230-something Days of Remote Learning

We are two days away from the end of an unimaginable school year. In the spring of 2020, as remote learning dragged on, I remember saying, “If we’re doing this in the fall, I cannot do it.” It turns out I was wrong. 

It’s common knowledge that remote learning is terrible. It lacks the deeper social connection of classroom learning. It is difficult to translate certain hands-on activities. Depending on the age of the students, A LOT of work gets transferred on to the shoulders of family members.

Today though I’m going to attempt what I would have previously thought impossible. I’m going to celebrate remote learning. Or rather, I’m going to celebrate myself, the other teachers, the kids, and their families, who persevered through a year and a half of remote learning.

One of the most demoralizing aspects of remote learning was constantly thinking about what I couldn’t do in comparison to classroom teaching. But recently I (finally) realized I needed to reframe my thinking. In the midst of a pandemic, I had kids thinking about math. I did this every day for 170 something days. I exposed kids to new strategies and models for problem solving, I asked them to analyze peers’ work, to develop their own word problems, and on “Fun Friday” we played games which still required mathematical thinking. Getting kids to engage in math on a typical day isn’t always easy. So, let me repeat myself. In the midst of a pandemic, I had kids thinking about math for 170 something days.

I’m no longer going to beat myself up for what I couldn’t do. I’m amazed by what I could do. And I didn’t do this alone.

When I think about what my students went through this year and a half of remote learning, it breaks my heart. When I think about the ways in which the system failed to create a more humane solution to pandemic schooling I feel angry. But in spite of everything — the social isolation, the anxiety, the drain of remote learning — my students and millions across the country persevered. I’m in awe of what these kids did. Whether or not their cameras were on or they had changed out their pajamas, they showed up to school. They fought against the same Groundhog Day-type exhaustion that we felt as adults, and participated in class conversations and turned in assignments. I feel so grateful I was able to be a part of making this year less terrible for them.

I’m equally in awe of families this year, especially moms. Remote learning created such a terrible strain on families. They had to provide tech support, print out assignments, cajole students into finishing them, answer questions, provide extra instruction, all while managing their other day to day tasks and surviving the mental and physical risks of covid. Their role in remote learning this year was nothing short of heroic.

Reflecting on what teachers, students, and families survived together, I am sad and angry. Like so many horrors unleashed by covid, remote learning didn’t have to be this way. There are so many ways we could have been provided better support. I know there will come a time for me to process and direct this rage effectively. For now, I want to stay in celebration mode.

We did something that I truly couldn’t fathom. We found a way to build connections and community. We studied the world around us, made sense of current events, wrote poetry and personal narratives, and solved lots and lots of math problems. We didn’t give up.

In two days I’m going to close my laptop. I’m going to stay as far away from Zoom as possible. I’m going to take a deep breath, and I might cry. But as much as this year felt like a nightmare at times, I’m going to set aside what was wrong and what was missing. I’ll remind myself of all that we did, and I’ll be proud.


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