Imagine standing in front of an audience to tell a story. A third of your audience is blind, a third deaf. The last third can see and hear but they’re so far away they can’t distinguish facial expression. You need to communicate to all three groups.
It’s a simple exercise I used to have my drama team try, but I can’t help wondering if that is how teachers feel these days as they teach from afar. It seems disparity becomes even more evident during a lockdown, as not all students have equal access to a computer or adult assistance. Sadly, some teachers also worry about students who depend on school breakfasts and snacks to ensure adequate nutrition. “We’re all in the same boat” is not an accurate metaphor.
Sally Willms teaches Grade 2 at Westpark School and is finding this new normal far more work than teaching in person. She mentioned the challenges of the constantly changing government directives, using a Google classroom with seven-year-olds, accommodating parent requests, phoning each home to stay connected with families, longer staff meetings, poor internet connections, and more.
At the same time, her own kids need assistance with their work. Since their dad also teaches and they don’t want their children alone on the internet, all four work in the same room. “There have been times where I’ve looked over at Corey and he’s wearing ear plugs as well as earmuffs to drown out the sound of our family learning/ teaching situation,” she says. “Yesterday Corey and I had to be in meetings at the same time, leaving two boys unsupervised for three hours. What could go wrong?”
Renata Beaulieu agrees. She teaches Visual Arts, Ojibway and Beading at PCI and is also “crisis-educating” her three kids in grades 8, 9, and 11. “What’s most challenging is connecting with my students on a regular basis,” she says. “One student finally responded to my emails after three weeks and apologized because he was watching a series on Netflix.”
Kyle Klyne instructs Science, English, Native Studies, and Geography at the Portage Learning and Literacy Centre. Though his students are adults, he faces similar challenges and agrees that face-to-face instruction works best.
Susan Hiebert is the Director of Westpark Children’s Centre. Since she teaches preschool for 2-6-year-olds, she has had no contact with her students. “The year ended so abruptly and I am mourning the loss of the three best months of the year,” she says. “My heart aches for the loss of this special time with this group of children as I know I will never get it back. Although I am out of work until the fall, I am grateful I can be at home to homeschool my three boys. As a parent of a child with special needs, it has been difficult to get into a good routine for completing schoolwork. It seems to be a daily struggle to engage him in learning, but he is academically behind his peers, so I feel he needs to try to get the work done.”
But there are silver linings, too. The teachers mentioned rewards like having more time to chat with parents via phone, becoming more computer literate, saving money on gas, having more time with their families, and working in pajamas.
Kyle Klyne continues to work from the learning centre but said, “Developing online tutorials and assignments could prove useful in the future, especially for those with transportation barriers.”
As a teacher in a Christian school, Sally Willms has a unique opportunity. “I’ve been able to pray with parents over the phone who have needed encouragement and are experiencing anxiety during this time, and bring some comfort.”
When I asked the teachers what they wanted folks to know, their collective messages boiled down to three valuable insights:
“Please be gracious as we’re learning a new way to teach.”
“Parents, do the best you can right now. Our children will need lots of review in the fall, but they will be fine.”
“With the increase in internet activity, please be vigilant. Protect their minds and eyes from things children should not be exposed to, even if that means not every assignment can be done. Their minds and hearts are more important than any science project.”
Teachers, when you chose education as your profession, you had no idea how much flexibility, innovation, and compassion would be required in 2020. You’ve stepped up admirably. You are a treasure. Hang in there. God bless you.