Today is Easter Sunday.
Today is also day whatever the heck it is of online teaching and physical distancing for me. I have completed eight weeks of emergency online instruction and a week of spring break. I was so hopeful that we would have some chance to be back in school soon as things were looking positive, but that has again been delayed.
The last day I saw my students face to face and in person was on January 6, 2020 and it is not April 12, 2020. This sucks. I didn’t sign up to be this kind of teacher.
Friday night I had the opportunity to take part in a webinar discussing International Baccalaureate teaching online for the Middle Years Program in Physical and Health Education. The most glaring difference in the people involved were the amount of time teaching online. One person had not taught online at all and the other extreme was the teacher who has now taught online for nine weeks with no end in sight. We are all struggling. That was our common theme, this is hard to do effectively as physical educators and teachers in general. There are no guides, there are no instruction books, no two schools are similar in this process. We have been able to draw support from the work of others, but we still need to create our own materials and resources as educators.
These are all top notch educators and I was thankful to be a part of the group. They are caring and considerate people who want to do the best by their students. They also recognize the unusual circumstances we are in. Finally, every single one of us teaches at a private school where we don’t have some of the hindrances of state or public schools which makes a world of difference. There was one thing we all agreed on, education can not stay the same after this. Which brings me back to Easter.
As a Christian, Easter is one of the big holidays. The day of the acknowledgement of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Easter is symbolic of new life, hope springing eternal, joy, and changed lives. Don’t worry, I will not get evangelical on you here, but I do hope to make a non-theological point. Easter is a celebration of hope and change.
As an educator, my last couple of weeks have been tough. I admit it, I have not enjoyed teaching in this online environment. It is emotionally and mentally challenging. It is downright hard. Every educator I speak with wishes he or she were back in the classroom. No one wants to see this last much longer, but some educators know that they won’t see their students again until September, if ever. That is what we are facing as educators and nothing is going to change that.
But, that great theological word “but” is an amazing single word in the Bible. It tells us that better things are coming. The “but” here is that this will not last forever. We will be back in our classrooms one day before we know it. We all have hope that we will see our students smiling faces. The classrooms will be filled with the joyful noise of children learning, laughing, and living as though this time in our lives did not happen. We will move forward and remember this as a learning experience where we came together as families and grew. There is hope that we will return to the family unit. That parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles will come together to support the children and each other. There is hope that we as people will be better than we were before the world was shaken to its core by this experience.
There is also a hope for change in the future. We as educators are seeing possibilities open before our very eyes. Admittedly, we don’t necessarily like what is happening, but we are learning. We are learning what is possible for our students. We are learning that we are more capable than we ever thought possible. We are learning that we can change our classroom and provide instruction online for our students. We are looking to the future when we return to the classroom and when we will be better teachers because of this.
The educators who spoke on Friday night talked about what we were learning and our experiences. While many of them were uncomfortable for us, none of us was walking away from this unchanged. We are all looking at how we are educating our students, how we will evolve to be better educators, and how we are already thinking differently. To a person, we want to be teaching with our students, but we were all adapting to our situations and changing as we needed for our teaching environment.
As educators, we have seen the removal of IB DP and MYP testing, GCSE and IGCSE testing, A Levels, and state level testing among others and a shift to an online AP testing this year. A somewhat minor virus did what educators have been trying to do for years, remove the stigma of external mandatory testing. What happens next with testing though? Do we just add it back in next year because we need to compare students and schools to one another? One hope for change is that we remove mandatory testing of students and trust teachers. We are saying we trust them this year so why not next year as well?
My worry and concern for the next school year is that children return to the classroom and everyone just goes back to business as usual. Classrooms return to the drudge of teaching content in order to pass a test. Governments demand testing to monitor and compare schools, classes and students. Universities return to accepting mandated leveling type tests for admissions. If we got back to what we have always done, we deserve what we get. This is an opportunity for us as educators worldwide to come together and scream for a change.
Whether you believe in the Christian faith or not, I am not worried about that. What can not be denied is that the resurrection day, Easter in the Bible, was a paradigm shift. It was that moment in the New Testament when those of the faith realized that everything Jesus had promised came true. It was the point in time where people went from talking about their beliefs to fully committing to a faith. Before Easter, the apostles believed in Jesus, afterwards, they were fully committed to the cause and ultimately, all of them gave their lives for it.
As an educator, looking at this year through the eyes of Easter Sunday, I can not help but think that this is the moment in time where we can make a significant change to our systems. It is a significant point in time where a change from belief to action can happen and can happen rapidly. I am not suggesting it is as significant as the event in the Bible, but I am stating it is significant. We need to shift from talking about what we believe to doing it. We need to push our beliefs about children growth and developments, appropriate education for all, and the importance of social and emotional well-being to the forefront of our schools and systems. We have the opportunity to rock the educational world to its core and make it a better place to teach and to be a student.
Imagine a place where a student could follow his or her own path forward in life. Where we supported that students path to whatever end that they sought. Where we developed critical thinkers who made decisions for themselves. Where students would stand for their beliefs against adults who told them they were wrong. Where we actually did the best practices we keep talking about and were supported as educators in our field. Where we supported the development of the next doctors, nurses, politicians, the next Greta Thurnberg, Mari Copeny or Marinel Ubaldo. What kind of a world would we leave to future generations if we changed our classrooms to support learning that encouraged young activists to do the work now, and not later?
I have been emotionally dragging the last few weeks but on this Easter Sunday, I am again hopeful. The world hasn’t ended. I am able to go out and about and see the world coming back to life. People are making positive impacts in the world today. There are true heroes making a difference in this world right now and some of them are people we know. We owe it to their children and future generations to commit ourselves to starting in our classrooms and making the world a better place right now. We have been given a gift of an opportunity to make significant changes for the future, let’s make the best of this gift given to us.