If This Is the “New Normal,” When Does It Begin to Feel Normal?

They promised we would “get used to it,” but we haven’t yet, and it’s so exhausting.

From John Schnobrich on Unsplash

“Resistance is futile,” Picard warned us about the Borg, and right now I feel like I’m starting to become part of the Borg Collective… or perhaps a human octopus. I haven’t decided. My laptop, which is supposed to be portable, DOES look like an octopus, and its 8 GB of RAM is maxed out on a regular basis. Close all your applications, I’m told. Really? How am I supposed to teach that way? How can I leave the computer to help someone in class AND see if the kids are chatting questions? I can’t take the thing with me. Remember, it’s now an octopus, with cables coming from every available orifice. How may times should I join the conference so I can manage two things at once with this device and that device and the other device? Oh, and if I ask all the kids to sign onto the conference, my Wi-Fi connection screeches to a halt. So there’s that, too.

What I’m Hearing from Other Teachers, and in My Own Head

Classroom Management

We manage the students joining remotely and manage those who are in the classroom with us by keeping them both as busy as possible while we figuratively split ourselves in three to also manage the logistics of this new normal. Take attendance, let people in the room, remind them all to complete their bell-ringers. Take attendance, let people in the room, remind them all to complete their bell-ringers. (I repeated the sentence on purpose. Most of the time, we have to repeat ourselves and the process.)

Teaching in Two Places at Once

We are on camera and have to remember, too, that we should look like we’re getting cues from a tele-prompter. Don’t forget to look at the kids in the room. Whoops, don’t forget to look at the camera. Okay, back to the kids in the room. Wait, have you looked at the camera lately?

We have to share our screen and ask repeatedly if everyone is seeing what we think we are projecting because the connection freezes. Our camera freezes, too, or completely fails (“Webcam has been disconnected,” or “Screenshare has been disconnected,” the conferencing software tells us.). Then, precious time is wasted reconnecting.

Not Enough Time

We used to have 45 minutes for a class period. Now, it is officially 41. In reality, it’s more like 35. Don’t overload the kids, we are told, so we try to avoid giving homework. So many kids in sports (why are there sports right now?), with multiple games a week, getting home at 10:00 PM. Don’t overload the kids, but make sure you are staying on pace. Oh, and don’t forget to prepare them for the statewide assessments they missed last year! Those are coming soon!

Make sure your lessons are posted by Sunday, but also adjust on the fly and hope the kids remember after you tell them and post to the conference whiteboard that things have changed. Never mind they should check their calendars, which you are training them to do by saying the same thing over and over: Check your calendar daily.

Let’s add something new to your routine this week, we are told during a faculty meeting. Crickets from the audience for a moment and then a chorus of legitimate complaints from the brave few who want to defend the rest of us. Come on, folks… there is enough going on. Hire some hall monitors and be done with it. We cannot manage all this alone.

Oh, you don’t have the money in the budget? Why didn’t you think of that before you bought all this technology that no one is going to use the way it was intended? Remember: People matter first. We can’t have a lapel mic on, our laptops tethered to a camera, an iPad projecting to the Apple TV, and actually help kids in the room without broadcasting what’s happening to everyone. Our ability to teach has been hampered by the notion that this tech will help us teach during this weird, unsettling time.

Student Engagement

The carefully laid plans to build community, do tech training, and run diagnostics? Yes, that happened. However, it feels like it was so long ago that even I vaguely remember doing it. It’s frustrating — there is this feeling chewing the inside lining of my stomach, telling me that I should forget everything I’m trying to teach them and spoon-feed. This will not work, though, if the kids are not held accountable! We have to be a team! They have to do something.

MOST of the kids have been impressive. I should say that before people think I am complaining about the students. They have been patient, cooperative, and kind. Some have started to check out, though. How do I get them back? How do I reach them when I can’t see them in person?

Although We Are Doing Everything We Can, We Are Still Considered “The Problem.”

I heard this weekend we teachers are still being blamed for this nightmare. I have something to say to that, but I won’t. What I will say is we still need your grace, your patience, and your help.

Thank you for reading.

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