This past year has been one for the books. Literally, it will be in history books someday. Last March, the world came to a halt. On March 13, I worked with my coworkers to get materials ready for kids to work from home for two weeks. The plan was to have spring break and learn remotely for two weeks. That obviously didn’t happen. I don’t know if I would have wanted to know that March 13th was our last day for over a year. I think that would have made me more upset than I already was.
After over a year of teaching over the computer, I feel extremely drained. I’m tired no matter how much sleep I get, and I feel so burnt out that I barely have the motivation to make it through some days. I wanted to give an update on what my past year has looked like. I want to try to stay positive, but I also want to be honest. This year has not been easy, folks.
I’ve already talked about how many times I’ve changed teaching positions for this school year. From special education to general education to teaching virtually and then changing grades–it’s been a mess. I haven’t talked much about how flexible you have to be when teaching on the computer.
You want to do reading group from bed? Sure. You want to do your math assignment while in your blanket fort? Go for it! You want to write on your back porch in the sun? Absolutely! I think encouraging kids to keep coming to class in any outfit or location is what is keeping my class’s attendance from plummeting. Besides a few kids, most of my students have been coming to all of the lessons, and I’m happy with that.
One thing that I miss is the flexibility that I have when I am in the classroom. If I have a reading group, I want to spend a little extra time with one day, and I can do that without having to notify all of the parents and repeating myself a million times. I can’t change a lesson easily because then parents get confused and bombard me with messages. I’ve changed and adapted how I plan and how I communicate with both students and parents. It’s worked so far. It just took a while to figure out what works for everyone.
It Takes a Village
When you have a regular classroom, you are the adult in charge, and aside from support teachers and classroom aides, you are the one that kids come to for help. With everyone being at home and not being in the same room as me all day, they turn to their parents for help. I’ve been so lucky to have supportive parents this year who help their child if they need it.
I’ve changed the way I give instruction and the number of assignments I give kids. I make myself available for questions during the whole school day, and the kids feel comfortable asking questions through messages or during our live meets. We’ve grown as a group together. It would not have been possible to teach second graders remotely without having parents support me. It takes a village to raise a kid, and it takes a village to teach virtually for a whole school year!
Technology surrounds us. Netflix on our television, the computers that we use for work and school, and our phones for communication are all screens that we look at constantly. I know some jobs require people to look at screens almost all day, but teaching was never one of them. Sure we like to integrate technology into the classroom whenever we can, but the longest I ever looked at a screen was maybe an hour at a time while working on paperwork. This year has been way different.
A typical day has me looking at my computer screen for 8-10 hours. I usually work during my lunch as well, so there aren’t any breaks. My eyes hurt so bad, and I was getting headaches almost daily. I got blue light glasses to help with the eye strain and headaches, but it doesn’t help with the mental exhaustion. I don’t think there’s anything that can help with that except for limiting screen time, and that’s not possible when it’s your job.
I’m a patient person–at least when it comes to working with kids. I can repeat myself a billion times in one day, and I still stay calm with kids. I have no problem helping students if they are confused about an assignment or if my directions didn’t make sense. What gets really frustrating is teaching a whole lesson, explaining an assignment, answering questions, and having a student join the meeting more than twenty minutes late.
If that didn’t happen often and the student genuinely cared, I wouldn’t mind repeating myself at all. What gets annoying is when it’s the same student every day. For those few parents I have that aren’t supporting me from their end, their kids are missing so much content, and then the parents don’t know how to help them with their work. I find myself constantly reminding myself that everyone is living through a pandemic. Everyone has other things going on, and home is not always the best place to learn. I think this built-up frustration is what is making me feel so darn burnt out.
What I’ve Learned
I’ve learned so much more about why kids are the way they are. I can see a different side of them than what I would see at school. They are in their most comfortable environment, and I now know what that is. I know that school is not always the top priority for families because they have other things going on that take higher priority, and that’s okay.
This year I’ve learned how important it is for families to be involved in their kid’s education. I can do backflips trying to teach a kid to read, but if their parents or guardians don’t reinforce how important it is, my effort is almost wasted. I will definitely be communicating with families a lot more next year than I have in past years. I’ll be glad when I don’t have to send daily messages about missing work to parents, but I think it’s important to keep parents in the loop.
All in all, I have hated this year, and I can’t wait to get back to the classroom with my kiddos. I’ve learned so much about my kids and technology and teaching strategies that I will be using in the future. It was a huge learning curve, but I’m proud of what my colleagues and I have accomplished. Happy learning!