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Teachers Adjust to Teaching From Home

Social distancing and getting exercise outside.

Leah O'Bryan
April 1,  2020
Perspectives

My alarm goes off at 7:30 a.m. and as I press snooze for the 3rd time, I have no sense of urgency to get up and get my day started. I am not late, it is not the weekend or Spring break and I feel annoyed that my typical 5:15 a.m. alarm will not be set for weeks. Hiding under my covers can only do me good for so long. I finally emerge from my “bunker” and start my day, a few hours later than usual.

COVID-19 has truly affected the world, and has forced those who go to work every day to work from home. Our health care workers and those in grocery stores are on the front lines, working to serve those in need and are putting their own health at risk. And as essential workers head out the door, we have many people out there losing their jobs, struggling to pay their bills. COVID has become like a large boulder that has dropped into the world’s oceans and the ripple effect seems to never end. It is seriously an interesting time and we are living through history.

COVID-19 has forced us educators home, and has tested my ability to adapt quickly to what life launches at me.
COVID-19 has forced us educators home, and has tested my ability to adapt quickly to what life launches at me.

I would have never guessed that my first full year of teaching would leap into Spring like this. COVID-19 has forced us educators home, and has tested my ability to adapt quickly to what life launches at me. Instead of seeing my kids everyday and seeing their faces light up when they read something they love, I am at home, sending emails and posting things online, staring at a screen. Being an educator and assigning my lessons to my students through Google Classroom and other platforms is a great benefit due to the circumstances, but it is far from what I went to school for.

As this virus has forced people inside their homes, it has cleared out the buildings that students and us teachers have called their second home, some for years. My co-workers who have become like family are “Zooming” their students, and some, all while balancing their own children’s school work as well. They are teaching six classes, on top of homeschooling their own children at their own kitchen tables. As we may feel safe within our own four walls, sending us home also gives us a sense of worry. That worry is not for myself, or my family, but it is for my students.

While I am home, warm, safe, with a fridge full of food, some of my students are home, hungry, cold and stuck in places that they might not consider “home.” School for many is where they get their only full meal of the day, where they feel safe, where they are heard and where their friends are. Knowing that some of my kids feel alone at home, without access to their teachers, without access to a school counselor and psychologist, worries me. A school is more than just a place where they learn multiplication tables, it’s truly a place where they grow, meet friends, learn to ask for help, and can find themselves over time. And as we worry about certain students, the door suddenly bursts open because we then realize we need to worry about them all.

My sister's dog, Chance, who works out with me outside.
My sister’s dog, Chance, who works out with me outside.

This pandemic is spreading rapidly and while we are out of school, our kids’ momentum that we worked so hard to build up is slowing down. They are forgetting what we reviewed a few weeks ago, lost the new Spanish phrases they pronounced for the first time a month ago, and cannot work “hands-on” with science experiments like they should be able to. On top of that worry, those with IEP’s, 504 plans and those who need more 1-1 time are not getting what they need and deserve. How are they going to complete the work sent home without the regular guidance they get on a day to day basis?

After I finally roll out of bed, I get dressed and conquer my morning run. It’s raining out and chilly, but if I don’t get outside at least once a day, I know I will go nuts. It’s been almost a full three weeks since I’ve seen friends and although I am not a hugger, right now I do miss hugging them. Then my office hours begin and I answer emails that come through about the assignment I recently posted from students,  and I tell them I miss them, because I do. I know all of us teachers at home do.

While our governor in Massachusetts has just announced schools will be closed until May 4th (which possibly could be longer), my anxieties and questions rise and I worry about all my students. The state said the work being sent home cannot truly count towards their grades. An email was sent home to teachers and all the parents/guardians explaining that teachers will provide and correct and give feedback on work that is meant for educational enrichment and the work provided has to be on things we covered in the past, not introducing new material. We cannot hold our students to get it done if they don’t have full access to the Internet, a charged Chromebook, and more, so it is considered unfair to grade the work coming in, if it’s coming in at all. It’s frustrating for me as a teacher to put all of this work together, read it over, correct grammar and more, but I’m sure it’s even more frustrating for those kids getting all the work done, just to get feedback on run-on sentences and poetry interpretation and not get a grade towards their third term. We are allowed to offer extra credit on previous material covered in class, but only some kids do the work.

As I read emails from multiple students asking, “Will this be counted as a grade or what?” I remind them that the work they are doing now is benefitting their education, expanding their knowledge, helping them grow as a person and preparing them for high school and beyond. Although some of that seems like added “fluff” for them, I truly believe in it. If they are dedicated to doing the work that is for educational enrichment or even extra credit, they are respecting me for the work I put into the assignment. They are also proving to take responsibility for their work and be dedicated to their education, and will get valid feedback from me, helping them in years to come in many classes. But, as we are “stationed” at home, the email threads, the Governor’s announcements and people’s predictions are never concrete. What we hear on the T.V may change a few days after in an email, making us scramble to switch our plans, take back the quiz we sent out, or change our grading systems. The inconsistencies we are hearing on T.V or reading online almost on a daily basis, not to mention the rumors we hear that stress us out, are making our job difficult and keeping us on our toes. Our grading policy has been consistent, but as we say goodbye to third term and enter uncharted waters, fourth term may be a big tidal wave that could change a lot. Many of us teachers usually want March to fly, because it’s one of the longest months of our school year, but we didn’t ask for this and quite frankly, this stinks and I want to be in school.

After correcting a poetry assignment, I re-read a Robert Frost poem and think, “Even he cannot tell us what path to travel on that will lead us away from this pandemic.” I’m worried about my students, my family, and others, as well as our economy and the whole world and wonder how we will all recover once this is over.

My older sister is a nurse practitioner and is testing patients everyday that might test positive for COVID-19 when they leave her office.
My older sister is a nurse practitioner and is testing patients everyday that might test positive for COVID-19 when they leave her office.

And now as I settle down on my couch and continue to complain about teaching from home and missing my students and coworkers, I remember to tune in and check myself. My older sister is a nurse practitioner and is testing patients everyday that might test positive for COVID-19 when they leave her office. She is working hard, geared up, walking into “battle” putting her own health at risk to make sure others are getting tested and getting the help and information they need to recover. During this trying time I am thankful for all our medical workers, those in nursing homes, group homes and those in the ER, on hospital floors and more. They are working tirelessly, and not getting the full supplies they need to protect themselves.

I swear I’m leaving an indent on my couch, where I correct papers, scroll through Facebook, watch Netflix, and read. I am bored, even though I do my best to keep busy. I have never experienced anything like this and I’m sure you can agree, we as humans need other people. I find myself wondering what my purpose is, to teach from home sure, but not being able to get up, get dressed and head off to school to see my students totally affects my motivation and mood. I wonder if I ever will want to retire when that time comes. I’m sad, anxious and nervous, but I am doing O-K.

My coworkers and I are talking daily, trying to keep up motivation and making sure to stay on the same page and talk to our students as often as possible. I and one other teacher, teach 7th and 8th grade English. I text her almost everyday and video chat with her once or twice a week to discuss lesson plans and honestly, just to see and talk to another face. Talking to her and knowing I have someone to lean on, encourages me and eases my stress. I’m thankful. We are doing our best to stay on the same page, and send home the same work, to not confuse students, especially if one family has siblings who have us both. I’ve learned that communication is key.

For the entire staff at the school I work at, we Google Meet every Monday and get filled in about what is changing, and continue to discuss the things we all have been doing to keep our kids engaged the best we can and that has been the most challenging. A lot of kids do the work, but those handfuls that do not,  might not have the best internet access or might not be as motivated as others and I can’t kneel next to them at their desk like I do in class to help encourage them along. That’s that disconnect I feel when teaching from home. Although I am sometimes confused, I feel lucky enough to have a strong school administration that backs their teachers, and fills us in the best they can as the always changing information floods the news stations.

When reaching out to my students, I update my Google Classroom and send daily emails to each class to make sure they know I am there and that I do hold high expectations for them to get things done. We are expected to video chat with each class once a week, and post work every other week day, just like our regular schedule at school. Our principal put a schedule together for us, and we video chat two classes each day for an hour each, Monday to Thursday. It keeps motivation up to see faces because we all miss school. Some video chats have gone well, but only if you have students show up. Sometimes you’re staring at yourself because no one pops in, but you hope they do the work and add to the discussion through comments on Google Classroom.

Is this hard? Teaching from home? Yes. I want to be in my classroom, writing on my white board, talking to my students, getting to know about their weekend and having meaningful discussions with them. We’re all making sacrifices. Changing the way we work, changing the people we see on a daily basis, and staying home to keep others safe and keep this virus from spreading.

The most frustrating thing of course, is not being able to do the job I have dreamed of since high school, but it’s also witnessing people party with each other and act like social distancing is a time for a celebration. After reading comments on social media, talking with others, and listening to the news, it is clear the biggest weapon we have against COVID-19 is social distancing and as much as we despise it and as much as it is negatively affecting our lives, the longer we stay away from each other the less time we’ll have to be, “six feet apart.” So as people are losing jobs, losing loved ones and people are battling with this virus in the medical field, some are literally dancing with Coronas in their hands and acting like this is not a serious issue.

Finding silver linings while social distancing.
Finding silver linings while social distancing.

I’m a teacher, I can’t tell others what to do, but I think maybe the best teacher at this moment is possibly COVID-19. What can we learn from it? What is it teaching us as people? It’s teaching us to slow down, reconnect and adapt to tough times. We are realizing essential workers are not just in the medical field, as they work behind cash registers providing us food. Others are understanding what it’s like to teach from home and understanding just how important school is for others and how tough teacher’s jobs really are. I hope we as a nation are learning to prepare when the warning comes and not brush it off like we’ll always be okay. I know we’ll make it out, but we won’t make it out without being hurt. All we can do is take it one day at a time. Even though I’m sure most of you wake up, unsure of what day it is, like I do. Oh, and I hope we as people have learned that we don’t need that much toilet paper for ourselves. One day at a time, folks.

I am sending thoughts to those who have lost their lives to this virus,to their families who are grieving,  to those who are recovering and to those working hard to stop it from spreading. We can all do our part. Social distancing will help, and stand six feet away from me, thanks.

Leah O’Bryan is a 25 year old 7th and 8th grade middle school English teacher at a small public school south of Boston, MA. She has taught twice in the most disadvantaged communities in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, loves reading, writing and coaching basketball. She aspires to help others and teach her students to love reading. Her niece Mckenzie is her favorite person and her niece Aubree is on the way.

: www.instagram.com/ItsLitInMiddleSchool/

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