Current Events in Education

The Lost Identity of Teachers: The COVID-19 Story

Due to COVID-19, on Thursday evening, it was announced that all schools in my state would close for two weeks starting the following Monday.  Immediately, teachers began cloning themselves, figuring out how to recreate their daily learning experiences in absentia. Remember, a teacher’s value is their ability to listen and analyze the needs of a student at the moment; it is in our humanity, which cannot be replicated.  Friday, was the latest illustration of the lost identity of teachers.
Students will not reflect in 10 or 20 years about the awesome resources their teachers assigned during the COVID-19 shutdown.  I appreciate that Friday’s frantic efforts were done out of care and love, but it’s not going to matter. Students will remember feeling reassured or comforted, or something else you can’t imagine, not those worksheets.  In 8th grade, two students at my school were murdered. I don’t remember much about those days, but I do remember Senora Kadlec. She stood before us, eyes red, lips trembling, and said “I’m sorry. I can’t teach today.” I got it; there are moments in life where being able to conjugate a verb takes a back seat.  COVID-19 is one of those moments. Teachers and students are humans, not machines.  
Moreover, teachers already wear too many hats, and COVID-19 has added another.  Parents, communities, and administrators are expecting teachers to provide structure, routine, and education while having no contact with students.  A global pandemic–never seen by anyone alive today–and teachers are expected to carry on as normal? The lessons I need to teach right now, I can’t teach.  I can’t contextualize this moment in an email, or a video clip. And, to send out that video on photosynthesis is totally ignorant of the moment. However, teachers shouldn’t shoulder all of the responsibility.  I see parents incensed about a lack of materials being provided for their child. I’ve read reports about administrations mandating certain amounts of work and required postings. In total, these sentiments amount to us worrying about students’ test performances when they return.  It’s all evidence proving the identity of teachers is lost.    
Parents, communities, and administrators are expecting teachers to provide structure, routine, and education while having no contact with students Click To Tweet
If I sound irritated, it’s because I am.  My primary job right now is to take care of my family, like every other person in the country.  My job is to explain to my kids what is going on, soothe their nerves, figure out how my household can stay safe, healthy, and fed.  History, math, art, and all other subject areas are vitally important to the development of young people. Right now, we’ve got bigger fish to fry.  It’s one thing to grade at home, or to stay late to call parents, or come in early to set up for the day. But, being asked to throw some busy work at students, highlights the ease with which teachers are asked to put their health and well-being second.  Teachers must learn to say “no.”
I make no apologies.  Friday, I didn’t throw a bunch of work together for my kids.  I didn’t browbeat them with threats that they better respond to my posts.  Their first priority in the weeks ahead was about taking care of themselves, their families, and their community.  That was my only objective. What lies ahead is about being a loving brother, a compassionate son, a conscious neighbor.  It’s about being a rational and responsible member of humanity. We shared some of our favorite activities. We talked about which ones we could still enjoy, and which ones we would have to miss for a while.  I encouraged them to embrace some of their classmates’ favorite things, and I asked them to write to me about their experiences. Hopefully, a few will write back about how they are coping with the pandemic, but past that, what else matters?
I understand that this is an easy position for me–a privileged, well resourced, member of a 2 teacher household–to take.  Where’s my humanity in a crisis, right? I can’t feed my students that don’t have a stocked pantry.  I can’t change the crummy parents some of my students have.  But, don’t tell me those worksheets I didn’t make would have somehow served as a distraction from their ills.  If you’re hungry, you don’t care about John Brown. So, the most humane thing I could do Friday and beyond was to provide a stable, positive foundation as they stepped into the unknown.  
I say all of this while having a YouTube page full of course content.  I’ve spent years trying to be ever-present in the lives of my students utilizing multiple ed-tech tools.  Yet, for all of these efforts that make my classroom presence redundant, my students still need me. That’s because my YouTube page is only a tool for the most motivated, best-resourced students.  The others that need more love, more attention, more of a kick in the butt, those students, need me and my humanity on a day-in-day-out basis. Being ever-present is akin to being never present. You become expendable, something frivolous.  A teacher’s value is their time with students. There is no replacement. Administrators, parents, and teachers shouldn’t be left thinking that a teacher’s value is easily substituted by a few electronic worksheets sent with the click of a button.  We need to re-evaluate and prioritize what it means to be a teacher, and COVID-19 has proven that.

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