Little grey boxes with students’ names fill my screen four and a half hours a day. Maybe a few brave souls flip on their cameras for four and a half seconds a day if I am lucky. These little grey boxes have become our reality, a reality many of us could have imagined until now.
Our profession, our lives, and our students’ lives completed changed last spring. I remember the final day I spent with students in my actual classroom. It was the Friday before Spring Break. I spent the morning using my trusty bottle of Lysol spraying each desk and chair. I spread them apart to help students feel more comfortable. Half of my students had already started their vacation. The remaining half nervously talked about a potential shutdown and asked questions that I had no answers to.
I remember the lesson that day. We used a Peardeck to answer some questions and draw a funny summary of Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” spending the rest of the period playing random Kahoot games. I wanted their day to be stress-free and fun. I said goodbye to their faces and wished them a safe Spring Break.
After school, I picked up my son from preschool. Then my mom and I headed to Target to stock up on supplies. The shelves were empty, and everyone seemed to be on edge. The feeling in the air was eerie and uneasy. It felt like a zombie apocalypse was coming.
A week later, we got the news that we would transition to online learning. Eek! What now? It was a scramble to throw together lessons and activities for students to finish the year. It was a hot mess, to say the least.
Nearly a year later, I have become a decent online teacher. My little grey boxes of students participate, ask questions in the chatbox and learn the material that I cobble together. It is not outstanding, but it is not terrible.
Nearly every facet of our lives has changed. From Zoom baby showers to postponed vacations, nothing is the same. Many of us want everything to go back to exactly where we left in early March 2020, but my question is, does it have to? Must we go back exactly as we did before? I do not think so.
Our profession has the opportunity to reimagine education and what it means to be a student and a teacher in a way we have never before.
The pandemic has left many teachers juggling their own children’s virtual learning or the care of a loved one while teaching full-time. Does full-time teaching have to be the primary option or even the norm? Could we create more job-sharing opportunities? Could we allow more teachers to work part-time, allowing them to balance their professional and personal responsibilities? I believe the answer is yes! Will this help keep teachers in the profession? I believe the answer is yes!
This experience has shown us that some teachers and students feel more comfortable at home versus returning to school. The health and safety of each person are critical. Therefore, people will feel hesitant to return to campuses.
Moving forward, could we create programs that mirror the virtual school students and teachers have become accustomed to with daily class meetings, group projects, real-time engagement, and feedback? Many online school programs that existed pre-pandemic do not require students to attend class regularly; instead, students work at their own pace. I am not advocating that we expunge these programs, but could we continue to offer virtual learning with more daily connections between students and teachers similar to what we have seen this year? I believe the answer is yes! Could we create more online teaching positions? I believe the answer is yes! Will this help keep teachers in the profession? I believe the answer is yes!
The teacher shortage already plagued our state before the pandemic. It is only a matter of months before we see more teachers leave the profession for many reasons. And I do not blame anyone for thinking of quitting. This year has been challenging, plain and simple.
But could we reshape our schools and our profession to retain and recruit more teachers? I believe the answer is yes! Will it require some out of the box thinking? Of course! But this is what we have been doing for the last year. We have taken our profession and reshaped it to meet our students’ needs. Can we continue to reimagine and shift our profession to meet our needs moving forward? I believe the answer is yes!
If the pandemic has shown us anything, it is that we are resilient and can do anything. I believe the answer is yes.