Distance Learning, and also I Hope We Don’t All Die From This.

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There’s a lot to like about distance learning.

The world is crashing down around us.

When we do it right, it seems to involve a lot of choice for students in the how and when they are showing us they are learning.

My timelines were full of mourning again.

When we do it right, we’re showing kids we care and showing patience, and being creative and fun where we can, and thinking about what is essential to learn and, yes, yeah, we’re doing all the things we do when we’re doing our normal jobs right. That’s good. The good stuff gives me hope right now, or at least slightly less despair at this maybe-impossible thing that we’re attempting.

People were sharing the losses of loved ones, mourning life moments, graduations and weddings that have been taken, mourning the ability to hold loved ones while they die, while they are trapped, scared, on the other sides of walls and windows. They’ll be full again tomorrow of all the same stories with new names.

I love to see the goofy teacher videos and the student analysis of that book they’re reading, and the spirit weeks and teacher parades and Zoom tiles of many smiling faces we really shouldn’t be sharing online. I keep worrying about all those comments though, the ones about how much better so many students are doing without having to wait around for those disruptive kids, those distracted and distracting kids.

I’m probably playing about four hours of video games a day, and send more text messages about how I’m trying to get some writing than actually writing. I’m in a house big enough that every family member can have their own space, with two adults who can work remotely and a kid who is pretty chill, with enough food to be comfortable fed, and I can do all that while feeling pretty damn sorry for myself.

I worry about what’s up with those kids right now, and can’t imagine this is working out great for a lot of them. I also worry about those quieter kids, the kids loving the absence of what’s-his-name on other side of the room that keeps yelling things out or can’t sit down, and I wonder what kind of message the quieter kids are getting about what they can learn without those other kids, about what they can or can’t learn from those other kids.

Can you imagine being in prison right now? Or having a loved one who is? Or just being in any space half the size of what you’re in with twice as many people in your family? Or living completely alone? Can you imagine how many people don’t have the money to go buy three weeks of groceries, much less any place to put it? Or being stuck with someone who hurts you? Or being a young queer kid in a home you aren’t welcome in?

I worry about a lot of my students, about how sometimes when they were having tough days before they would show up on fire and run the building looking for any adult who could offer water. Those kids are quiet now, exist in my world as unanswered emails and attendance tasks left undone. I know I’m not alone. I know we all have worry to spare, an abundance of concern. The worst-case scenarios that have nothing to do with being sick are bad, so immensely bad, and the ones that are the hardest to spot under the best conditions are now almost completely invisible.

I’m in the habit of checking the numbers two or three times a day. Global cases, US deaths, Minnesota increases. Numbers that were expected and unthinkable a week or two ago, daily tolls. I see them, I shake my head and try not to let them all the way in, try not to think too hard about what 35,000 means. None of them have names I know yet, no one in my phone has died, but many someone’s someones have. I try not to let that in, but I can’t shake it after I put my phone down.

There’s a few kids, though, some kids that were hard to connect within the storm of 150 kids in and out of a room every day who I’m getting so see most days in open office hours, just to talk about whatever, who are sharing article and video links with me over email, sometimes even with a little joke. It’s amazing how big some little wins can feel right now, how getting rickrolled can be the highlight of a week.

Even on the good days at home, these numbers, the pictures of grandparents meeting their first grandbaby through the window, the faces beaten by protective gear worn too long again and again, the pictures that sneak through of the bodies and bodies and bodies, this is the water we swim in, even when we try to look away. There are good reasons why I don’t want to get bored, why I don’t want to stop being distracted.

I know I need them to be reading every day, and not sure how to balance the work I think they need with six other classes online and access to books. I feel like there’s a lot of days when a lot of kids aren’t learning anything from me. I know I am, in so many ways, failing at this.

We passed 40,000 deaths yesterday, including a 5 year old girl in Michigan. She was five, only five, all of five. She is smiling so big in the picture on the news.

My students are working on a choice project now, with topics ranging from the Second World War to the second Sharknado, everything from podcasts to vlogs to poster board displays that may end up on a sidewalk for me to walk past and see.

I’m shocked, and not, at the anger that is bleeding through all this fear online, on how quickly our in-this-together devolved into all the shouting matches we were having before. I’m shocked, and not, at our need for an enemy, even while fighting a global disease.

Some students put together a list of musicals for my kid, since they like Hamilton and Six so much.

My kid asked me how the rest of the world was doing. I had to admit that I didn’t really know.

We hang our fabric masks by the front door.

Taskforce briefing.

Department meeting.

Liberate Minnesota.

Here’s the Zoom link.

114 new Minnesota Covid cases, 9 new deaths yesterday.

Teaching is still important, is probably no less important than it’s ever been, maybe. Maybe other stuff just got more important than we could have imagined, maybe.

Maybe we just do what we can.

Maybe we just do what we can.

Maybe we just give what we can.

Maybe we just give what we can.

Maybe we’re all just doing our best.

Written by

Author of ‘It Won’t Be Easy.’ 2014 Minnesota Teacher of the Year. @mrtomrad on everything. www.mrtomrad.com

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