Teaching has always been a difficult profession, in my opinion. As a high school teacher, I often feel as though I’m selling a product no one wants. Maybe that’s just because it’s English, and no one wants to read Beowulf or Macbeth. Or, maybe it’s me. Maybe my jokes have finally made the transition from witty and sophisticated to more of a dad brand—unapologetically corny. I’m not sure, but I do know I’m definitely not wearing Air Monarchs, and I said goodbye to jorts back in the ninth grade. At least I’m safe there.
In all honesty, the school year is always challenging. It’s difficult enough to get students to submit work on time when I see them face-to-face every day, so one can imagine what it’s like trying to coax work out of kids during a pandemic. It was weird, to say the least. And frustrating.
So now what? It seems like summer just rips on by after the 4th of July. It’s mid-July now, and we’re inching closer and closer to September. September, for me, is always a tough transition anyway. Summer is never long enough, yet I love the fall weather and all of the activities ushered in with the changing season. The thought of a new school year often makes me feel anxious, too, but at the same time, it’s a fresh start—new faces, new classroom dynamic, and maybe even some renewed perspective. Always bittersweet.
This, though, is different.
A return to school in the fall this year (whatever that means or looks like) is probably best characterized by feelings of angst and uncertainty. It will be different. Administrators know it. Teachers know it. Parents know it. Students know it.
I haven’t taught in my actual classroom since March 12th. As weird as that is (and it’s extremely weird), I didn’t hate being quarantined at home. It’s true. I didn’t miss the trio of alarms beginning at 5:30 a.m. I didn’t miss packing a lunch or trying to find a shirt that wasn’t too wrinkled. I liked working from home.
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But just because I like aspects of teaching from home doesn’t mean it’s easy. Just because I like not driving into work doesn’t mean I don’t miss the people. Those things don’t have to be mutually exclusive. You can feel conflicted. It’s normal. At least, I think it is.
Will I be devastated if we can’t reassemble in person in the fall? No. I’ll be OK. It will be odd, disappointing in many ways, and stressful, for sure, but I’ll be OK. Online education presents a host of challenges, and while some students may thrive, it’s certainly not ideal for all. However, I have to prepare myself for that reality.
What about parents, though? If in-person instruction doesn’t resume in the fall, some parents might feel frustrated, and understandably so. Child care becomes an issue, especially with young ones. Work schedules may pose problems, as well. Those scenarios will be difficult to navigate, and while they may not impact me directly, I’d do well to empathize there.
Other parents may feel relieved they won’t have to grapple with whether or not to send their children to school based on their own concerns. It may provide peace of mind and reassurance of their children’s safety during an uncertain time. There isn’t just one scenario, no one-size-fits-all way to feel about school in the fall. And that’s my point.
It’s OK to be disappointed if school doesn’t resume in the traditional sense.
It’s also OK to feel angry if it does, especially if mask-wearing, social distancing, and a host of other precautionary measures are required. It’s OK to be somewhere in the middle, too, or to experience any other combination of fear, frustration, or general concern.
Regardless of where people land on the school-in-the-fall continuum, there’s really no substitute for in-person instruction. But, if we can’t have it, we’ll adjust accordingly. It’s important to remember the positives. I know that’s difficult verbiage to stomach during a time like this. In terms of technology, though, there are so many video platforms and educational tools available to educators, all designed to make remote instruction more engaging. And it will certainly need to be that this fall—engaging. Access to technology is another potential issue for some, but schools are working hard to address that as well. They’ll need to.
And when I consider my talented colleagues experiencing this alongside me (alongside me in the Zoom panels on my screen, I mean) and our administrators who genuinely care about the students, we can put together a solid plan.
If it’s all online, I’ll make the educational experience the best I can. If it’s an in-person and remote combo, I’ll make the educational experience the best I can. If it’s full in-person instruction, then I’ll finally remember what my classroom looks like. It’s been such a long time.
Oh, and my jokes will keep on rolling. They’ll get those either in-person or virtually. No escape. Sorry, kids.
Finally, as I prepare myself mentally for an unusual fall in the realm of education, I think about my own school-aged children at home (8 and 6). Maintaining a positive attitude and resisting the urge to complain will be key. If I can model it, hopefully my kids will follow suit.
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And by the way, my home is not a school. It just isn’t. And that’s OK, too. If my kids have to learn from home this fall, then my wife and I will do our best to facilitate and encourage. We’ll never fully replicate the full experience, but they will learn.