Covid-19 Teaching Diary Day 11: Remote Learning Reality Check

I have alluded to how discouraged I have felt, but I have tried to stay positive. I need to take a day to offer a reality check and vent some frustration.

I feel like my frustration can be summarized in a couple of tweets.

Exhibit A:
So, the Chancellor (who until recently I have really admired) has been spending his days on Twitter cheerleading the remote learning efforts. On a certain level I get it. This is a crisis for New York City’s public school students, teachers, and families. It is important to celebrate the resilience on display throughout the city. But when I’m part of a community that is really, really struggling with remote learning (I’m including myself here), at a certain point the cheerleading starts to feel like gaslighting.

And the fact that 40,000 iPads have been passed out 11 school days into remote learning? That is not equity, Pam. Eleven lost days of instruction for kids in homeless shelters and other vulnerable situations is not equity.

Meanwhile at least two of my third graders still didn’t have access as of today. This is not equity. Then there are the kids with special needs and the kids who are learning English. These kids are on Google Classroom, but they’re struggling. This is not equity.

Exhibit B:

Perhaps this is just a personal problem. On a normal day of teaching, I struggle to feel effective. I am pretty much always comparing myself to rockstar teachers I know from social media or my own personal standards. And I often feel I fall short.

Teaching during a pandemic, I feel like I’m being called to rise to an extraordinary challenge and I… I can’t seem to do it. I want to give my students the best possible education. I would never be okay with “just showing up” as a standard for normal teaching. But I feel stuck. I really feel like I’m trying my best, but I don’t feel like it is enough.

Meanwhile, I feel like I’m being flooded with resources. It’s probably the same number of professional development resources I see in normal circumstances. But given the urgency of this moment (and how I feel I’m falling short) it feels overwhelming. Each time I see a tweet, Facebook post, or e-mail about “7 Tips for Remote Learning” or a great, easy to use app I’ve never heard of, it somehow makes me feel more inadequate. Because if all these resources exist, and I’m not using them, what does that say about me as a teacher?
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This is where the frustrations summarized by Exhibit A and Exhibit B convene. At this point, I have a little more than half of my students showing up to one of the five video calls I hold a day. This is progress I want to celebrate! It took hard work, including lots of phone calls and some pretty painstaking one on one video calls with students to get to this point.

I’m worried though, because there is another handful of kids who I see engaging with content online on some level, but I haven’t seen their faces or talked to them. Most worrisome of all are the twelve kids who are not connected or engaged at all. This includes three kids who are connected to Google Classroom, but don’t speak English. I’m really struggling to support these kids.

With all this in mind, I’m trying to figure out where to focus my limited mental and emotional capacity. The first two weeks I felt content to focus on getting all kids connected to and comfortable with Google Classroom. I want to move on to sharpening my remote teaching pedagogy. But I can’t stop worrying about the kids who aren’t connected. I want to be able to do both. But it’s hard to find bandwidth for it all.

Many of the educators I admire in real life and on social media are advocating for a focus on social emotional learning. They are speaking out in favor of taking things slow for the mental well-being of our students and ourselves. “Focus on checking in, and less on academics.” But when I can’t even check in with a third of my students, even this goal feels out of reach.

Being in touch with families is partly a function of the relationships you cultivate. But it’s also a function of whether families have a working number. Whether they have time to talk to their kid’s teacher when they’re not at work. Whether they have energy to talk to their kid’s teacher during a pandemic.

I know I’m not alone in feeling overwhelmed. I know many teachers (and other professionals) feeling this way. I also know (intellectually at least) that the fact that I care this much is some sort of good sign. If I’m not a good teacher, at least I’m a decent human being.

But the fact is we’re in the middle of a historic crisis. Everyone wants to believe that in historic moments they would be a hero, not a bystander. As I grapple with the challenges of inequity and new technology, I’m trying to figure out how as a teacher, and a human I can meet this moment head on. 


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