10 Silver Linings of the Pandemic for My Practice

19Jun20

This has been an anxious time, for sure. As a teacher, the pandemic caused complete and total disruption in, well, everything about teaching. 

We left school on Friday the 13th of March, never to return. We had zero time to plan, organize, evaluate technology needs or anything. We expected to be back by the end of March. I was so naive, I updated my whiteboard before I left on that Friday afternoon.IMG_4094

Now it’s over. 

All the zoom meetings, tracking down kids and families, creating distance-learning content, dealing with constantly changing and confusing grading expectations, new report card procedures, texts and emails at all hours of the day and night and everything else. 

Silence. Time to gather my thoughts. Time to consider the good things that came out of teaching during a pandemic. 

Yes, you read that correctly. 

I’ve been thinking about this since March, and have been mentally noting the positives that came out of this very negative experience. 

Here, in no particular order, are my 10 silver linings that came out of teaching during a pandemic

Feedback – Because I had to deal with online submissions via Google Classroom, I had to provide better and more feedback than usual. No more lazy checkmarks on the top of a page. No more illegible handwritten notes that I had to translate for the kids who were intersted enough to ask what I wrote. I found myself giving higher quality feedback and enjoying the grading process more than I ever have before. It also helped that all their work was due at one time in one digital packet.

Interactions – I had lots of interactions with students who, I think, felt they could be more open than if they were front of their friends. One student with whom I butted heads for two years, showed his kind, gentle side to me for the first time ever. Another expressed concern for friends during Pride Month. I think the ability to reach out to a teacher without doing it in person was helpful for some kids. If we do this again, I’m going to recommend we assign each student a mentor.

No Paper – There is nothing I hate more than seeing my turn-in bins overflowing. It stresses me out. I know this is my fault, because I’m the one assigning the work and then not keeping up with grading it, but not having the stacks and stacks of paper to wade through was a big improvement for me. 

Some Students Thrived – There were a few kids who turned into distance learning superstars. They went from poor or average students to absolute top-of-the-class performers. I think part of the reason was the lack of social distractions and interactions with peers. Also, some of these kids received so much more support at home than I could ever provide them in a class of 25 to 29 students. I have joked that when we get back to face-to-face instruction, we need to lock some of these kids in a closet with a laptop. (There is a kernel of truth in that exaggeration.)

Exhaustion – I am physically less exhausted than usual at the end of the year. I’m sure this has something to do with not standing in my classroom for 6 hours a day, not taking 12,000 steps during that time and not getting up at 4:55am each day. For me, once I had guidance from the district about teaching new content and figured out a schedule for assigning and reviewing work, this was much easier than the end of a regular year. 

Reflection – In an instant everything changed, and changed again, and then changed once more for good measure. For me, distance learning prompted me to step back, look at my practice and think about new ways to instruct. I had to find new ways just because of how we were teaching, but it goes deeper than that. I have spent time seriously questioning the how and why I do things in my classroom. I may not have a lot of answers yet, but I think asking the questions is the first step to improving my practice. 

Hands-on Science – I’m a 7th and 8th grade science teacher. I assigned work on Monday that was due on Saturday. As part of my weekly assignments, I was able to incorporate a hands-on piece nearly every week. I created videos to support some of these assignments (Growing food from left over lettuce, potatoes, and celery, or cool experiments with surface tension) and sometimes included interesting STEM challenges (Make a pinhole camera). Kids learn science better when they are actually doing something that engages their hands and their brains. It was great to get these kids doing science on their own.

School-wide Influence – Because I made videos to support the self-directed instruction, I was able to share these lessons with colleagues at other grade-levels. I was pleasantly surprised when they used them. Being able to support other teachers doing science is one of my favorite things. I honestly do not know how elementary teachers mange to teach 17 different things. I figure, if I can help out a little with the science, it benefits all of us.

Choice – I was able to incorporate more choice in my assignments. Students like having a choice of how and what they will learn. In my weekly assignments, I usually included three or four required pieces of work, then gave them a choice. “Pick one of the following three assignments.” The choice work was review and enrichment. These included: listening to a podcast about how Galileo’s art informed his telescopic observations of the Moon, a review of 6th grade Earth Science topics, watching a video about the development of cell theory (and answering questions), and more.

Fear – I largely got over my fear of calling parents. I know, it’s silly, but I also know many teachers are hesitant to contact parents. We’ve all heard the horror stories and many of us have had those awful calls with angry parents. During the pandemic we had to contact our families multiple times. It was a big job but it helped me overcome a lot of the reluctance I’ve had about calling parents. Honestly, I only had one bad interaction during the whole time – and that mother was more angry at her do-nothing 8th grader than me. 

So, there are the 10 good things that came out of the pandemic for me as a teacher. If I silver liningspent more time thinking about it, I could probably come up with more. Of course, these things are really all about me and my perspective. I guess we’d have to ask thoughtful students and parents what positives they saw in the experience.

The biggest negative is that these kids lost about 1/3 of a year of quality instruction. We did what we could, but distance learning is not a great substitute for in-person instruction. It was just all we had. I’m not sure how to make that up, but I assume someone is thinking about how to do that. 

I’m curious about other people’s silver linings. Please, feel free to comment or reach out to me. At this point, I can’t get too much good news.

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