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I Miss School, And I’m Adapting to Pandemic Learning, Too

The Covid-19 pandemic and its subsequent effect on our lives have left many feeling aimless, confused, and even helpless. In many jobs, seasoned professionals and novice learners alike have done their best to adjust to working at home while also trying to stay motivated and positive in isolation.

As a biology instructor at a high school on Chicago’s South Side, I know I speak for many educators who might find these struggles familiar, feeling distant from our professions and our students we care about. During this first month away from my classroom, I have found myself managing a multitude of emotions, from an undeserved sense of relaxation to a growing sense of anxiety and loneliness.

While it’s certainly nice to wake up a little bit later, I miss my students and I miss teaching them face-to-face. I miss greeting them, helping them with their always-forgotten locker combinations, and even organizing their bulbous backpacks of mismatched papers as they attempt to find the lab report due today.

I miss all of it. (Except the copy machine paper jams). I miss the camaraderie with my colleagues while designing new and responsive assessments. I even miss the arguments over which approach might best help the struggling student we root for the most.  I miss finding the method that gets through to the struggling student, the moment all teachers cherish: when their faces light up as they finally understand.

How then do we fill the gap and provide the best ongoing meaningful education from a distance? It’s not a mystery, and yet it’s a challenge. The answer is for us to stay open-minded and adapt.

Here’s Some of What’s Working for Me

I’ve found success in a new routine of weekly online student discussions, paired with endless e-mail threads and Google Classroom posts. I’ve reached out to colleagues at other schools and designed activities where students took data about viral spread and turned it into graphs and tables. They used the data to spot trends, make claims and explain how data backed them up.

As a member of Educators for Excellence and also Mikva Challenge, colleagues and I participated in countless meetings in an effort to foster positive student and teacher mental health as well as equitable teaching practices. My colleagues and I have taken time to answer dozens of questions from students and parents, everything from questions about grading to genuine concern about our loved ones.

We’ve offered our best strategies to parents, suggested they set a consistent schedule for their children while also keeping their days varied with activities. We’ve encouraged them to take to heart that any effort made is beneficial for their kids, no matter how small. In the end, though, we’ve all had to acknowledge that, like our parents, we sometimes do not have all of the answers.

Education is not simply an amalgam of worksheets and essays, but the community within our schools, the often thankless work and the love your children’s teachers, coaches, janitors, secretaries, and principals have for each of them. We are all indeed suffering, but perhaps more importantly, we are all in this together.

Photo by Jia Ye on Unsplash

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Bryan Meeker

Bryan Meeker teaches biology at Garcia High School, in the Acero charter school network. He is a member of the Chicago Teachers Union, Mikva Challenge and Educators 4 Excellence, a teacher-led policy and advocacy group.

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