Wednesday, September 16, 2020

Teacher's Pet

I'm a few weeks into this new semester with my First Amendment class at the law school down the street and reader, let me tell you: teaching a class is so weird in These Uncertain Unprecedented Times We're All In This Together.

My university made the decision to require that around 60% of all classes be offered exclusively online this semester. The rest of the classes are taught both in person and over Zoom (for anyone who has symptoms or is otherwise uncomfortable meeting in a group).

The school has some really strict measures in place to keep in-person classes as safe as possible. For example, there is only one class in the building at a time. They also have seats blocked off so students have to sit 6 or more feet apart. Everyone has to wear masks. Everyone is supposed to wipe down their areas before and after. Everyone is supposed to leave the building as soon as class ends.

The school asked me if I was comfortable teaching in person and I said I was because I don't believe in science I'M KIDDING DON'T EMAIL ME. I thought the measures sounded good enough that I wouldn't feel at great risk. Also, I haven't left my house since The Year Of Our Lord Eleventy and I'm starting to lose my mind greatly so I thought it would probably be good for me to have two events a week where I see 14 other humans.

But oh boy. Let me tell you something. It is a challenge to teach to a large mostly-empty room of spread-out people, in a mask, and simultaneously minding the Zoom screen of students at home. 

The facilities at the law school are really incredible. When I start Zoom two giant screens are lowered, shades come down over all the windows, and the students all pop up on the screens, crystal clear. There are mics all over the room and incredible speakers so for the most part everyone can hear one another really well. 

About 1/3 of the class attends via Zoom and the rest are in the room with me. This class focuses very heavily on class discussion. The assigned readings are Supreme Court cases dealing with the First Amendment and then we gather and discuss them.

The class goes for 90 minutes twice a week and by the time class ends I usually feel like I need to engage in a thousand hibernations. It is so exhausting. I taught this class last year and it could sometimes zap me then, too, but there is something so much more draining about dealing with the COVID of it all.

Today as I walked out of class and climbed into my car, feeling sorry for my tired self, it hit me how wildly difficult it must be for teachers who are doing this all day right now. I cannot imagine how challenging it must be in any setting, but the thought of having to wrangle 30 children for hours on end, every single day, anywhere in any way, seems so daunting to me right now, especially if that's being done over the internet. 

I know these feel like empty platitudes, but I honestly don't know why we don't pay teachers exactly one trillion dollars per hour. I've never taught children in school for a full day, so I may be miscalculating and maybe it's actually the easiest job in the world and everyone who's done it has a secret pact not to tell anyone what a scam career it is. But I doubt it. From my perspective of just trying to teach some adults right now for a few hours a week, full-time teaching of children has to be the most exhausting job on this planet. 

So, look. I don't have kids. But a full ass thank you to all of you teachers who are making things work, whatever your situation is. I'm so sorry that a lot of it so sucks right now. For what it's worth, this dude in Salt Lake City who thinks your job is probably not a scam wishes he could pay you one trillion dollars an hour. PLUS BENEFITS.

Until I figure out a way to make that happen, please at least enjoy this photo of my sister's new puppy, who I think might actually fix 2020.

~It Just Gets Stranger


  1. Everything about this post is EXACTLY RIGHT.

  2. As a mother (lol, but relevant) of a virtual kindergartner, it's extremely difficult, especially the first week. Basically, each kid has a parent more or less looking over their shoulder. Although as he's learned the technology I can pull back a little. I think there's going to be a huge widening of the gap between families who can have a parent there and those who can't.

    There is still a lot of "Johnny, mute your mic after you talk", but I think that's the equivalent of "Johnny, please don't talk if it's not your turn" which they would be saying anyway. The hardest part is getting them to sit in front of a screen for like 4 hours.

  3. I teach sort-of adults in CEGEP (it's a kind of college here in Quebec). My students are between 17-20. This semester we are teaching completely online all the time. We finished last semester online but everyone was in panic mode so I have no recollection of how things went. Then we had all summer to stress over the fall semester and now it has started. It is both worse than I expected but better than I thought it would be. We are not allowed to insist students turn on cameras so basically I'm just talking to my computer on Microsoft Teams. In my very best class, the students keep up a running chat that is full of jokes (often on me) and memes and gifs that illustrate whatever I'm talking about and it is full on hilarious and I love them. In my worst class, it is as though there is not one student out there--no chat, no questions, no gifs and memes. I am starting to not like that class. (Actually, I hate them and dread having to teach them). We do one synchronous and one asynchronous session each week. Yesterday we were told that for sure the Winter semester will be the same. I find in person teaching super invigorating because I get to feed off the energy of the students but this kind of teaching is absolutely exhausting and all the fun parts are gone. Sorry, this turned into a bit of a complaint. On the bright side I get to stay home and don't have to drive in traffic to get to work so that part is great. :)

  4. I'm basically being forced to homeschool five kids, kindergarten through 9th grade. I suspect even with me hovering around trying to help, they will learn next to nothing this year. The teachers are working about half the time they normally would at full salary. (And I say this as someone who dearly loves my kids' teachers and whose husband was a teacher for 9 years!) This is destroying so much of the good will I have always felt towards teachers.

    And my kids are lucky because I'm a SAHM mom AND I have a college education, so I can at least be somewhat helpful (although it's amazing how much I don't remember how to do math anymore). I can't imagine how this is working for at-risk kids or families whose first language isn't English. I'm sure there are plenty of children trying to do this without any parental supervision at all. This is going to set them back at least a year. It's horrible what we're doing to these kids.

    1. As a teacher who has worked across 2 vastly different states during this pandemic, and seeing how teachers are struggling to do what is best for children, I find your statement rather... Upsetting. Every teacher I know is agonizing over how to reach every student possible, while taking care of their ELLs and at-risk students. They are exhausted from trying to teach in person and remotely while keeping students safe and motivated. Most teachers have had zero input in how schools open and what their days are going to look like. What's even more, we keep hearing about how "behind" students will be regarding arbitrary standards assigned by people who don't actually teach.

      I am sorry that this is hard for you and your family. I feel for you, as I see how hard it is on our students. No one wants this. But it is what it is. Please have a bit more grace for the teachers, as they're doing their best for their students while hearing about how useless and whiny and lazy they all are.

    2. (Not to mention, a lot of these teachers have their own five kids at home so they're trying to help them while teaching yours remotely.)

    3. Just because the teachers are not actively on a call with your child does not mean they are working half they time they normally would. What a presumptuous statement. My child is having some struggles getting this online learning thing down. I'm home, but I work full time. My son's math teacher has already spent a total of 3 hours with my son ALONE in the first 8 days of school. And I know she is also doing the same for other students that are struggling. The parents of children that don't need this extra help have no idea the extra effort the teachers are putting in just to keep the struggling kids up to speed. Our teachers are treasures and I'm grateful for the efforts they put in every day.

    4. I’m a teacher. I teach virtually right now too. It sucks, but guess what? Better behind than people dying. I teach a class of ELL students and many students are on their own for their work without parent help. Most of them are doing just fine, they usually just need someone to keep them responsible. If the teachers are doing their job correctly, we teach them a skill and then they practice that skill. You shouldn’t have to do very much. There are mostly negatives to this entire situation, but I do think students are growing in terms of accountability, time management, and focusing on learning material that matters most. I do have more time in my day now, I’ll admit that, but so do my students. And we can both breathe, and take breaks, and learn only the most essential standards so as not to feel overwhelmed. Some teachers aren’t great, we all know that, but if you’re saying all 5 of your children have lazy teachers maybe the real problem is you.

    5. I teach elementary school in a district where we have students in the classroom and online. I can assure you, not many teachers are working half the time right now. If anything, most of us are working more than we've worked before. Teaching online last spring was hard for all of us because weirdly enough, none of us took the "teaching during a pandemic" class in college. So this summer as we got ready for another year, all of us lazy teachers went to training after training so that our students could receive the best education possible. Your assumptions and bad attitude about your children's teachers are going to rub off onto your kids, and that is what will be the most detrimental to their learning in the long run.

    6. I know other people have expressed this sentiment, but I too just need to add that every single teacher I know, while perhaps not WITH the children as many hours a day, is working harder and longer than ever to make this year work. I know it sucks for parents and really there's no win-win solution here, but I surely hope Anonymous doesn't discount how much teachers are doing behind the scene just because the kids may not have as much face time with them.

    7. The fact that you like your kids' teachers and your husband used to be a teacher doesn't mean you really know anything at all about how much or how hard teachers are working right now. Honestly, you're insulting. We didn't cause the pandemic, we're trying to make the best of an impossible situation. We're acutely aware of inequities and we lay awake at night worrying about those things. My own children are at home without me there, learning online, while I work from school. Please don't pretend to know what teachers are doing, or act like you know they're working half time at full pay. It's ridiculous. In fact, many of us in education have the privilege of not only working longer and harder, but also doing it WITH a pay cut.

  5. But I love that puppy so much and if anything can fix 2020, maybe it will be him! (Her? Zhim?)

  6. So grateful for my kids' teachers right now.

  7. Teaching is rough. I could write a novel about it, but I’ll spare you. Let’s just say I’m really questioning if I’ll go back to teaching full-time once my kids are older. (I have my Elementary Ed degree.) Needless to say, you are right in your assessment that teachers are grossly underpaid and under appreciated for everything they do, even in normal, precedented times. I can’t imagine being a teacher right now.

  8. That statement about teachers breaks my heart. As a former teacher, I cannot express the number of hours (after hours) put into planning, worrying and stressing for our students. In the time of a pandemic - I have dear friends who are teachers - who are still planning, stressing and worrying for their students, on top of their full teaching day. Do not begin to think for one moment the day ends when the bell rings.
    I do not miss teaching in a classroom - I stopped when I had kids, to stay home with them. Now I am the "educator" facilitating between home and the classroom. However, since we have returned to Belarus (we are quarantining - and our kids have not returned to the classroom) some of our kids' teachers have spent many hours on Teams "teaching" our kids - after hours, after a full day of teaching. Making sure they get a full lesson, since they cannot be in the classroom.
    Our teachers educate the future. They are grossly underpaid, under appreciated, and society is absolutely unaware of the hours, money, and work they put in - outside the classroom.
    Teachers are the greatest gift we give our future.
    Thank you teachers...

  9. As a full-time high school English teacher, I can tell you that teaching is always difficult and exhausting and overwhelming and I basically always feel that I could be doing more no matter how many hours I put in.
    That being said, teaching during this pandemic is unlike anything I've ever even dreamed of in my worst teaching stress dreams (which I have often). I have never put in more hours, lost more sleep, cried more tears, been more frustrated, or felt more inadequate. And let's not even talk about the painfully detailed forms I'm constantly required to fill out to prove to my state that I'm making personal contact with all 186 of my kids every single day.
    So thank you for this post, Eli. It made me a little teary to feel "seen" when so very many are being critical.

  10. After 16 years of teaching at the same school, my school closed back in June due to low enrollment. It was a really crappy way to end since we went fully virtual in mid-March, so none of us got to say good-bye in person. After an exhausting year and an incredibly draining time dealing with remote teaching for the final three months (I hated it so much, and so did my 5th and 6th graders), my plan was NOT to teach this school year because I didn't want to deal with all the Covid restrictions on top of being in a new school with brand new kids.

    I worked for two blissful weeks in a school office in August before a middle school teaching job at that school was basically handed to me when one of the teachers resigned a week before school started. I'm finishing up my second week back in-person with a couple virtual students joining live through Google Meet in each of the five different classrooms I'm in each day, and the level of exhaustion I am feeling every single day is intense. With the masks, desks all spread out, constantly reminding the kids to stay 6 feet apart, eating lunch in their classrooms, not being able to do group work, and all the teachers having to move room to room instead of the kids changing classrooms, my brain literally hurts. But I just keep thinking that it could be worse, I could be trying to teach brand new kids completely online over Zoom or Google Meet.

    And in response to the "Anonymous" parent of 5 kids who thinks that teachers are only working half the time for full pay, you clearly have NO idea what you're talking about. When we went to remote learning back in March, I was up until 2:30 a.m. every night the first week getting things posted on Google Classroom, typing everything up, taking photos of pages, converting them to PDFs before converting them to Google Docs, checking and grading things, etc.. Once I got things a bit more under control, I didn't go to sleep before midnight pretty much the rest of the school year. Even though the virtual school day hours ended at 3:30, I was answering emails and Google Classroom comments from the time I woke up (typically around 6:00 a.m. so I could finish what I didn't finish the night before) until I went to bed around midnight. I had kids who couldn't get on the computer until after 6:00pm since their parents needed them for work, so I couldn't just ignore the emails/comments from those kids even though it was well after my "work hours".

    In my 16 years of teaching, I never worked more hours than I did from mid-March until the beginning of June, and every teacher knows that we work a ton of unpaid hours during a normal school year. I understand that parents are frustrated with how things are right now, but to say teachers are only working half the time for full pay makes me so angry. I could rant about this topic for pages, but I'll stop now because I have a ton of schoolwork to do (on my own unpaid time) to prepare for classes tomorrow.

  11. I teach high school English. I started the year in New Mexico (which is where I was working last year when we all shut down and learned how to teach on Google Classroom overnight) (ha ha, I definitely didn't learn how to use Google Classroom overnight, it took me weeks to get mildly proficient enough not to blow up my Classroom every time I tried to make an assignment, but I digress). I did get pretty good at running a Zoom meeting. New Mexico is still teaching virtually, and that's how the first three weeks of my year went, only this time the district said "No, I know you started to begin to almost feel competent on Google Classroom, but we think all classes should be taught using Canvas. Here's a YouTube video to learn how to do that. Byeeee!" So, I tried to begin to start to get competent on Canvas, but then . . . my husband got his dream job back "home" in Idaho. And I found a job at the same school I worked at six years ago before our exile in New Mexico began. Such a blessing! And a curse, because . . . Idaho is face to face, but the learning system they mandated for teachers to use (for the 3 students per class who have opted to stay home) is Schoology. I. Am. Dying. Here. But I still have classes to teach and students to meet and colleagues to colleague with. And for one phantasmagoric week, I was teaching in both New Mexico (online) and Idaho (in person). I don't remember it very well, but I think I survived and my students may have learned something?? And my husband, son, and grandson are packing things up in New Mexico (because my husband's dream job is allowing him to work remotely for a while). Oh, this is all TMI. Sorry! Anyway, yeah. Teachers are definitely underpaid and underappreciated. And online learning is hard and a very different kind of learning, so I know that Sister I-Have-5-Kids-in-Online-Learning in the comments is just feeling the strain of having 5 kids and trying to keep things going. So bless her heart, too.

  12. Gah! I forgot THE PUPPY! Forgive me, puppy. You are perfect and I love you, and I absolutely do feel better after seeing you.

  13. I have four kids who are all distant learning at home. It is very hard.

    As far as I can tell, their teachers are doing an incredible job at balancing the online assignments, finding interesting websites and apps, planning how to teach in Zoom calls, and connecting with my kids.

    Does distant learning still pale in comparison to real school? Am I still exhausted at the end? Yes and yes. But I am impressed daily at how my kids’ teachers are handling this. The difference in quality from March to now is huge, and I know these teachers must have studied all summer to make this school year possible. (I live in a country where all schools are distant learning by government mandate.)

    Mimihalley posting anonymously because the comment section hates her.

  14. My husband is a high school teacher, and if you would like to bring him money/gifts/hugs to assuage your guilt we are here for you!

  15. Ruth Bader Ginsburg died today. Nothing can fix 2020. It's officially the worst.

  16. Thank you for this post. I'm a high school teacher. We also teach zoom & on campus classes at.the.same.time and it is so so hard and tiring and i'm not even sure we get paid for it