The Stress we Create?

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

“My computer screen is white! What do I do?”

“What is my password?”

“I can’t find the program?”

“How do I load this program?”

“Am I supposed to share a picture of the screen with you?”

“What am I supposed to do next?”

That was what I listened to this morning while my child in third grade was on a class call. The video call was about how to use a program. The instructions had been simple, start the video call, open a specific program, take a screenshot, share it, then wait for further directions. These are third grade students trying to do this, but it is also week seven of working online and doing this. My daughter had already loaded her program and was waiting patiently. It was nearly twenty minutes before the teacher could start instructing. And don’t kid yourself, the questions continued through the hour-long presentation.

I should note that this teacher, we will call him Mr. K, was absolutely amazing. Mr. K answered questions one at a time. He was well organized. He was giving clear instructions. He was telling students exactly what to do. He ran a well-organized lesson. I got to listen to most of it with my daughter. And in the interest of full disclosure, I didn’t help my daughter with getting her technology set up. She did not need the help.

My third grader was getting stressed and tired though. She was frustrated listening to the ongoing struggles of students trying to load a silly program. She even got up and walked around and grabbed a snack while waiting.

The next day, I got to observe a formative assessment with this same group of students. Frankly, Mr. K ran a textbook perfect formative assessment on a screencast for these students. He had a task screencast. He had given instructions that we, as parents, were not supposed to help the lesson. He gave very clear instructions to the students and followed through with immediate feedback. I have nothing but respect for the lesson and the preparation for this group of students.

But, this time I watched my daughter get more and more frustrated. While the day before, she was frustrated at others because they were taking too long, today, she was frustrated with the content. She believes that she is not good in mathematics. The assessment, being in math, was a struggle for her. It took all of about ten minutes for the ipad to be shut off, the paper to go one direction, the ipad another, and her to tear off to her room not to return. It had nothing to do with the content or the lesson. It had everything to do with the stress and emotional state of this young lady.

Teachers, like Mr. K, are preparing solid instruction and providing it in a number of structured or less structured ways. The content is good. The teaching is as good as we can do given the situation we are given. Eight weeks in to online instruction, where these students only see most of their friends through a video screen is taking its toll.

My daughter is by no means unusual. She is a normal, healthy third grader. She does struggle with math, even in class. But now, having to learn it from parents and then test on a tablet device is tough. She is dealing with the stress of the content and the lack of adaptability of the classroom teacher. That personal touch where the teacher can support and help guide her to reduce the frustration. As a parent, who does know math and has been teaching and supporting her, I can only do so much.

I can’t begin to imagine how some of these other students and parents are struggling. They are still inside, physically distancing themselves from others, and they may not know how to teach content. Isolation, limited instructional support, English is not the first language for many of these students, and the content is not hard, but not easy if you haven’t been in a math class for years. The emotional toll it is taking on students is a reality.

We as educators, health and wellness professionals, counselors, and parents are aware of the concerns of the health of our children. We are stuck in this Catch-22. If we back off the instructional content, then the students will likely fall behind. If we continue to expect instructional content to be taught online, then the students may struggle with their social and emotional wellness. It is a very difficult trade off. Do we allow the content to lag to support students emotional state or push the content to meet standards and hope to help the students recover later?

The farther into this experiment I go, the more I lean towards letting the content lag in favor of care of the students. Some teachers and administrators who are entering into situations where students are being schooled at home may still be pushing content first. Many have backed off of the high expectations. Teachers who are weeks deep into this type of instruction are making the case for backing off of content in favor of student wellness.

My question, if you are pushing content hard, why are you doing so? The state tests in the US have bene cancelled. The AP testing is going online. The IB DP tests have been cancelled for this year. The GCSE and A level test in the UK have been cancelled. There is no need to push the content at this point. If your students aren’t impacted by COVID-19 yet, give it time. They will be. And their stress level will rise as will their concern about health and safety. As educators, shouldn’t we care for students first? Every kid in the world is being impacted and we can pick up the instruction later.

Mr. K is an amazing teacher. He has offered to help my daughter by setting up a time to speak with her directly. I know he is doing 10–12 hour days as a classroom teacher and incredibly thoughtful. His lessons are clear and well planned. As parents, we are doing our best to support our children to stay current in the content. And we have set aside content in order to meet the emotional needs of our children.

Even with all this support, my child is struggling with the emotions of the isolation and instruction. If a child, who is well supported is struggling, how much more are our students who don’t have these support systems?

As educators, we need to give serious consideration to the importance of our work. We are not just facilitators of knowledge and content, we are teacher, counselors, surrogate parents, ears to listen, guides, mentors, cheerleaders, the biggest critics and biggest supporters of our students. We are the reason that our students are successful. It is not the content they learn to pass a test. It is the relationship they build with us. My hope is that educators around the world will begin to respond to the high stress situations we have created for our students. Not just in this unexpected disruption, but at all times.

We have an opportunity to turn education on its head. We are seeing the stress we are putting on our students through the online teaching. No matter how hard we work to minimize it, the students are struggling. This year, tests have been removed. Can we take this knowledge and experience and do something different in the years to come? Can we radically change education now that we are proving that we can?

How about we start right now. Let’s work just on this year. Students in isolation who are completing online classes are struggling. Let’s get to June to finish the year. But let’s look ahead to next year. What changes can we make to improve the next year with our students? Can we focus again on our students more and less on the academics? I hope to see significant changes in education in the next year. Can we do our best to reduce the stress we create and provide meaningful opportunities for education for our students, minus testing, in the years to come.

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Athletic Director, International School Educator, Observer of Human Behavior, and Classroom Management Mentor, Discussing Classrooms in Crisis

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Everett H.

Everett H.

Athletic Director, International School Educator, Observer of Human Behavior, and Classroom Management Mentor, Discussing Classrooms in Crisis

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