A good teacher is like a candle – it consumes itself to light the way for others. – Mustafa Kemal Atatürk
If you have to put someone on a pedestal, put teachers. They are society’s heroes. – Guy Kawasaki
As you sit at home struggling to teach a class online that you would have normally taught in a classroom, or to help a student who needs individual attention, I want you to remember something—you are not a bad teacher, you have just been asked to work under unique circumstances.
If you’re like me then nothing could have prepared you for how you have been asked to teach in this moment. No “how to teach online” additional qualification course that instructs you to start putting your content online months before the start of the class, and to spend weeks learning about educational platforms, video conferencing software, discussion forums, and student engagement tools could have prepared you for this.
An online teacher training course would not have taught you how to deal with delayed or inadequate access to academic resources such as textbooks or instructional content that is under copyright. You would not have been taught how to manage without access to a school or academic library beyond what is provided online because these courses assume that you have unlimited time and access to resources.
No one would have provided guidance on how to help a student whose parents have no money to buy a textbook online. If you’re like me, you bought the book for the student using your own money because you care and you provide what that student needs to have something meaningful to do. You would not have learned to teach a student remotely who does not have access to a computer or the Internet. Instead, you have had to figure these things out on your own and you have had to be very creative.
The class would not have taught you how to help students attend a video classroom call if they do not have a phone, computer, or tablet or they have to share a device with multiple siblings or even a working parent who all need the device at the same time. You never learned what to say to a student who tells you every day that her mommy/daddy are mean to her and she would really like to be back in school with you.
No one would have taught you how to respond to the parents who unload their anger and frustration on to you and say you are not providing enough content for their children, or the parent who asks you why the school board is even paying you, and what do you really do all day. You have been up late at night scouring the Internet for grade/subject appropriate resources and using what limited resources you have in order to do your best. You are exhausted and you don’t think you are doing enough or doing a very good job.
Nothing, and I mean nothing, could have prepared you for hearing about your students’ feelings of frustration, loneliness, and sadness or their fears about their parents’ lack of employment and/or fear about the virus its self. You could not have been prepared for the conversations about how much they miss their grandparents, their friends, or their classrooms. The wave of your own emotions hits you as they talk because you miss these things too. You stay strong and respond in a positive and emphatic manner, telling yourself that you will process your own emotions later, but later never comes.
If you are like me you have made many small mistakes along the way. You forgot to turn the sound on when you started your lecture, you did not plug your tablet in and you ran out of power, you forgot to embed the link correctly, and you did not know that when you posted your educational content to that platform you just learned that you had to hit the release to student’s button. “Why am I such an idiot, I should have known that.” But should you? If you’re like me, you only started using this technology a few weeks ago.
You forgot to print a copy of a worksheet for yourself to use in a video lesson, you forgot what day it was and almost missed a lesson you were booked to teach, and you did not send the link for the video call to the correct email address. “I am a terrible teacher, how did I lose track of time? I should be more organized. I have been teaching for how many years now,” you say to yourself in a haze of exhaustion.
Let me ask you, would you talk to your students that way if they were in that situation? No, you would respond with kindness and compassion. You would remind them that they have been placed in exceptional circumstances, then you would list all the things they are doing correctly. You are making an effort, you are caring, compassionate, diligent, resourceful, and you are learning and growing at that same time. The fact that you are showing up every day trying to connect with your students is enough! That is all anyone can ask of you under these circumstances.
No matter what you teach, know that we are real heroes, heroes that need to stop being so hard on ourselves and to realize that under the circumstances we are doing a really good job!
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jen Hinkkala is a music teacher and researcher soon to be starting a Ph.D. program at McGill University.