Two Seasons of Remote Teaching
Today is the first day of winter and tonight is the longest night of the year. This marks two seasons spent living and teaching through a pandemic. With two days left until winter break it felt like a proper time to reflect on what's passed.
I never thought I would need a winter break more than I did my first year of teaching. But this year feels like the first in so many ways. On most days I do not feel competent. On most days I feel like the best I can do is just show up and show I care. The coming break feels like a chance to stop flailing in the water, gasping for air, and actually fill my lungs up with oxygen.
There are important distinctions between this year and my first. I have eleven years of teaching under my belt now. And although remote teaching feels so different and so challenging, many (if not all) of the teaching principles I believe in still apply. Above all, I am pouring my energy into forming positive, trusting relationships with my students and their families. This effort has felt easier in some ways, because of another major distinction between this year and my first.
This year I am at a new school. For the first time in my teaching I am not at a Title I school. My students are a much more socioeconomically, racially, and ethnically diverse group than any group I've taught before. There is a way in which the relative privilege in this community seems to suffuse throughout the work of teaching at this school. This is partly because there are fewer kids living in poverty at this school, which leaves more energy for adults to attend to the needs of the kids who are. It's hard for to me to explain, but for now I'll just say that this is the most democratically run school I've taught in. It also feels like it just functions more smoothly than any other school I've worked in (it's now five total for those keeping score).
Overall, I can barely believe we've reached this milestone - two seasons of life under covid-19. I remember when our school buildings closed in March I honestly thought we'd back back by the end of April. As remote teaching stretched into spring, I couldn't fathom doing it in the fall. "If we're still doing this in September," I said to several friends, "I can't do it."
I meant it. I felt it deep in my gut. There's something so draining and demoralizing about remote teaching. I am trying my best each day. And each day I know that the kids need more, but I don't have more to give, because I have to save some for myself. And yet, I'm doing what I thought was impossible.
There's so much more I can say about what I've learned from these past six months. Hopefully I'll find some time and energy and words to do so soon. For now I'll end with this thought: For those of us who have been fighting injustice in schools and throughout our society, the last six months have been especially heartbreaking. The last six months have sent shockwaves through every fault-line of inequity in our society. The gaps between the haves and have-nots created by racial capitalism have never felt more obvious or devastating to me.
There are many kids who are struggling emotionally and socially this year, but academically they will be fine. But there are others - the ones our country had already abandoned in many ways - who are falling further behind. The inequitable school system we have in New York City is the result of decades of conscious choices at the local, state, and federal level. This year those same governments doubled down on these decisions. Our billionaires are richer than ever. Our poorest children, our children with IEPs, our children learning English, and many others have simply been forgotten. This brutal truth has been reinforced over and over again for the last six months of life under covid-19. I only hope we can find our collective rage and power in the next season to do something about it.