This week I can say I have now been on both sides of the virtual learning experience. As a teacher I watch students have breakdowns over their frustrations with technology, learning new content and missing the normal school experience, just to name a few reasons. I am asking them to perform tasks that they may be unfamiliar with as they are learning to navigate the virtual classroom. I have seen students turn off their mics, their cameras and not turn in the work for the day.

I have felt the frustration of parents whose students are being graded for assignments that are not done, incomplete or less than what the parent thinks they can do or showing grades that are not acceptable to the families. I have had parents asking me for help and support with technology or asking for justification as to why the curriculum is so hard and I am doing the best I can for everyone.

However, today I watched my own son as he began to unravel into his own breakdown over virtual learning. Nothing can prepare you as a parent for the helplessness that you feel when your kid reaches their breaking point. I am here to support him and his learning as his parent at the same time that I’m supporting my own students in their learning as their teacher. Yet today the helplessness was even more painful because I understood it as I had watched with my own students. Every day I give everyone my best but today it wasn’t enough to prevent my own child from feeling the frustration of not being able to do something that he thought he should’ve been able to do. I see his feelings about missing his friends, missing his in-person instruction with his teacher and his own feeling of helpless.

The whole virtual learning situation is heartbreaking.

It’s heartbreaking for teachers because we don’t get to hug our students. We don’t get to see their smiling faces in the classroom and watch their light bulb “a-ha” moments in small group or when working with them one on one.

It’s heartbreaking for parents who don’t know how to support their students with their emotional stress of virtual learning and the feelings of helplessness surrounding COVID-19.

My son has asked time and time again when it will be gone — when this will be over; why is it here. I have given him the scientific answer, the philosophical answer and even a watery kid-appropriate answer but in reality I don’t have the “right” answer he needs. He just cannot comprehend what is truly going on and since he is 7 years old, it’s understandable that this is all so foreign and unknown to him, because it’s foreign and unknown to us as adults. We adults have our own struggles with COVID-19, with wearing a mask, with having to change the way we live, and even adults are having breakdowns.

This is not easy and I ask the parents to give their students’ teachers the grace to know that this is new to all of us, but we are doing our best. For many teachers, this is the first time they’ve been asked to do anything like this and technology might not be their strongest skill.

For teachers, I ask that you give your students grace because this is as new to them as it is to you. Not all assignments should come with a zero in the grade book because what’s important is the student learning and not necessarily whether or not an assignment was turned in.

To my students, past and present, please know that I see you, we see you, your teachers see you. We are so happy that you choose to log into our classrooms every day! I ask that you realize perfection is not necessary. That struggling is part of the learning process but that self-advocacy is the most important thing that you can do with your teachers. Communicate to them that you are having a hard time. Tell them that you do not understand the way the assignment is set up or that you need clarification on something that they said. Speak up for yourself; do not fade into the blank screen. You are what is important but you have to use your voice.

All the rules for education in America have gone out the window in the last six months. For some of you as teachers and students, you will not return to the classroom this year. Others will return to the classroom as soon as it is deemed safe but it will never be the same. Now is the time to speak your truth, we are all on the same page. No one knows what is happening next. But the best thing we can all do is communicate and understand that everyone is doing the best they can.

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Kathryn Harding is an elementary school teacher in Florence.

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