Nearly one year into the strange times, and in Covid quarantine for at least the third time, I felt I should probably start reflecting more in the moment so that one day I can look back on these times and remember. Because you never really remember the exact details, do you? After the fact. I have also been giving a lot of thought to my job, teaching. I have thought many times recently – there is a book in there. Oh, the tales to be told in conveying the reality to those that don’t – teach.
It is fair to say at this point everyone is “rona’d out”. Done with the masks, the distancing, the isolation the inconvenience etc. This is not that story, although it plays a part. I wanted to reflect on the lives that exist in our public schools today. One thing this virus has given me, and others who teach online, is a window into the misery that is some young people’s home lives. It is safe to assume that all kids in Canada are not created equal, and the opportunities they are given are likewise, not equal. This was true before we all got sent home, but it is far more prevalent now, based on my non-scientific circumstantial observations.
As I write this, we are all back to “normal classroom teaching”, and are now into our second week returning from a second bout of teaching online. For me normal looks like 2h40min classes twice a day. No group work, limited walking amongst the students, no invasion into 2m bubbles (though kids themselves are stacked in within 1m of each other). In traditionally built schools that, for me, feature 30+ high school bodies. These protocols are challenging to say the least. Creativity is stifled, and personalities muted. I teach in a school that normally has hallways bustling with 2700 students, but with dedicated entrances and exits, and no time allowed to mingle in hallways, no lockers, you would be hard pressed to bump into more than five students outside your classroom on a normal day – it is eery.
The kids are different there is no denying that. There is no boisterousness no excitement, very limited classroom discussion. Classroom management has never been easier. I may also be having success in this way as the mask I am forced to wear helps hide my resting “I hate my life face” ( I don’t of course, it is just how I look! If you know me, know this 😊) It is also hiding the most bitchin beard I have ever grown!
Normal for me right now is being at home, again, teaching online half a day, and preparing sub plans for the other half as one of my students became infected with Covid 21. This is normal. I am not the first teacher to enter into this situation this school year. I am not unique. There is, right now, at least one other teacher at my school in the exact. Same. Boat.
What is not normal, is high school children holding back tears as we braced for the likely reality of returning to online learning, for some of these kids they knew that this was the end of school for them, and that they would not be able to manage their home lives and school at the same time. For some, this was the return of them as babysitter/errand child, now able to look after younger siblings while mom/dad went to work/slept off whatever they were doing the night before. We teachers get a lot of flak from the public about time off, “short work days” etc. and for sure, like any profession, there are those of us who probably deserve the criticism, but I would like to think that this is the exception rather than the rule. I moved furniture 6 days a week in previous life, and I have never known exhaustion like this ever. This includes the rest of my 12 year career as a teacher.
In our division, we were mandated to have our cameras on, and students as well, while teaching online. For the first two weeks, I really tried to tow the line. It soon became untenable. The scenes at home for some of my students were distressing. A source of embarrassment and shame for some no doubt. We were met with scenes of chaos, agitated parents trying to control younger siblings with my students getting (not – usually audibly) yelled at on camera by parents who seemed to have a pretty loose grip on things at home, no doubt feeling stresses of their own.
Some of what I have seen and heard from students during this time will stick with me until the end of my days I am sure. One moment in particular stands out. I met one on one, (virtually) with a student who was connecting on their phone using coffeeshop WiFi (not in the coffeeshop, outside in the parking lot) asking me for advice about how to access independent living, before being cut off by the returned irate parent barking orders for this person to get back in the car as they had shit to do at home. This will be something I reflect on frequently when I think I am having a rough go of it.
A new feature of our online set up this time around were breakout rooms. I referred to these as breakdown rooms. Because here, one on one with me, was where students finally let their guard down and visibly and emotionally succumbed to their new world. Some were bitter, some depressed, and so many more just seemed lost and that the world had turned and left them behind. They could not stay engaged, their families were stressing them out, they could not socialise and were encouraged by government mandate to stay home (though we were not completely prohibited from leaving the house). The pressure for many was suffocating, and for the first time as a teacher I saw my student’s home lives and it broke my heart.
This is not to say all of my students were in this state, but I would say in my one class the ration of troubled home life students was 1 in 3 (again not scientific). On my end, I was juggling home learning with my own three kids, though compared to what my students were dealing with we were in a comparative paradise, but I will freely admit this most recent banishment from work is wearing on me. I am again covid free, a perfect 5-0 in testing, and yes, I know I could develop symptoms anytime over the next ten days, but the limits to my sanity are starting present themselves. My day is spent sending out an endless onslaught of email lifelines to my students, trying to pull them out of the ether, but knowing that they are perfectly warranted in wanting to shut down and check out. Academically some of my kids are not going to make the cut, and this frustrates me to no end. They have been dealt the worst hand possible time after time. Last week, when we were face to face again for the first time in a month, I had every student in class working their tails off trying their damnedest to erase the misery of the previous month only to be sent back into purgatory for the duration of the term. If this was George Bush era USA, these kids would be the ones that were left behind.
This is far from the most eloquent thing I have ever written, I just felt it time to start recording the never-ending march of time as Covid 19 rolls on into 21 and shows no signs of relenting.
Happily married to my beautiful wife Stephanie, and proud father of three beautiful girls, Aurora, Brynn and Clara. Master student, working in South America as a Social and English teacher: writing when I find time.