The day came. Quietly, unlooked for, relatively unannounced—at least not preemptively announced at my High School. I left school on a Friday afternoon in March, set to pick up sick-work for my own elementary school student at his school. (No, he didn’t have SARS Co-V2. He had strep throat.) As I pulled into Midway elementary, my husband called, “Did you see the text from the school district?” he asked. “Nope,” was my brief reply.
“They’ve instructed elementary students to take their devices home this weekend,” he explained. “Ah, good to know. I’m here at the school now, and I can pick up both devices for the boys,” I returned. “I’ll call you back in 15 minutes, okay?” And that was the beginning of the new reality which most of us face.
Thirty minutes later our Governor announced a “soft-closure” of school. Two weeks later, a May 1st extension, and after two more weeks, it was announced that our schools will be closed for the rest of the school year.
We—the community, the parents, the teachers, the students, the administrators, the staff, individual states, the nation—let each new wave of distance sink in. (While some were desperately unable to gain distance because of their circumstances, and I’ll address this harsh reality later.) But sometimes the tide has risen so quickly, as each new day dawns on our brave new world of online schooling, we’re still caught off-guard, brought to turmoil, left (some) in tears.
For those of you who are struggling—and, yes, I’m pretty sure I’m speaking to a universal WE—TAKE HEART! I know that this road has been constantly changing, ever updating, inundated with crashing breaker upon crashing breaker of the new, the not-normal, the unknown. Yes, it has felt like a dystopian reality has been thrust upon many of us; and yes, I understand that holding the education of your own children in your own purview has got to be scary.
I spent the entire first weekend after the school closure working. When I say working, I mean that I put in two solid twelve-hour days. Scouring my lesson plans, shifting my expectations, creating a video welcome, expeditiously scanning text into PDF, drafting a parent email, assuring my students that their current assignments were still due, grading my current assignment load, and scrupulously re-designing my instructional rubric to fit our new reality—online schooling.
I’m a teacher. I share this not because you didn’t read the last paragraph where I explained all of the hard work and effort that went into shifting my classes to online models, but because I want you to understand that I feel you, parents, when you describe the hardship of schooling all of your people at home. Wednesday of the following week I entered upon an educational arena that I will hence forth and forever refer to as “The Rodeo.” We’re god-fearing cow and sheep folk here where I live, and I can only describe that those first few days of EVERYONE online, everyone collapsed into one space, one classroom, one life was a POOP-SHOW to behold.
My husband on a conference call with the East-coast. Myself on a Zoom meeting with my teaching team. My sons on a host of platforms, apps, and technological learning tools that left my head spinning, and my heart overflowing with passwords that I hopelessly cast into the soft-shod muck of my working memory.
Holy cow. We were failing. We were failing, and we were going to fail. It took my breath away. This instant shift, and equally instant knowledge– that while I felt aptly, even confidently, prepared to transition (with a 24 hours-worth of weekend-work) to teach eleventh graders both the art and science of reading, writing, speaking, and thinking with the flip of a switch– my own little family, my own pride-and-joy, my own little think tank was going to fall flat on its face in the mutton-busting, teeth brown with animal crap and tears, and there was nothing I could do about it!
Then Thursday dawned, and we were all okay. The kinks were there. You better believe there were kinks, and still are some. But we began to piece together our new reality. My second grader, who is bright, and silly, and a handful to be around for eight hours at a stretch, was completely overwhelmed just to see the “to-do” list his teachers posted. “Thirteen pages of math, MOM!” he yelled. As I tried to explain that those 13 pages were really just slides– on a Power Point, or a Nearpod, or a … you fill in blank with the app your student is using to ingest and then submit work—which meant that there were only THIRTEEN PROBLEMS. In total. Much less than he had done for his homework the week before.
So it has gone in our home. Sometimes we are able to re-visualize, re-imagine, re-calibrate our thinking about school. We’re riding high and feeling the adrenaline of success for every one of those eight seconds. My oldest son has quietly gone about his work, day-in and day-out, nary a hiccup. But we had some good old-fashioned ride-the-bull sessions when he couldn’t explain to me why his work was left “unsubmitted” on some of his assignments. We’re working it out. Sometimes we still get bucked off the bull.
But it is also very obvious to me that my children’s teachers got the news about school closures, went out to their own virtual rodeo arenas, got on the saddle bronc assigned to them, and WENT. TO. TOWN! (Go Wranglers!) We came back, to online school, to a system that was ready to deliver learning– targeted, essential learning– to each of my children in practically the eight seconds it takes to ride a saddle bronc. The execution, the preparedness, the effort, the instructional stability, the stamina, and the standards were astounding. Their style, their grace, their precise timing was everything. My children weren’t going to sit out this pandemic twiddling their thumbs. They were going to be learning. Truly gaining in knowledge, education, and standards-based instruction for their grade-level. It was and IS remarkable.
I also want parents, students, community members, and administrators to know that MY STUDENTS ARE SHOWING UP! My students are here. They are in their classrooms. Some of them in record displays of participation. It is so easy to give High School students a bad rap. To label them with some derogatory generational disparagement. But I want you to know that my students have been there for me as much as I have been there for them. They are writing, they are reading, they are thinking, they are responding to online discussions, and submitting FlipGrids full of poems, and rocking this brave new world in a way that I could not possibly have imagined.
This online learning platform IS accessible, IS relevant, IS possible, IS working. And, no, in my opinion, it is not the best there is to offer. I am an eternal advocate for the face-to-face classroom. I love the people. There will always be outliers. There will be those whose situations, livelihoods, family environments, and living situations have been thrown into such chaos by this change that they will not be able to either succeed or survive in this online learning platform. We should begin to plan for their recovery now. How will we offer make-up credit, re-teaching, re-assessment, and re-vitalization of those whose educational opportunities really did go down the tube when social distancing became a reality.
But above all, I want us to remember, and I believe that this moment in education has re-taught us, the incredible resiliency of the human spirit. We are all experiencing this rodeo together and yet separately. Almost all lived human experiences are like that—individual and collective. My hope is that we’ll continue to reach out with that human spirit of support and core care. I hope we will ban together in care and community-interest not just blast our latest emotion into the social media echo chamber. But take up the banner of education because it is one that we all must bear. Here’s to that next great ride of Old Glory around the rodeo arena in real-time. As the horse picks up speed, and the wind takes that banner of freedom into endless ripples of hard work, good will, and committed effort, may we remember learning and pedagogy are built upon the backs of those educational bronc riders—past, present, and future. You’re one of them now. We are all in this together.