3 Ways Crisis Teaching Is Different and Just as (More?) Difficult as “Regular” Teaching (Whatever That Is)

This post could have been entitled “5 ways…” or “10 ways…” or maybe even “100 ways,” but the power of three is strong. It craves concision. It requires streamlined thought. It also makes it more difficult to write, but that’s a different post. Before diving into the big three, I have a message for anyone who reads this blog.

If you think teachers aren’t working, boy are you wrong.

There have been reports in the teaching community that parents and community members have questioned why teachers were getting paid during the shut down period, and they are even questioning why teachers are getting paid now that most of us have returned to the classroom, albeit the virtual one. It’s not just my community questioning it; communities nationwide have heard these questions and school boards nationwide have had to respond to them. It stymies the imagination, really, especially if you have any experience with working from home (more on that in a minute).

The facts are simple: Teachers who found themselves at home and not actively working with students did not take a vacation. Well, perhaps for a day so they could figure out how life was going to work with a full house every day. Shortly after that, however, teachers did what teachers do. They picked up their curriculum and started building an online classroom as they hoped that school would reopen. They called each other to discuss strategies and tools they could use to work with students in an entirely new way. They attended professional development webinars hastily created to help teachers transition. They joined Facebook groups of fellow teachers to share ideas, post “I miss my kids” posts, and get and give encouragement to each other. Personally, my AP Lit syllabus (a 40-plus page bear) is 90% complete now, and my summer reading materials (a 60-plus page bear) is complete. I created enrichment activities and a calendar that I shared with my students. I sent out ideas for keeping their skills sharp. I also wrote one of the most candid letters I have ever written to non-family members and sent that to my students. I would say that I was still working 50-hours a week while schools were shuttered, a *few* hours less than what I was working before. I wasn’t doing the stand-up aspect of teaching and I missed it, but I was still working as a teacher.

On top of that, of course, teachers needed to deal with family logistics, just like everyone else. In our house, we had to figure out which floor everyone was going to be on and we stressed about our Internet connection supporting a programmer, a teacher, and a college student at the same time. My friends have even more troubles, since they have more children to worry about, or they are suffering from job losses — or both. We are blessed, really, and I am thankful and grateful each day, as well as mindful of those who need help from our governments and each other.

So, how is crisis teaching different? Read on.

(1) Working from home is an acquired skill, and many of us have had to acquire it quickly.

After six years of working from home while my son was young, I have mixed emotions about finding myself working from home again. There was freedom one cannot enjoy while working in an office, to be sure, but working from home is also desperately, terribly lonely. By the time I went back to commuting to work (actually, it was to start student teaching), I was craving human-to-human contact beyond my own family. I wanted face-to-face colleagues again. I wanted face-to-face friends again. I was tired of being on video conference and dealing with Internet connectivity issues. Well, here I am again. And yes, I am desperately, terribly lonely. As much as I love technology and love to hate technology, I would go back to my classroom and remove all the tech there if only I could be with my kids and colleagues again.

(2) Crisis teaching is NOT Online Teaching, nor is it Brick-and-Mortar “put” online

Teaching online is COMPLETELY different from brick-and-mortar teaching. To my colleagues who teach in cyber charters and online campuses, I salute you. My distance/online learning experiences started in 2006 and while getting those degrees I can honestly say I worked harder as a learner than ever. My instructors worked hard to master the skills of asynchronous instruction and the “live lecture” that could go FUBAR at any moment. Most of them came from brick-and-mortar campuses and had mixed emotions about the change. I can’t blame them. It’s difficult and paradigm-shifting.

Teaching during a crisis is even more different. My friends talk about time limits on assignments, the focus on social and emotional learning, and the equity issues. Their hearts are broken for their kids, for their families, and for themselves. They can only imagine what is happening in the lives of these young people who are so important to them. Yes, these issues abound in brick-and-mortar teaching too. Being trauma-informed and culturally-responsive are so very important, no matter how you function as a teacher. In my previous teaching experiences, those issues always trumped learning opportunities, so perhaps I am more prepared than others; it was like flipping a switch.

(3) Our “Spidey Senses” are useless when teaching this way.

Observational skills are critical skills for every teacher to hone and develop. In September, you may not know your kids and be able to read their expressions or body language. By October 1, you can predict how most of them will react to something. Take the visual away and it is like September all over again. In essence, we have to develop those “Spidey Senses” required to read the room when the room is in the ether.

To connect with point number two, then, all the extra stuff that goes into explaining a simple assignment without being able to read the room makes the limitations and SEL considerations feel like tourniquets. Everything takes longer. That probably sounds counter-intuitive for some reason. Let me put it this way. Today, I woke up at 7:00 AM and worked until 2:00 PM. It’s Saturday. However, I had to do that to generate the documents I think will help my students to navigate the virtual learning room before our next conference. My classes no longer meet every day, so the students have to have instructions that can help them get started or continue assignments. I had several emails to respond to about assignments coming in late, too (What do I care about due dates? What’s more important now: your health or my due date? Please, if you do not know the answer to that by now, you haven’t been paying attention.) . Then, of course, there are the emails about professional development opportunities, AP® Exam updates (don’t get me started), and the emails from the education associations.

Tomorrow, I will probably work more, but darn it, I’m going for a bike ride. I will go to sleep tonight wondering if I explained something correctly and will have to resist the urge to rush to my computer. Issues that could have been resolved in a 30-second conversation during class now require multiple emails or LMS messages. Every time I get something wrong, I want to kick myself for wasting their time.

So, yeah, it’s different. It’s way different.

I’m going to do something completely out of character now and publish this without too much proofreading. Why? I have run out of time. Thank you for reading and leave a comment if you like.

Be well. Be safe. Be good to you.

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