Covid-19 Teaching Diary Day 16: So This is the "New Normal"

How did today feel? It's hard for me to put into words. When I sat down to try, the phrase, "the new normal" popped into my head. I keep hearing that this current reality is our "new normal." The social distancing, closed restaurants, canceled concerts, remote learning... all of it.

Obviously though, there's nothing normal about this.

Today three students logged into video calls for the first time! I was so happy to see them I almost cried. I can't really wrap my head around the fact I haven't seen these kids for five weeks.

As we connect with new kids, it seems other kids drop in and out. I would estimate about a dozen of my students show up to video calls consistently. Another five or six show up sporadically. And there's still six kids who I haven't seen.

For some of these kids we've been able to contact their families. My school, for all of our struggles, has always been a community of "all hands on deck." Our front office staff have been working diligently to stay connected to families. Some of our families don't trust teachers or administrators, but are willing to communicate with these other members of our community. I'm grateful for that.

Meanwhile, my efforts to build some semblance of community and routine continues. Today we discussed Earth Day during morning meeting and closing circle. I asked the kids to share things they are grateful for from the earth, and ways we could show gratitude. The conversation - a break from the academic focus I've had on my mind - reminded me of what it means to teach younger children. Some kids were grateful for water, for animals, and flowers. Some ways to show gratitude included not littering and not wasting food.

Their answers were earnest, sweet, and sometimes not quite topical. I appreciated the conversation even the answers that were way off topic, because it reminded me who my students are. Sometimes it feels like my efforts to help kids master the math content obscures them from me. Overall the conversation just felt good. It didn't feel like the struggle that math instruction has felt like.
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But alongside these victories, there were troubling moments. A student posted two very inappropriate videos to our Google Classroom. It seemed like only a matter of time to be honest. We didn't really have a chance to give our kids guidance on internet safety. We were so busy just trying to figure out how to set up instruction and get kids connected. So now we'll have to play catch up.

Beyond the inappropriateness of the content, this felt like a concerning warning sign of some other trauma. This same student logged into a math video call briefly, texted an explicit message in the chat, and then left just as abruptly.

Many of the kids I teach have experienced trauma before the pandemic hit. The school closure represents a new trauma on top of that. And then there's the probability of other traumas that could be taking place now. Figuring out how to support families and children when we're no longer connected by a physical community is a daunting challenge., none of this feels normal. And of course, our old "normal" wasn't exactly that either. Or at least what we considered normal wasn't right or humane.

In the mean time, I try to look for ways to cope and help the kids do the same. I'm skeptical that accepting our current reality as normal is a part of that.


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