We’ve been at this whole distance education/remote learning thing for just about 12 weeks. In a matter of days, we flipped our classrooms from a face to face learning environment for 28 four-, five- and six-year-olds, to delivering a program completely online.
So, what did that look like?
For me, it looked like spending hours in front of a computer for days on end learning about every virtual classroom available to us to decide which was the best online space for our students. It looked like testing out multiple video conferencing platforms on multiple devices to see which was best suited for our families. It looked like exhaustive conversations about how to program to meet the needs of our vast array of young learners.
Then we add the kindergarten element.
It looked like Mr. Dressup meets Mary Poppins and they become YouTubers. It looked like me carrying a phone everywhere to catch real life learning on camera wherever possible. It looked like my family life becoming a reality tv series as we made videos of math lessons, literacy lessons, science lessons and anything else I could use to allow my kinders to remember my face, stay connected with their learning and most importantly, engage them in the process.
I don’t say any of this for sympathy or praise. I am an educator. This is my job. Not only is it what I have to do, it’s what I am supposed to do.
On paper, I’m checking all the boxes. Granted, they’re boxes on a list I’ve created myself, but it’s a list based on my job requirements and my own definition of what it means to be a teacher.
- We need to provide students with a certain amount of “work” a week. Check.
- We need to keep in contact with students and their families. Check.
- We need to provide feedback on student work. Check.
It sounds easy doesn’t it? Maybe. Depends on the lens you’re looking through. Admittedly, I’ve simplified pages and pages of documents outlining our responsibilities as educators during this time, but that’s not what this post is about.
Wherein lies the challenge is the other half of that list. The half I created for myself.
- I need to engage my learners. Check?
- I need to support them and their families. Check?
- I need to be a teacher. Check?
What comes with distance learning are the daily questions I ask myself when I sit down in front of my computer. The questions I ask myself before bed every night. The questions that have weighed on me for twelve straight weeks day in and day out.
Am I doing everything I possibly can to engage my learners? I don’t know. I have 28 students who I cannot sit with on a daily basis, observe, listen to, talk to. Am I supporting my families in every way I can? I don’t know. You see, the thing is, distance learning also looks like phone calls and emails to parents who apologize for not being active members of our virtual classroom. It looks like families who feel guilty for not accessing the content we are putting out despite our best efforts to let them know weekly to do what they can, when they can, how they can. It’s finding out that my students are going through challenges that I can’t possibly understand because I am not them, I am not living what they’re living, I am not there. I am on the other side of a computer screen.
And that’s what makes this so incredibly difficult. The feeling of helplessness. It’s a huge part of distance education that no one talks about.
So, where does that leave me? And people like me? People who struggle with this reality of our current model of education. The people who know the answer isn’t written somewhere. The people that know that the answer isn’t to create more content, make more phone calls, send more emails because these are things in our control. It leaves us in a place that requires us to change the way we think. A friend reminded me today that, “Your mental health is important. Working more won’t fix this. Refocusing your priorities will.”
And there it is.
Distance education doesn’t look like it did 12 weeks ago. I will continue to deliver a program with engaging content to reach all of my learners. I will continue to offer support and resources for families in need. Because when I stop and really reflect, I know I am checking off those last three boxes. I know I am doing everything I know to do to take care of my students and their families to the best of my ability. I know I have more to learn about how to serve my students during distance education, so I will keep learning. And I will continue to do everything I can so my families can continue to do what they can. And if I’m being honest with myself, I’ll probably continue to question if I am doing enough. Because that’s how I’m wired.
But I will remind myself that I am not teaching content – I am teaching children and that looks very different right now than it did 12 weeks ago. What they needed 12 weeks ago may not be what they need today. What I needed 12 weeks ago isn’t what I need today.
And when I begin to go down that path of, Am I doing enough? I will remember to pause. Pause and refocus. Because working more won’t fix this. Refocusing my priorities will.