I am a high school history teacher. I understand the importance of history, so I was going to write a Pandemic Journal for posterity. I am certain that the future world would want to know what schooling during the COVID-19 Pandemic was like. What we faced and how life changed.
I never really got around to writing it. I was still quite busy working from home and trying to help take care of my family, that when I finally thought about the journal, I forgot what I should write or just got tired. Maybe this column will suffice.
I teach high school in Stansbury Park. I remember talking to my students one Friday afternoon when the pandemic was just starting to become real in the United States. We were talking about coronavirus and what could possibly happen with schools and if we would have to do school at home. And then poof! It was gone. Teachers had two days to put their curriculum on Google Classroom or Canvas. And then work from home.
If I knew I wouldn’t see my students again, I probably would have searched for some imparting advice. Something more than, “Wash your hands.” Maybe, “Befriend a dog.” “Write a poem.” “Dance like the pandemic isn’t watching.” Or maybe: “Why don’t you try to do something for class on Canvas from home.”
Distance learning is a mixed bag. There were triumphs. Students who acted less than interested in class suddenly began working. I imagine mom or dad were peering over their student’s shoulder and demanding work — not Netflix and sleeping till noon.
But then there was the converse. Good students disappeared. There was a rumor that everyone would pass and be held harmless! And the motivation melted away into the silence in the submission section on my Canvas course.
I ran into a student at Walmart one day. She was shopping for groceries with all her sisters. I asked how the online work was coming. She said there wasn’t any time. Her dad put the family to work laying a new floor. Home improvement became big during the pandemic. The boredom motivated my wife to paint and stain the cabinets. And it looks great.
My son even grew a corona-mustache. He ended up looking like Pedro from “Napoleon Dynamite.” I was impressed. It’s sad when your 15-year-old son can grow a better ‘stache than you. I felt like Da Vinci’s master Verrocchio, shown up by his student (or son, in my case) Verrocchio never painted again. I have shaved my beard and I probably won’t grow it again. This may be problematic because I have a babyface. I’m 45 and now I look like a 15-year-old with a gland problem.
Every morning, I float quietly to the basement office and log on on the computer that only a teacher who works two jobs and has five kids would buy. The antivirus scan always shows 29 threats, and I can’t figure out how to rid the computer of them.
I log in to Canvas and check the submitted classwork. I am lucky to have a computer lab at school and my classes were already built on the Canvas platform. My transition was seamless.
The only difference was I bought Screencastify and used it to record my lessons and lectures. My “dad jokes” pan to the silence of the rec room. Sometimes my 12-year-old laughs half-heartedly or sympathetically. I correct and grade and realize that the students who worked in class in school are the ones who generally worked on the class at home.
The school district changed the grading policy. Students will remain harmless doing school at home. Who knows what their access to technology was (though they could request the assignments in paper packets) or maybe their anxiety about the pandemic kept them from working?
I know my anxiety has ebbed and flowed. I really miss my co-workers. I wanted to throw open the door to Mr. Heiner’s room and shout, “Heiner!” and scare him because he was so focused working on his computer or watching Tears for Fears videos on YouTube. We would talk Yerba Mate, gardening and school.
Now there is no one. Just my dog Sherman, who only wants to go for a walk.
The pandemic has taught me how important school is to our community and just how much we take it for granted. I miss school and my students and the camaraderie of the staff. The teachers at my school are some of the best people I know, and they really care about their students. The students I have run into talk about how much they miss school and their friends. It has been heart-warming to see the school and community get together to honor the graduates in a different way.
My daughter Olivia is graduating this year and it has been weird. She will be able to walk across the stage with the school administrators and we (her parents) get to be there and watch and take pictures. But it’s different. The rest of the ceremony will take place online a couple of days later. Family and friends will be able to log on and watch online.
What will school be like next year? I already hear rumblings that the state Legislature wants to cut school funding by 10 percent, but the reality is that schools need even more funding to pay for additional staff and for the supplies and manpower to sanitize school facilities multiple times a day. We will need to social distance in smaller class sizes, run split schedules, offer hybrid classes, both online and at home.
This would be a great time for the Legislature to tap that almost billion-dollar education rainy day fund that they refuse to spend and help schools be able to answer these difficult questions and face these difficult circumstances. Please contact your legislators and implore that they do not cut education but expand funding. Schools, like our students, should be held harmless during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Jeff Saunders teaches social studies at Stansbury High School.