know that sounds excessive! A large part of my synchronous learning was dedicated to checking in with my students. It also included prioritizing their social and emotional well-being above everything else. I often tried to end the conversation when we would hit the 2-hour mark, but most of the time my students wanted to keep going. So, I happily honored their request.
Another aspect of distance learning I excelled in was streamlining procedures, expectations, and learning. Every Sunday evening, I sent out a detailed Google Slides weekly schedule on Schoology that broke down the day-to-day assignments for parents to be aware of.
Schoology is a free learning management system (LMS) where I can communicate, provide updates, curate all the original classroom content I’ve created (e.g., lessons, screencasting videos, etc.) and store everything in folders. That same weekly schedule also went out to students via Google Classroom on Monday mornings. All the assignments from the Google Slides were hyperlinked directly to the Google Classroom.
If the Google Slides schedule listed a specific assignment, students could find corresponding assignments in our Google Classroom. There were no surprises, the expectations were clear, and I maintained this format throughout our entire distance learning experience. What saved me time was that my already had experience with online tools and digital platforms prior to the pandemic. Thus, there wasn’t a dramatic learning curve for them.
Lastly, I’d add that part of my success was finding a balance between synchronous and asynchronous learning. What I couldn’t accomplish with one, I accomplished with the other. Although I can’t predict what tomorrow will hold, I can learn from my experience teaching amid a pandemic to focus on the aspects that worked while minimizing those that failed. Stay safe, friends.
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