It’s 6:45 AM, and I’ve just dropped my own kids at their babysitter’s house. I signed them both up to go back to in-person school, but they’re in the last tier to go back and I returned to my 3rd grade classroom on the first day of virtual instruction, even though my classroom was empty and I was teaching to a computer screen. By now, I’ve already run 5 miles, packed everyone’s lunch and sent 5 frantic text messages to my co-workers asking when our plans are due.
I arrive at school, where my 5 in-person learners and co-teacher are waiting for me. I have students with individualized education plans (IEPs) in my room, as well as English Language Learners, which means I am responsible for ensuring that students meet their IEP goals as well as their Texas English Language Proficiency Assessment System goals (TELPAS). I scaffold my lessons to make sure that both of these diverse groups are taught on their educational levels, along with the rest of my 19 students. I am lucky to share a room with my co-teacher, which means that I actually get to use the restroom when I need to!
After I greet my students, my first step is to boot up my laptop: our first Zoom meeting starts in 5 minutes, and I need to load up my Google slide show that I will show them. I also boot up my desktop computer because my in person students are too distracted to look at their Zoom and listen to me at the same time, so they watch the screen at the front of the room while I talk to my virtual students on my laptop’s camera (school desktops do not come with webcams, and I don’t want to spend money I don’t have on one). My first meeting starts, and I speak to my students online while I click through the slides for my presentation on both computers. I’m sure there is a better way to do this, but I’m not very technologically savvy and don’t have time to research it. I remind one of my in-person students to put their mask on through the plexiglass that surrounds my desk.
For the rest of the morning, I vacillate between answering questions from my in-person kids, which are mostly about how to log onto their learning management system and what their passwords are, and trying to teach my virtual students. Some won’t turn their cameras on, some won’t talk, and some clearly have parents hovering in the background listening to my every word. By lunchtime, I am exhausted, but have work to do. I grade a few assignments and then log onto my own learning management system––I am working on my master’s degree and need to answer a discussion board prompt before the end of the day.
The afternoon continues much like the morning: trying to pull small groups of in-person students to our plexiglass-enclosed kidney table to work on skills, teaching Zoom meetings, and refining my Google slides for the rest of the week’s lessons. I worry constantly––about my own kids who are at their babysitter’s house being able to do their work, about how we’re all going to stay safe, and about which of my students I’m allowing to fall through the cracks because I can’t really tell how much they’re learning at home. After school is out, we have a virtual faculty meeting that I am required to stay in my classroom for, then I leave to pick up my own kids and take them home so I can head to my second job––I teach group fitness classes part-time at my gym to help fill in the gaps my salary leaves.
At the very end of the day, I crawl into bed and set my alarm for 4:15 AM so I can do it all over again. Before I fall asleep, I click on Facebook where I have notifications from our district’s parent’s page. One post laments that their student is spending too much time on Zoom meetings––she says lessons are 40 minutes long. Another complains that their student doesn’t spend enough time on Zoom meetings––she says her lessons are only 20 minutes long. Further down the page, I read “these teachers are lazy and don’t want kids back because it’s too much work.” I reflect on the day––the countless lessons that I teach twice and those that I’m wracking my brain trying to make virtual. I think about the hours I spend on the phone trying to teach parents how to log into Zoom and what a hyperlink is. I think about the kids falling though the cracks because they simply don’t log on. I think about how much easier it was when ALL my students showed up in class and I could talk to them, mask-free, face-to-face.
I’m grateful to have a job when so many have lost theirs due to COVID-19. I love what I do, and I love my students. Teachers aren’t asking for to be showered with adoration or undying affection. But we are asking for respect and basic human kindness.