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Culture

I'm a Teacher, And "Distance Learning" Is One Of The Hardest Things I've Ever Been Asked To Do

By Hayley Lewis·· 7 min read
teachers grieve virtual learning

Confusing, unknown, and ever-changing. These are only a few of the words that come to mind as I reflect on what it’s like being a teacher during these uncertain times. While I’m beyond grateful that I still have a job, this whole “distance learning” thing is no easy task, and we’re pretty much flying blind out here.

We Are Grieving

Teachers are a unique breed. We have a hard job, but we love our students fiercely, and most of us wouldn’t want to do anything else. We cringe at the thought of sitting in front of a computer all day, and the changes and challenges of each school year make us the lifelong learners we teach our students to be. 

Other than summer break (which is usually filled with professional development and preparations for the upcoming year), the perks of teaching are relatively minor. We deal with a lot and receive little thanks and even less pay. I don’t say this to complain or to make this just one more article that lists the many systemic problems of modern education, but to emphasize that what makes it worth it for us is the kids. 

What makes it worth it for us is the kids. And those kids, the ones we love like our own, have just been taken away from us.

And those kids, the ones we love like our own, have just been taken away from us. No more daily hugs, no more “ah-ha” moments, no more little notes on our desks, no more smiles of silent thanks. The lessons we anticipated teaching, the moments we looked forward to, and all of the learning that we were going to be a part of is suddenly over.  We certainly aren’t the only people in the world who have lost something during this time, but we have experienced an unexpected grief. 

I’m not going to lie and say that I don’t enjoy having a hot cup of coffee every morning rather than a lukewarm one around noon, or that being able to go to the bathroom whenever I want is wonderful (this is definitely a luxury I will NEVER take for granted), but none of this outweighs the joy that comes from working with students. Personally, those little faces add meaning and value to my life, and I’ve had many moments of feeling lost without them.   

We Are Worried about Our Students

From a less self-centered perspective, we aren’t just missing our kids — we are worrying about them. School is a place where much more than academic instruction happens; our kids eat there, get clothes there, and feel safe there. The sad reality is that for some, school is the only place where they have a constant adult in their life who is willing to listen to them or show them love and respect. 

For some, school is the only place where they have a constant adult in their life who is willing to listen to them or show them love and respect. 

As soon as we started to realize what a total lockdown would entail, our minds immediately jumped to making sure the most basic needs of our kids would be met.  At this point we have moved on to providing internet and technology for those who didn’t already have it, but don’t think we could just start there. I’m fairly certain that every teacher out there has at least a handful of students, if not a whole classroom full, that they are lying awake thinking of each night, hoping and praying that at the bare minimum they are safe and loved.  

We Are Frustrated with the Technology Too

At this point, I’m living in a constant state of feeling frustrated and inadequate. Teaching has always been a frustrating profession where the to-do lists never end and it’s literally impossible to please everyone, but this lockdown has added so many new dimensions of frustration to our job. 

Sure, there is definitely some vindication when we FINALLY hear people acknowledging how hard our jobs are, or that we weren’t lying about their kid’s behavior, but that doesn’t make up for the immense challenges we are facing. I know I’m biased, but I think that teaching is probably one of the most difficult professions to transition to working from home. Even some college professors struggled to move to online learning, and they don’t do much more than lecture and assign papers. If they had a hard time, those of us trying to dream up assignments for 6 year olds (who type with one finger and take a half hour to compose a sentence, let alone access a full learning platform on their own) are in a real predicament. 

I’m no IT person, neither are most teachers. We work with kids, not computers. 

The amount of time it takes to learn and implement all of the technology we are being asked to use literally takes hours of manipulation. In one of the many less-than-kind complaints I’ve received, someone lamented that they weren’t an IT person and couldn’t possibly figure this out...I had to laugh to myself because I’m no IT person either, nor are most teachers. We work with kids, not computers. Most schools never would have imagined designing a full scale transition to online learning in a matter of weeks, but here we are working around the clock (literally) to build lessons, figure out the technology and all the IT glitches, address parent concerns, clarify student questions, and take care of our own families at the same time. 

Teachers are clever and never fail to amaze me with their brilliance; I’ve seen people recording lessons using their shower walls as whiteboards or stacks of cans as document cameras. But I’ve also seen utterly brilliant teachers not have a clue what to do with this technology. The thing is that technological proficiency is a skill, and, albeit a valuable one, it’s not the only one. This situation has forced many teachers to not only use a skill that isn’t second nature to them, but also to abandon the skills that they do have that make them an invaluable asset to the daily learning that takes place in a classroom.

Policies and Expectations Change Frequently

As with any job, there is a certain level of disconnect between subordinates and bosses. Teachers are known for complaining about the requirements forced on them by administrators and politicians. Those not in the classroom are usually the very people calling the shots, and they’re often the least affected by the crucial decisions made. 

Teachers wait with baited breath as new requirements and expectations are rolled out for them, sometimes changing multiple times in an hour.

This situation has only exacerbated that disconnect, and teachers wait with baited breath as new requirements and expectations are rolled out for them, sometimes changing multiple times in an hour or a given day. We are then the ones responsible for communicating to parents and taking the heat for decisions far outside of our control. I’m not saying that legalities aren’t important to consider and adapting isn’t necessary, but in spite all of these stipulations and red tape, we are much more concerned with the practical ramifications and the well-being of our students and their families.

Closing Thoughts

Most teachers are perfectionists to some degree. We hold ourselves to impossibly high standards and have a huge spectrum of people to please and care for. It’s literally impossible to make everyone happy, and we are trying to do so in a way that has never been done before. 

My ultimate hope is still that students leave my classroom a little smarter, a lot kinder, and most importantly knowing they were and always will be loved. This pandemic hasn’t changed that, and on behalf of all teachers I would like all students and parents to know: we miss you, we love you. You are doing enough, and we can’t wait for the moment we get to put our computers down and welcome you back with open arms.

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