21 jul 2020 Meaning over form
Friday, 6p.m., the deafening bell rang. Surely there had been meetings in which “the bell issue” had come to light, but there was never enough time to actually do something about it. The empty halls were taken by running bodies who dragged half-open backpacks and screamed as if they had been held captive for way longer than their eager little bodies could withstand. As they reached door, a trail of paper notes, candy wrappers and assorted colorful things was left behind. She grabbed her bag and closed the door behind her just as cavalier as the previous Friday and the one before that, or any other Friday for the past twenty years. Little did she know that it was no ordinary Friday.
When schools were closed in March, we could never imagine that this situation would linger for so long. Teachers are hardwired to use few to no resources, to grade papers while cooking dinner, to organize fieldtrips with little to no help, to sing, to read the handwriting of future physicians, to manage conflict, but no teacher development course has prepared us to be away from our students. And, while social distancing may seem like a long well-deserved vacation from the outside, one only need to take a closer look to notice the challenges that the COVID-19 induced quarantine has brought upon us. The crisis has exposed schools to their very core: from underpaid and overlooked personnel to make-believe technology that won’t last through an entire remote video lesson.
Text messages, emails, underused LMS platforms to the win! Teachers were immediately required to churn out activities that would keep the kids busy and parents somewhat sane. While private schools struggled to come up with an emergency plan that would secure the satisfaction of paying “customers” and prevent them from leaving, public schools were left empty handed. And, as soon as we realized it was final, remote teaching wasn’t going to go away in a fortnight, the race began towards the most up to date compilation of online resources that would help teachers, not only succeed, but excel at the task. All while neglecting the fact that teachers themselves, were faced with the challenge of recording, editing videos, looking comfortable in front of camera, and taking care of children of their own.
From this mass-experiment in remote instruction, one thing is certain, teachers were the ones who learned the most. Blended-learning will most certainly be around a while longer, especially to attempt to make up for the missed hours. If the “meaning over form” equation is to be applied to language learning, the quest for meaning should also apply to this context when we get back to “normal”. And if we don’t rethink education or come out of this mess as better individuals, bring back the dunce cap and the corporal punishments for we have learned nothing at all. The world would certainly have been better off with giant reptiles.
Don’t be fooled, I fought long and hard the urge to come up with my own list of apps and resources, but the longer I stared at the list, the more obvious it became that it wasn’t my truth. If education liberates us, a single school year shouldn’t define the type of people we will become. So, take the time to really listen to the kids. Maybe all they really need this morning is to show their dog on Zoom to their friends or to talk about how hard it is to study with their mothers. Rose-tinted lenses off, we need a break from the super teacher role to go back to basics. Maybe they will take a little longer to write pretty cursive letters, take part in a spelling bee, or even ace a proficiency exam, but they might just come out of it alive and healthy, which given the circumstances, should be plenty enough.