Distance Learning

Today seemed like a normal Monday during the school day. The teachers where here, preparing, with their coffee closely by. But one very important part was missing: students.

On the previous Thursday evening, we found out that our school district would be closed to students for three weeks, running up to our April Spring Break, because of the Coronavirus Pandemic. We would still be working and teaching our students, but not in person. This was to be the start of a new and uncertain territory: distance learning.

This was not teaching by semaphore or passenger pigeon but by smart phones, laptops, and take home packets. We would have three days to prepare, as a grade level team, to put together all the materials needed and create the structures to put into place for twelve days of “at home” learning. We would be rolling this out to students and parents on Thursday, in a mere three days time!

And I have to say I was looking forward to the challenge.

We were all nervous and apprehensive, as most would be at the beginning of any great or important undertaking. There were many unanswered questions: What would distance learning look like? How would we keep in contact with our students? What about students without access to the internet? How could we hold students accountable for their work? How do we create engaging yet rigorous work from afar? How do you teach from a distance? Can a packet, app, or computer program really replace the everyday, one-on-one, relationship between a teacher and student?

Well the answer to the last question is a very obvious “No”. But distance learning made me reflect about the almost sacred connection between teacher and student. There cannot be a facsimile for such an experience as this. But we needed to create a system for satellite learning, in a very short period of time.

Every Monday I have yard duty on the upper grade yard during our morning recess. To keep some sense of normalcy, I headed out of the classroom, past empty lunch bins, to the yard. And I did my recess duty by sketching the empty playground as the light drizzle created patterns in my watercolor.

A quick recess duty sketch without children. This was an eerie scene for a Monday morning during the school year. With the light drizzle it probably would have been indoor recess anyway.

We found out that all Bay Area Counties would be enforcing a “shelter in place” mandate that would start at midnight. We later learned that we would have only one day to create the take home packets and not three because we would be getting them to parents on Tuesday instead of Thursday. After packets would be picked up, we then would be sent home for five weeks (including the two weeks of spring break).

The lines at the copy machines where long like the lines at the grocery stores. We worked hard to make the seemingly impossible happen so our students would has some semblance of the fourth grade curriculum.

Be well everyone, and wash your hands!