Sunday, October 04, 2020

Teaching during a Pandemic: The Steep Climb

 I am listening to the stories from teachers near and far. They are all involved in a steep ascent right now as they try to navigate a large variety of pandemic-related school scenarios. No two situations are the same. It is a wild west of teaching right now. With this in mind, and as one who has experienced some wild west teaching experiences, I offer the following suggestions.

Be kind to yourself

No one really knows what they are doing right now. Yes, everyone has some good ideas and wonderful real time practices, but the truth is that this pandemic has created uncharted territory leaving everyone, in some ways, to fend for themselves. Don't be too critical, harsh, or tough on yourself. Be kind to yourself.

Know the "Do Not Go There" List

As in all aspects of life, there are actions that are completely wrong and these actions make up the "Do Not Go There" list. When frustrated, unsupported, exhausted, and afraid, it's possible for people to go to places that are not only harmful, but that can be life- or career -ending. Don't go there! Remember, when you're at your wits end, you can take a day off. Stress is a sickness, and too much stress leads us to places we don't want to go. 

In general, in teaching, the Do Not Go There list includes the following:

- Never use impolite language or a loud voice. (I've gone there--I wish I didn't)

- Never use physical force of any kind.

-Always be polite, respectful, and lawful with your actions online and in real time. 

-Work against habits that harm you physically and/or psychologically. 

-When in doubt, seek counsel of trusted colleagues, friends, and family members. 

-Don't make difficult decisions on your own.

-A trip to the restroom while teaching can make the difference between doing the right thing or the wrong thing--take a personal time-out when things get too stressful.

-Never harm a child with words or actions--always treat every child as if they were your own.

Establish a good routine and stick to it

Create a manageable daily routine.

Seek the supports you need

You may need to get a little extra childcare for your own children. You might have to order dinner out. You may have to miss out on a special event, or lessen your bills by making a few household changes. You can't do it all, and when you need support, reach out to find that support. 

It won't be perfect

Many say, perfection is the enemy of good. Strive for good at these difficult times, not perfection.


Choose a few areas that you will do well at, and don't worry about the rest. I suggest you choose areas that will also benefit life and teaching after the pandemic. For example, if you're a reading teacher, focus on finding ways to encourage students to access great books and read them--that's a super and manageable goal. If you're a math teacher, Khan Academy offers excellent resources--learn the tool and use it. The children will learn. For social studies, there are countless great videos you can watch together, discuss, and write about. And for science, you'll never go wrong in K-5 with the exceptional Mystery Science program--it is amazing. Social emotional learning can simply be done by focusing on one news article a day--the news is full of stories that make great learning tools for developing apt social-emotional intelligence. There are countless opportunities to learn--figure out areas that matter to you and your students, get better at teaching those areas so that your students get something valuable at this time. 


You will never go wrong if you are kind and loving to your students. That doesn't mean you won't be challenging or truthful, but you need to be loving at this time in all the ways that you can be. You will never regret that. 

I wish teachers in the field the best at this difficult time. I hope they'll find ways to work together to get the work conditions and fair salaries that they need to do their jobs well. I hope that they will be kind to themsleves and not put too much pressure on themselves.

Due to pandemic health risks, I retired a few years earlier than I expected. I knew this was the right decision for me given the details of my life. From this vantage point, after a 34-year career, I simply want to support all of you from the sidelines, hoping you'll see this for what it is, an unprecedented event. I'm thinking of you and wishing your success and happiness.