On the Placement of Deck Chairs When the Boat is Sinking — Week 12 of Pandemic Teaching

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I’ve been thinking a lot lately about that idiom about rearranging deck chairs on the titanic.

There is no shortage of ways that this is hard. There’s no shortage of work to do. What’s missing, so often missing, is work that could make any of the big problems any better.

Our classes aren’t going great, aren’t engaging in meaningful ways.

I just did our first night of parent teacher conferences, and I’ve never known less about the students I’m talking about.

Our teachers are falling apart. We try to do better in fits and starts between periods of being too busy, too sad, too sick, too hopeless.

Many teachers are doing way too much, especially those teaching younger grades and anyone being asked to teach in person and online at the same time.

My school is fully distant now. I don’t feel like I’m doing too much work, but I feel every day like my work isn’t doing enough.

Our students, our own kids, are bearing the weight of a lot of this, are being asked to self organize and motivate like they’re in college. Are being asked to experience school as a series of content delivery experiences without the social, the human, the joyful parts of a school day.

We have lived in a world since March that is full of problems without answers. They are the problems dragging the boat down, and all we have are deck chairs. We try to pick the thing that does the most good or the least damage.

As teachers, it’s against our nature to let things not work. We live deeply what we do, and every student we fail, every week we feel like we didn’t do enough is a weight that presses against us when we try to sleep.

So we work and we work on those deck chairs. Another google doc, or maybe a spreadsheet this time. A new app, maybe, or a new structure to our class or if we label things just so.

We work as if the perfect gif in our lesson slides will dim our national grief for a moment, and when it doesn’t, we are crushed and then re-crushed when it doesn’t the next time, because we want something to work.

I’m doing my best to look at the whole problem. To put my efforts where they may do the most real good.

There’s no shortage of problems without solutions, but we can’t quit trying. Maybe that next deck chair will catch the wind or light just right and do something special for even one student for one moment.

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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