My kids are both participating in their school’s summer school program this month. The main reason I signed them up was to get a preview of what virtual school might look like in the fall. I hoped this would give me and the kids a chance to get comfortable on the platforms they’ll be using, and the schedule of the day. Plus, they might learn something!
In two short weeks summer school has changed my view of virtual learning. I don’t think of it as the worst thing ever. And the thing that changed my mind? The teachers.
Virtual learning is a viable option because there will be teachers.
Don’t misunderstand me. I still don’t like it. I still don’t want to subject my kindergartener to even one virtual meeting. But now I can see that it’s not all bad. I can see that teachers bring the same energy, creativity, and passion to the virtual classroom that they bring to the in-person classroom.
I do not classify what we did in the spring as virtual learning. It was also not home schooling. It was a third thing entirely that has never been done before and will hopefully never happen again — it was COVID-school. It was teachers uprooting their entire classes and curriculum with no notice and no time for planning, training, or resources. It was scrambling and trying to make sense of an academic year in the midst of uncertainty, anxiety, loss, and grief.
It was a mess. And when my kids cheered when I told them that school was cancelled for the rest of the year, I swallowed back tears because they have no idea what they’re missing out on. They don’t understand how important school is for them, or for society at large.
My kids’ teachers did their best. Our school system didn’t require kids to turn in work, and they didn’t assign new material, so the teachers pivoted and acted as touch points for the kids they had grown to know and love. They asked their classes how they were doing, they were silly, they told them they missed them. They acted as a constant when everything else was changing.
Last night I attended a virtual PTA meeting to discuss back to school options for the fall. There was a LOT of information, but here’s the tl;dr: no one is happy.
The parents, teachers, administrators and doctors can all agree that we hate it all. The only plan anyone likes is hidden on the back of page 72a, slide C: we all wake up from this nightmare and everything is back to normal. We go back to worrying about things like the stomach bug and ear infections and we say things like, “Remember COVID? HA! So glad THAT’S over!”
When I was signing my kids up for this virtual summer school thing, I have to admit that I sort of worried that I was making a mistake. Was I signing myself up for unnecessary stress and frustration? Why spend a month of the summer forcing them to go to meetings when I don’t have to?
So far, there’s been some of that. There’s been some groaning at 9:30 when I tell them to go get dressed already because it’s time to log on.
But a minute after logging on, they’re fully engaged. They’re laughing, they’re raising their hands and waving at friends. They’re running around the house looking for something that starts with the letter “C.” They don’t even care that their younger siblings are looking over their shoulder.
I realize, watching them interact with their classmates through the screen, that I have underestimated teachers.
Sure, this isn’t the same as in-person instruction. A virtual meeting is a sad, pale substitution for the classroom. But no matter what we do in the fall, the teachers will rally. They will engage and challenge students in ways that I haven’t thought of, and they will make the best of a crummy situation because expanding the young mind is their life’s work.
I don’t know what’s going to happen in the fall. In fact, I don’t even know what I want to happen in the fall. I do know that regardless of the plan, there will be a team of teachers and administrators scrambling to salvage the 2020-2021 school year because they care about your kids.
We might be apart, but we aren’t going at this alone.