Hey, teachers don't want to leave those kids alone.

Virtual teaching in a global pandemic

Hey, teachers don't want to leave those kids alone.
Photo by Thomas Park on Unsplash

What is it like teaching during Coronavirus? I've heard this question from many people who find out I'm still a public school teacher in spite of the gag-worthy term of "new normal."

Teaching in the public school system has become disheartening over the last couple of decades, and even more recently. According to a study by the University of Pennsylvania in 2018, it is estimated that 44% of new teachers end up leaving the profession in less than 5 years (Brown, 2020). What a waste of time for us as teachers to jump into a profession where we truly believe we will make a difference only to learn that we were disillusioned. We would like to believe that we would be like Mr. Keating in Dead Poets Society, or Ms. Johnson from Dangerous Minds (super cool side note, LouAnne Johnson was actually my teacher when I worked on my teaching license! Spoiler: she says real life was nothing like the movie portrayed) and that we can impact our students as deeply as those portrayed on the big screen. But that is not real life. In real life, teachers are held back from truly teaching the important things and held to the standards for testing. We are suggested to "teach to the test" rather than focusing on the valuable skills that students need to be truly successful.

My first couple of years teaching were rough--and that was in person. With lesson planning, keeping up with grading, adhering to specific standards, tiptoeing to make sure administration was happy with whatever I was doing--it's no wonder that the nation faces a shortage of educators.

Moving to an online format has been more work than face-to-face and involves a great deal more of upfront planning. This can be especially difficult on newer teachers, who might already be unsure of how their lessons would normally work, and this is not really something that you prepare for in a teaching license program. Districts demand that we bend over backwards to ensure student success, and when a student is forced online and catches wind of the rumor that they will simply pass to the next grade, teaching can feel like running on a hamster wheel.

If a student fails because he or she did not do the work, who is at fault for that? Is it the student? Is it their parents for not instilling work ethic into their child? No. It tends to fall directly on the teacher, and this does not simply disappear because of the emergence of a global pandemic.

Student failure rate is at an all-time high and the burnout will only worsen throughout this worldwide mess. Students who were once stars in the classroom are now losing all motivation to try, knowing full well that a district is going to pass them along to the next grade, regardless of whether or not they try their hardest, right along with the student who did not complete a single assignment all year.

As a teacher, this can be exceptionally frustrating because many of us did not enter this profession to sit behind a screen. In the classroom, we can more accurately gauge a student's attention, understanding, and personality. This is lost behind a keyboard and screen. We cannot make the eye contact with the student who knows they are off-task and needs to get back to work. We cannot catch the subtle change of a normally bubbly student who is becoming withdrawn and take the chance to intervene and help them if they need it. We can not see if our students are showing signs of needing to see our school counselor and to know that they are truly okay.

Further, our students are not getting the face-to-face interaction that is instrumental in their development, and it is hurting our youth. Suicide rates, which were already at an all-time high, are increasing with social isolation. New data from the Center for Disease Control suggests that one in five students has considered suicide, and this is from data collected prior to the pandemic. Teachers feel a heavy burden to conduct frequent check-ins with students on their students in person, and not having the opportunity to get to know them as well on an online platform can be a stressor. I know that on a personal level, it is worrisome when a student I know from previous years and is prone to episodes of depression does not respond to messages for days, if at all.

Teacher, student, and family support during the coronavirus is critical. With an already high burnout rate, there is the risk that this unprecedented time in education will face an even greater rate of those leaving the profession. Only time will tell what the results will be for both students and their teachers, but one thing is for certain, teachers are a resilient bunch and want the best for their students. In less than one year, both seasoned and fresh teachers have had to adapt their skillset to meet the demand for an online setting.

Training in the use of online learning platforms is not only crucial for teachers, but students as well. Students are just as new to this as the teachers, which can make the process difficult for everyone. Parents are pulling out their students by the droves to homeschool them because what is offered by the student's current school is too difficult and demanding or flat-out confusing to deal with.

What will all of this mean for the funding of public education, now and in the future? Will already miniscule school budgets become stretched even thinner? Will this lead to the rise of more private schools and learning institutions? Though there are a multitude of questions, one thing that I know as a teacher during the coronavirus is that I personally look forward to the day we can all return to the physical classroom.

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Jordan Eckstein
See all posts by Jordan Eckstein