Our final offering for the Teaching Through the Pandemic series. We hope you found something here to relate to, and we hope it helped encourage you to tell your own stories and experiences. It is in the recording that we find the meaning, the lesson, and the strength to walk forward in greater strength.
My cardiologist told me I needed to settle down.
But she wasn’t teaching ten sections of writing classes virtually during a pandemic. Those flips and quirky numbers on the EKG were just a reflection of 179 students, senior thesis presentations, endless paper grading, and the video-making that filled my days in the spring of 2020.
I taught Rhetoric at a small private school that prided itself on its limited use of technology. My writing classes were the only place students used the 25 Chromebooks our school claimed for grades 7 – 12. As the pandemic bore down on us and it became apparent that the entire school would need to rely on Google classroom (something we’d only introduced that year), I found myself on the technology task force that created all of the policy and explanatory documentation parents, students, and teachers would need to continue learning in the face of quarantine.
I’m not sure who struggled more to adapt to the technology: teachers or students. One thing I’m certain of: finding that blessed “Turn In” button over in the right-hand corner of an assignment was nigh unto impossible for students who had no trouble operating a vast array of social media. One of life’s great mysteries…
Life At Home
My children were home and on their own zoom meetings, as was my husband. Unlike so many other families, we could afford to increase our internet speed and hunker down. My students were provided with technology, all things I do not take for granted. My greatest challenge was the sheer volume of students I was responsible for and the personalization my subject required. I taught the entire high school, every student. When we were learning in person, my schedule was a bizarre mix of 2, 3, and 4-day-a-week classes with varying sections. But when we went home, I was teaching all ten sections every day. And writing teachers don’t get to use multiple-choice tests for assessment. It was just me and nearly 200 essays to grade.
My heart races just typing about it, even two years later.
Fortunately, our school opted not to try to force kids to attend every class virtually. Instead, teachers posted videos and assignments, and students worked on their own time. I held office hours every day and tried to make it light-hearted and easy for students to approach me. I was available all day, every day, no matter the hour. My students weren’t responsible for giving me ten sections to teach at one time, so they deserved to be treated like my only section.
My senior classes had worked all year to write a capstone thesis. Typically, they would give a 20-minute presentation to their peers and parents. Under lockdown, these presentations become virtual. Now, I wasn’t just training them in public speaking; I had to teach them how to record videos and manage the technology options before them.
We scheduled 36 thesis presentations and managed to get all of the attendees on zoom calls so students could “defend” their work to faculty. When the last presentation was given, I shut my Zoom off, put my head down on the table, and wept. My husband and kids were waiting outside the door to cheer for me and congratulate me on finishing.
Across the Finish Line
When the school year finally ended, I was spent beyond all reason. I literally couldn’t talk for days. There weren’t any words left. It took a month just to find my groove again, rest, and remember how to be a human.
My heart eventually found its rhythm again.
My experience was by no means the worst ever. I was comfortable and safe, and I had the patience and support of my family. My students did the best they could with the situation, and we pulled off an extraordinary thing. One of the greatest treasures from my time teaching is a manila envelope full of letters from my 11th graders. When I pulled that out of the mailbox early in May and opened it, I sat right down on the road to have a good cry and read each letter.
I still keep those letters near my desk, even now. They remind me of this huge thing my students and I did together. It reminds me what the power of tenacity, understanding, and a sturdy heart medication can accomplish.
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