What is it like to teach during a pandemic? Truth? It’s a poop show. I thought concerns about COVID-19 spreading would dominate my daily thoughts. They don’t. It’s not that I don’t think that could happen. In fact, I think it is entirely possible COVID-19 could spread in my school, perhaps even likely. I just don’t have time to worry about that.
My time is spent troubleshooting technological problems. Presently, we teach in a hybrid model and lack the technology to synchronously teach half of the students in front of us and half the students at home. There are no cameras in our classrooms to live stream our classes to remote students. So, many teachers try to live stream classes with our school laptops and have our remote students join us in some virtual meeting platform (we’ve tried them all). Allowing our in class students to see or interact with our remote students is a challenge because our laptops don’t connect to the classroom projectors. I bought a Google Chromecast and tried connecting the two. It didn’t work because the school WiFi kept dropping the connection every few seconds. So, I bought a 25 foot HDMI cable to physically hardwire the classroom projector to my laptop. That worked EXCEPT my remote students couldn’t hear my in class students when they spoke. The workaround? I brought in a karaoke machine and set it up in the middle of the classroom to amplify in class student voices. That failed miserably. Next attempt? Rummaging through my college son’s closet to find his old laptop and setting that up in the middle of the classroom to pick up student voices. If I join virtual meetings with my son’s old laptop and turn the volume COMPLETELY up, the students in class can kind of hear the remote students and the remote students can kind of hear the in class students. I can’t hear the remote students well, but luckily they can hear me because I bought a personal voice amplifier with microphone headset. THEN I join the virtual meetings with my school laptop, but have to mute the sound to prevent high pitched, screeching feedback. Then, and only then, can I actually teach my students using my laptop for presentations, directions, visual supports, etc. Because I can’t have students working closely in collaborative groups, I tried having in class students join the virtual meetings and put all students in virtual breakout rooms to collaborate. That was an utter failure because the school WiFi kept dropping my in class students out of the breakout rooms. Awesome, right? But even more awesome is the fact the program our district purchased for teachers to live stream classes, do virtual presentations, push out electronic tests/quizzes/websites to students, and monitor student computer use (because I am supposed to do that too) hasn’t worked with most student computers. Should I mention that there’s a good chance when we try to plug earbuds into our school laptops they don’t work and the sound continues to play out of our laptop speakers flooding our virtual meetings with even more feedback or have you gotten a good enough sense of the chaos school has become? I couldn’t make it up if I tried. Every day I manage to defeat one problem, a new one pops up. It’s equivalent to an endless school technological whack-a-mole game and it is exhausting and demoralizing. Yet, every day I walk into my classroom, put on a smile (not that students can see a smile from behind my mask), and try to fake it, pretending that everything is okay.
Most of my “teaching” time is spent technologically troubleshooting. Because of the social isolation and stress the pandemic has brought on, teachers are expected to support the social and emotional needs of our students—more than ever before. We are also supposed to address the social unrest in our country and the inequities of centuries of systemic racism. And, of course, we are expected to teach the content and skills of our classes—while providing real time remediation for the loss of learning students experienced last spring when schools were closed. I am on board with ALL of that. It will not be easy, but bring it on. I can and will do all of that because I care about kids. I can’t, though, if I have to spend the precious time I have with my students fighting with technology. There is no excuse for the technological shitshow students and teachers are being subjected to. If our schools didn’t have the technology and resources to support hybrid learning in the midst of a pandemic, then we should have continued with distance learning until proper technological infrastructure was put in place. Sorry, but our students and teachers deserve so much better than this.