Ten Things I’ve Learned Teaching During COVID
February 2, 2021
February 2, 2021
By Melissa Nelson
I began the practice of reflective thinking with my students years ago, when I realized they weren’t necessarily making the connection between my activities and our novels, and not always seeing the bigger picture of what I was trying to teach. Indeed, with technology filling every empty moment, how often do we sit and think?
So, in the spirit of taking my own advice, here are 10 things I’ve learned from teaching during COVID:
1. It’s impossible to know what kids will “need to know” for their futures. So let’s stop trying. Please don’t hear what I’m not saying. I don’t mean we shouldn’t focus on content. But can we please end the farce that if my content isn’t directly tied to a specific job title, it isn’t worth learning? Nothing taught five years ago, tested or not, was intended to help anyone survive a pandemic. Let’s learn for learning, let’s learn for ourselves, and let’s learn because it makes us better as human beings.
2. We all need routine. Not just kids, but educators, too. Switching gears midyear is hard. Waiting in limbo while administrators and school boards make decisions is hard. Revamping all materials to a digital format is hard. The last nine months have been exhausting.
3. No teaching assignment can compare to reading a good book. If all this time at home learning “virtually” was spent with books, of any type, the amount of “real” learning would be staggering. The end.
4. People need to read directions! Teachers have trained students that we will explain everything, to the point where no one reads the top of any document. We’ve taught that the instructions are words to skip over while we try to figure out the task so we can be done. COVID has shown that we all need to be able to function independently.
5. Parents are educators, too. It’s too bad that a parent’s role during COVID has been reduced to tech help. Maybe it’s time to enlist adult help by asking for conversations about topics related to classroom content (history and English) or current events (math and science) or personal experiences (everybody).
6. It’s time to revisit grades and what they mean. I used to pride myself in entering
every activity in the gradebook. Now I accumulate my small, formative tasks into one large “participation” grade. I still read submitted assignments, provide feedback (both numerical and written), and keep track of completion, but I’m not bogged down in bookkeeping. And I think my grades are now a truer reflection of mastery than compliance.
7. Teachers have to read—and respond—to student work. We keep hearing about building relationships. I think feedback on assignments is a key way to make that happen. It validates what teachers assign as being worthy of effort, as well as providing insights into student understanding and background.
8. We have to make time for ourselves. If I have an extensive to-do list, but I go take
that nap I’m craving, the list is still there when I wake up, unfortunately. Making time for self-care probably means cutting out some other task, which can be hard! Something has to be deleted, delegated or delayed in order to have that time for myself. And that’s OK.
9. Survival is not enough. We all have a breaking point. Please reach out before you reach yours.
Please don’t try to “just hang in there” for too long.
10. We need to try to give each kid what they need. Some need food before they can complete homework. Some need to share the projects they’re completing with all that newfound “free” time. Some need to converse with peers. Some need work to do to keep from absolute boredom. Some need flexibility in deadlines. A teacher’s job is bigger than anyone outside the field can know and our impact (both positive or negative) is bigger than any test can measure.
I strongly urge you to take a few moments of reflection to list your own 10 lessons. I’d love to hear your thoughts. Maybe we can compile and share them. And together, we will reflect and grow, just like learning is supposed to go.
Nelson, a member of the Powhatan Education Association, teaches English at Powhatan High School.