Learning loss. Learning gaps. Students are failing. Missing assignments. Summer school. Double-up curriculum and instruction next year. Do any of these phrases sound familiar? As educators, we are being bombarded with bold statements about the negative consequences the pandemic has handed us; and worse, people are turning to us as if we didn’t do enough or that we’ll have to work even harder next year to get students back on track.
But, look at everything we have gained from this pandemic…
This pandemic is hopefully a once in a lifetime experience that pushed us to the edge. Depending on our individual experiences, that could have been to the edge of crying, breaking down, needing a long vacation, or emptying that last bottle of wine we all stocked up on in June 2020. I think it pushed most of us to our edge of comfortability and we crossed into the unknown – being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
Flexible. Teachers had to be more flexible than ever before because of this life-changing event. Flexibility with grading and giving homework. Flexibility with schedules and rosters. Flexibility with how we taught and where we taught. Many teachers would show up in the morning only find out half their class was quarantined and they now had to quickly switch everything into concurrent teaching mode. We gained the ability to be flexible in teaching conditions that were not in our favor and we really built the stamina for it.
Teaching. Teachers had to change, sometimes daily, how and where they were teaching students. Many started out fully virtual but then switched to a hybrid model. Then, in the midst of hybrid, had to begin teaching concurrently – teaching to in-person students while simultaneously teaching to those streaming in from home (concurrent teaching is the Mt. Everest of teaching models). Some of us switched to a full cyber academy while others were blessed to be in-person with their students. All we wanted to do was teach kids, and we did. No matter the model, we gained the ability to master all that our administration threw at us and continued to teach our students because that is why we’re here.
Technology. If teachers weren’t all in on technology, we are now. Those of us who were still using paper had to quickly adapt everything we ever knew how to do into a digital format. Activities that were made for in-person learning, now had to be switched to a digital format. Everything was re-created from group work through collaborating in Google docs and Slides to digital word walls and digital science labs. Zoom, Meet, Teams… we hear the sounds of web-conference tools in our dreams and get stuck in a nightmare where we can’t unmute. We gained the ability to integrate technology at levels we didn’t know we could or ever thought we would have to in order to just teach students.
Creativity. Many will tell you they aren’t creative. I think teachers by virtue are creative people. Take a basic task like designing a lesson. There is so much creativity in the design alone, but it’s an expected task, so we take this level of creativity for granted. This year, we took our creativity to a whole new level. Re-designing lessons and activities to work in a digital format made us rethink how we teach and how we create authentic learning experiences, provided us with opportunities for professional growth, and found creative ways to deliver effective instruction to our students. We gained the opportunity to make progress and to change the way education looks, feels, and acts like for our students.
Appreciation. This year, I think students, parents, community members, and those who work outside of education have truly begun to appreciate what we do, how we do it, and our genuine dedication to our students. I know I have appreciated the comical TikToks and Twitter posts from parents begging us to take their kids back, even offering to buy us anything we want for our classrooms along with a new car. We have leaned on our colleagues more than ever before and deeply appreciate everyone’s willingness to help, collaborate, and let us melt down without fear of judgment. Teachers can look back on this year and appreciate their own mountains they’ve climbed, the successes and the failures, and feel good about what we have accomplished. We gained an appreciation for ourselves, our colleagues, our students, and most importantly, the appreciation of our profession.
Let’s not lose what we’ve gained throughout our pandemic teaching. Though I do not want a repeat of this year, I do want to keep our progress made from the pandemic as we move forward. While “experts” will continue to report the negative, I’m going to focus on all that we have gained over the past year. I’m going to focus on the growth teachers experienced and the opportunity to rethink education. As we begin to think about and plan for next year, we need to reflect on all that we have gained from this pandemic, take note of our successes and failures, and continue to make progress.
What have you gained?