I stopped teaching after five years – in 1981—thinking there might be something else I could do. I asked a veteran teacher at that time, who seemed happy in his job, why he kept at it. He answered: “In what other job can you have two good laughs a day?”
Wise words. And perhaps one reason I ended up teaching or coaching another 20 years.
This is why those who sound (too) pleased, in our COVID-19 isolation, that we have (finally) turned to remote teaching and will now “shift how school functions in the future” do not understand why teachers teach. Why we love being with our students, in the classroom. And why teaching can often be, lest we forget, so much fun.
The classroom can be equally important in darker moments, too. I trust you can recall such times when the classroom provided consolation and support. A few moments from my 18 years as a teacher: after the sudden death of a classmate’s parent or a faculty member; after the principal’s year-long fight with cancer came to an end; after one of their classmates attempted suicide.
After national events that impacted us all (President Reagan being shot, the Space Shuttle Challenger disaster and, most vividly for me and for my 7th and 8th graders here in Parker, that morning of 9/11, and in the weeks that followed). Being together, as students and as teachers, can help us through tough times.
Francis Bacon said that friendship “redoubleth joys and cutteth our griefs in halves.” It rings true for the classroom as well.
The “school life” we are experiencing this spring is not the dawn of a new age. Do you hear any teachers jumping on the bandwagon claiming that “the silver-lining” of this pandemic is the revelation that technology can save us time, money, and, most implausibly, create an education that is truly “personalized”?
You are more likely to hear this, from one of my own former middle school students, now a teacher himself: “I am hopeful … remote learning will not be the norm of the future. Teachers will always be needed because every child is different in how they learn. Nothing replaces the ability to be together so a teacher can look in the eye, read the body language and assess when the time is right to step on the gas, coast or brake in presenting the lesson.”
We must not take the wrong lesson from this pandemic. Remote learning is not the fix. Technology is not the fix. Separating ourselves is not the fix.
Being together, you will say, is not a fix either. I agree. But it is where students begin to join a community. Being together is fundamental to creating a learning community where teachers know their students well. Where students feel they belong to a caring community and build relationships that matter. Where we have the therapy of humor and good fun—and of being lifted up when times are hard.
Finally, consider what we are hearing so often these days, from surveys and reports from the field. A heightened need for social-emotional support of students. Ditto for mental health services. A huge concern about the impact of isolation on students – a new kind of trauma? A consensus that the most severe impact of this current situation will fall on our most vulnerable students, many of whom are now proving among the hardest to reach. The very students who need a stronger connection, not distant ties, to teachers and counselors in the school community.
A personal connection, not a virtual one.
Remote learning merely exacerbates the problems that hinder student success. How foolish to believe that it should be touted as “the education of the future.”
And how good it will be to be back in class.
Peter Huidekoper Jr. Peter Huidekoper Jr. is a former teacher and the coordinator of the Colorado Education Policy Fellowship Program. He lives in Parker.