I’ve been struggling with something for awhile. It is something that I read often on social media, and hear from teachers. Something I should not be feeling, but I understand where it is coming from. I am hearing from educators stress, anger, and frustration toward students for how they are interacting during remote learning. I am hearing from students that they are overworked and not being listened to by teachers. I can see both sides. Hell, I’ve felt both sides. We need to keep empathy at the front of our minds. It is going to shape the future of education long after Covid-19.
Something all teachers want is for their students to succeed. How do we define success? What measure are we using to find success in our students? Is the measure how often cameras are on in a Zoom meeting? Are teachers looking at our gradebooks and using the number of completed assignments alone as a measure? I have a thirteen year old son. Since March 13th, when this all began, I’ve tried to perform as a teacher through his eyes. What is in his best interest may not be what I want it to be, but it may be just what he needs. This view has helped shape my empathy towards my students. I have changed some pedagogy and management drastically during the pandemic. Those changes have made me more empathetic during a time when empathy should be how we teach and lead.
I talked with a former 8th grade student, who is now a high school sophomore, at the end of first quarter. She conveyed to me that she is being given more work during Covid-19 than when school was in person. From her perspective she feels her teachers think she has more time at home for work. In listening to her I could tell that was far from the truth. This student is one of those decade kids we all know. The type that enter your class every so often that you know will rise to great things as an adult. Not maybe will, but definitely will. If a student like that, who is driven, confident, and accomplished feels overwhelmed , how does the student who is not driven, lacks confidence, and does not feel accomplished surviving? In this environment less can mean more.
I had a Twitter conversation with a teacher today. This educator made the point that some of their students are opting to work a job during the day instead of attending class. Some may say that the students are choosing money over school. That they are not prioritizing their education. In our back and forth I could feel the worry this teacher has for their students. This teacher knows that some of their students don’t have a choice. Under the financial stress that is 2020, students don’t want to work a job during the day, they have to work a job during school so their families can survive. That is a terrible place for a child to live.
You want to hear real life during Covid, talk to a school social worker. I’ve mentioned before that my wife is a social worker. I’ve watched her age since March. Daily she loves over, worries over, cries over, and looks out for her students. She does not always work with the best and the brightest. She works with the kid you think you know, but don’t know half of the pain they have in their life. What should teachers expect from that child? What measure do we have that takes into consideration their walk? Should academics even enter the equation?
As a teacher I know I have not worked harder in thirty years as I have since March. This is a struggle. I am tired. I am exhausted. I also need to keep perspective that this time is not about me. What we have to remember is that the current state of things is also new to students. Yes, we need to give them the academic structure that allows them to control their choices as they move forward in life. We also need to show students empathy as we navigate this era of time together. The more empathy we show our students, the more effort they may put into their work. The more empathy we show our students, the more they know they are not alone. They have someone who is trying to understand how hard life is for them. A life they really have no control over. The more empathy we show our students, the better chance they will not let life consume them. They will see that they are able and they can persevere through this chaotic time. The more empathy we show our students, the love they will feel.