2020 will go down as one of the worst years in modern memory. While there are a number of reasons for this to be true, there is no greater reason than the fact that it was the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic.
When I first heard about Covid, the news did not sound like it was a big deal and like it was definitely a problem elsewhere. China. Italy. Spain.
Surely it wouldn’t be an issue in the US.
But I forgot that we had Donald Trump, worst president of American history to finish out his term. Like many of the other strong-man leaders of the world, the coming pandemic was drastically downplayed and treated as if it were a minor threat, a non-issue.
I hate to get into the politics of this, and I won’t linger here, but stick with me, since all of this is necessary to understand what happened and how we got there.
While no country appears to have been immune to the crisis, there were certainly nations which prepared better and dealt with the pandemic with a good deal more grace than what we saw in the States.
It was about a week before spring break when we found out that cases had exploded in our state to the point that we needed to shut down and do online school starting the next week. “Don’t worry,” we were told. “We’ll get through this and get to spring break, then we’ll all be back after this blows over.”
So we had kids come to school the next day, made sure all classes had a Google Classroom, made sure that everyone grabbed anything they might need from their lockers, and then we sent them on their way.
If things had gone according to plan, we would have logged on for that week, had a few lessons, a few activities, and been back to normal. While no nation managed to conquer Covid in that brief a span, there were definitely activities which exacerbated the problem. Inconsistent messaging from the White House led to behavior caught on video: people berating shops for mask mandates, masses of people at Trump rallies, people mocking those wearing masks. Suddenly, caring about the pandemic became a partisan issue in America.
Especially in hindsight, we have such a clear view of how increadibly stupid all of it looks; I can’t help but hope that history treats Trump with every unkindness earned. But, keep all this in mind for the remaining parts of this brief series on my time in the classroom during Covid– because making the pandemic political doesn’t end up going away with 2020 or 2021.
For the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year, I didn’t step foot in my classroom. Everything became remote.
The great part of this, as a teacher, is that I could work ahead. I loved to plan my schedule around Monday through Thursday with due dates on Friday so that students could work ahead if they were able or catch up in the end if they needed. I had Google Meets when I needed to have class discussion or needed to explain a particularly difficult topic– I even recorded a few of the brief lectures for those who were sick. I assigned work, most students did the work, some of the work was good. It wasn’t teaching to the degree I was used to– it wasn’t building brain muscle, but it was an attempt to maintain while we lived through a hard time.
Which leads me to the negatives: teaching during this year was a nightmare for planning in advance and so many kids dropped off the face of the earth.
For me as a teacher, trying to plan week to week, not knowing if we were going back to the physical building made a huge difference– every week it felt like we were making a last-minute call.
But the greatest detriment was for the students. Sure, socially a lot of them suffered; it was something we shared in when we could on Meets. It was nice to see the faces of those who showed up. But there were students who quickly stopped showing up. To learn online takes a very self-driven person– but not everyone is like me, a writer who regularly assigns themselves homework. Those who didn’t suffered severely. While we may have given them some grace on grades, learning was an issue we couldn’t fully overcome.
We wouldn’t discover exactly how big of an issue this would be, living in a limbo of “we’ll see you next week, just hang on!” until the next school year.