Remote Teaching Isn’t Even Remotely Teaching by Christine Vaccaro
So many of my recent shares have been things that are too good to leave on other social media platforms, where they will get lost or disappear once it falls down the feed or the social media platform’s algorithm decides it’s not important any longer. I’m sharing it here so it does not get lost because it is a VERY important message for anyone on either side of the desk in the remote learning classroom.
Christine Vaccaro is someone I knew growing up in Eastchester. We attended the same grade school and high school. We both became teachers and we connected on Facebook years ago. With so many friends in common (many of us who became teachers) I see her posts or when someone else comments on something she has shared. Facebook thinks her posts are interesting to me and this one is proof that the algorithm works.
She wrote: “I can’t imagine how frustrating it has been for parents to deal with at-home education, but trust me: many teachers are as eager to be back in front of your kid in person, as you are to have us do so. ‘Remote learning has proven to be grueling for all concerned parties, but there is, as in all things, a gift. Those who do not work in education have had a peek behind the curtain. They have seen that teaching isn’t about explaining how to divide fractions; it is about the finesse that teachers employ to deal with the child who still gets it wrong the fifth time.’ ”
I clicked on the article and read one of the most powerful, well-written, gut-wrenching articles about the realities of what teachers and students are facing right now. I’m living it, but I have the luxury of having two well-behaved kids, ages 10 & 14, one with better work habits than the other– and I am not working as a teacher as I once had. I am able to dedicate my day to their learning. I also have a husband who is working from home right now. We have the bandwidth and the adult-to-child ratio that makes this work and even still, it is painful. It’s inconvenient but no one is missing sports seasons or big milestones. There are so many people going through so much more. But hearing the words straight from a teacher’s mouth really made me realize…..these teachers are struggling and doing a great job while doing so.
I’m attaching the link to the article here and pasting it below. This article was published first on www.BadAssTeacher.org
Remote Teaching Isn’t Remotely Teaching, by Christine Vaccaro
And just like that, one by one, the school buildings shut down. Locked the doors. No goodbyes in many cases. Students’ lockers and desks left stuffed with their belongings, like artifacts awaiting unearthing in some future excavation. Bulletin boards stand fading; deserted plants, now beyond resuscitating. Procrastinated piles of ungraded papers, abandoned and irrelevant. Alright, maybe that one’s a win.
In those first hazy days of quarantined life, we did not yet understand the enormity of what we were leaving behind in those classrooms. It didn’t matter. We immediately focused on continuing what we had been doing inside them…now from the confines of our homes.
But the pandemic didn’t just pause the education system; it stopped it short and hurled it through the windshield. So ever the good soldiers, we began building the bridge as we crossed it. We scrambled to simultaneously pick through heaps of online resources, reconfigure curricula, learn video-conferencing platforms, and HGTV our kitchen tables into virtual classrooms. All while maintaining our families, our sanity and our toilet paper inventory. But we were not fazed. Helpers by nature, continuing to teach was a small act of service we could provide as the crushing weight of this pandemic began to collapse our worlds.
Not only did we pull all this off, we did it well. In fact, some of us wondered in those early days if we could be making it work too well. Teachers have been abused; we have trust issues. If we excelled, would we online teach our way right out of a job? Would this be the opportunity corporate vultures have been waiting to snatch, in order to finally let loose the robot-teacher takeover?
But we need not have worried about job security. Quite the contrary. Almost immediately, social media scrolls were blitzed with tragicomic memes of wine o’clock-in-the-morning-drinking, homeschooling moms and dads. Video clips of shell-shocked parents proliferated. Exasperated to the point of hiding in their cars, they made feverish amends to their kids’ teachers for past trash-talking, beseeching us to take back their children, and vowing to never again take us for granted. We have been promised all the school supplies and bottles of thank-you booze one could ever need come September. (Little do they know that teachers have no bottom for either.) In short, the muggles have finally begun to realize that, as it turns out, teachers are actually pretty damn important.
It’s a refreshing shift in narrative. Maybe it took an unfathomably devastating pandemic, but after years of disrespect and deprofessionalization, teachers are finally having our moment. And we have earned it, thank you very much. So it is a particularly cruel irony that this recognition coincides with the exact instant when we are least able to do our job. Yes, despite deficits in time and resources, and being in the midst of a global catastrophe, we have drop-kicked our rusty educational system onto a virtual platform. But make no mistake: remote teaching isn’t even remotely teaching.
“Remote teaching” is painfully literal nomenclature. Physically, we are not in a room with our students. The routines and procedures we build, brick by agonizing brick those first six or so weeks of school, have been blown away in a viral gust. In their wake, we face an alien online landscape, where — at least in many high school classrooms I know of — a grid of black boxes replaces our students’ faces as we speak into a void. In video-reliant classrooms, we are now talking heads on a screen; just somebody that our students used to know. For those of us in the many places where economic disparity is so egregious that the notion of students having tech is a sick joke, there is no live contact with students at all. Just an exchange of work, like academic pen pals.
Yes, many of us have launched shiny new infrastructures to replace in-person interactions, and are relishing the challenge and freedom to integrate more technology into our classes. But no matter how jazzy our lessons, a virtual education cannot offer the most essential premise of a teacher’s job: to create and hold a physical and energetic space each day where kids feel safe, valued, and perhaps most imperative of all, truly seen.
Seasoned educators know there are good days and bad days in teaching, but there are never boring days. Just like one cannot step twice in the same river, one cannot teach twice the same class. Each hour, each moment in that room is a unique, multi-faceted organism, composed of individual and ever-changing feelings and experiences. When we gather, our classrooms become an alchemical vessel, filled with dynamic energies distinct from the ones sitting in the same seats the day before. These elements interact and combine in fresh and evolving ways that, just maybe, will conspire to create one of those elusive, mystical moments of gold.
But now we are distant satellites orbiting our students — a figure, but not a presence. This, at a time when our students need more support than ever in their fledgling lives. We cannot be there to offer the smile we may never know mattered that day. Or the off-the-cuff compliment that flushes confidence through an awkward-feeling kid having a rough one. We can’t discharge The Look that says someone is watching you, and expects better. There is no eye-to-eye communication that ignites a teacher’s spidey-sense, compelling us to quietly pull a student aside and ask if everything is ok. There’s a 50-50 chance you will be brushed off. And that’s fine. What matters is that the student knows on that day, someone glimpsed their vulnerability. They were witnessed.
I teach in New York City, once again a national Ground Zero. Many of my students are children of the first responders who are riding the front lines of this menace. They are racked with fear for the safety of their parents. And there’s not much I can do about it. In fact, we have been directed by our district to not bring up the pandemic, out of sensitivity to students whose families are being ravaged by it. I don’t know when we will next see each other, but there will never be another interaction I have with a student that is not colored with the knowledge that they have survived this unspeakable experience without familiar support structures in place.
Remote learning has proven to be grueling for all concerned parties, but there is, as in all things, a gift. Those who do not work in education have had a peek behind the curtain. They have seen that teaching isn’t about explaining how to divide fractions; it is about the finesse that teachers employ to deal with the child who still gets it wrong the fifth time. Parents have learned firsthand that the awesome power entrusted to their children’s teachers is only in small part about the curriculum. The crucial responsibility we wield is in the innumerable judgment calls made all day, every day, born out of sheer instinct and honed mastery that, at any second, have the potential to create a moment that can change a life.
This pandemic has thrown into stark relief indisputable truths about the broken parts of our society. When we begin sifting through the pieces to start over, I pray there are many fragments we leave behind. But there are others that must be cornerstones in the reconstruction, and it is imperative that the lessons from remote learning are among those carried forward. Parents and the general public must remember their collective epiphany that while there are many destinations reached in teaching, the true craft lies in the journey. And when we return to our classrooms, let it be with unassailable confidence in both our value, and our chosen artform: the intricate and exquisite piecing together of tiny moments that matter, made not of content, but of connection.