Pedagogy of a Plague

Me, kind of not sucking at distance-teaching...
I’ve been wanting to write about this for weeks, but it’s been impossible to settle on one particular way to feel about teaching in the midst of a pandemic. Ultimately, I guess, I don’t have any one particular way to feel about it.

There are moments of success, connecting in real ways with families and students over the phone or video chat or whatever. I kind of LOVE creating video lessons, like to the point where I’m tweaking out on it a little. I’m not saying they’re any good. I’m just saying I love this shiny new tool in my toolbox and I will now build 50 different dilapidated birdhouses in a variety of shapes and colors because TEACHING!

And there are moments of struggle and fail. Many of them. Trying to teach myself how to schedule a video IEP meeting on Microsoft Teams had me flat on my back in grown-ass-lady tantrum mode a few weeks ago. And, as much as I love making video lessons, I dread doing “live” shit. My “live” shit  is weak, sparse, redundant, and not super-well attended. I hope to balls it’s not part of our performance evaluation this year, because holy moly, is all.

But the sharpest and most persistent stick in my side is this: I still can’t seem to find the cognitive balance between the voices that want so much more teachy-teaching from us (administrators, mayors, state officials, newspaper columnists, lawyers, tiger parents, etc.) and the voices that want so much less (parents, generally). The closest consensus between all of these voices seems to be “NO NOT LIKE THAT!”

Last week I got super salty about a McSweeney’s article, of all things, that mercilessly exposed the sad fact that we classroom teachers kind of suck at digital marketing distance learning. It’s almost as if most of us have had no training or practice in the field. It’s almost as if we’re using clunky technology that makes a grrrl really lean in to those tech skills she acquired growing up on the farm in the 80’s, twisting the TV’s rabbit-ear antennae to hear and see MASH through the static. We’re doing the best we can with the flimsy-ass tools we’ve got, trying to calibrate our skill set to parameters that just don’t fit.

The crankiest part of me wants to ask…. “And for what?”

Because is any of this actually helping? Or is our hard work and Apollo-13ing basically just…performative? Expected of us? Defensive, even, against the many, many detractors of public education and its teachers? Does anyone who might truly benefit from our work even want us jumping through all these flaming hoops?

We’ve done a lot of good, meaningful work, too. I’m proud of us for keeping our students fed, and for how we’re providing families with books and laptops and various and sundry gap-narrowing devices. That’s essential work.

But this so-called “continuous learning” rollout…I mean…What even was school in the first place that we’re scrambling so hard to maintain its status quo? What do “grade level standards” even mean when people are dying of plague-on-crack and class inequities are blazingly exposed like never before? What am I even doing when I reach out to a family that I know has been hit hard by all this COVID mess and I'm all like “Good news, dude. Phonics lessons!”

So, yeah. I get it. I’m disappointed in us, too. I wish I could do more. When the schools first closed I saw it as this tremendous opportunity to revitalize what public education even means. We were free! We could keep what was working and toss the rest; help our students follow their passions and start a whole new public education revolution!

The thing is…I was tired. So were my students. Any attempt at psyching them up for the revolution left them kind of shrugging and asking for a nice, safe, predictable worksheet. I’d be lying to say I wasn’t relieved. I’m too weary for revolution right now, folks. Maybe another day.

So, for now, I wake up every morning, down a pot of coffee, and twitch and tweak my way through this brave new world of digitizing the status quo. It’s not good, and it’s not bad. But, you know. What is? All of us have strengths and weaknesses, and now we get to see them play out through the filter of a global pandemic, hopefully learning some new skills along the way.

No easy answers. But I guess I can think of worse ways to spend a plague.

Older Post Newer Post