2020 is a strange and unsettling year to be starting a blog about the practice of teaching. We’d been planning it for months though, well before we knew for sure what the landscape would look like when returning to school, before we knew that 2020 would be the most tumultuous and heart wrenching year of the century.
But here we are.
Put yourself in the shoes of our current students. It’s the first time when all our students, K through 12, were born after 9/11. That's history for them, but this is the year they’ll always remember—the most challenging moment they have ever faced.
The same could be said for teachers though. We’ve never been here before:
- asked to risk our bodies in the midst of a pandemic,
- asked to teach in environments never planned for where learning is synchronous and hybrid in ways that words like “blended” just don’t do it justice,
- asked to return to predominantly white spaces—where some feel unsafe—after the country’s most traumatic reckoning with race in the last several decades.
How do we begin a blog with no sign of normalcy in sight? How do we write about pedagogy while teachers—really good teachers—are resigning in droves out of fear for theirs and their families’ lives.
It's really hard to be a teacher right now, but it also sucks to be a student. Some are forced to sit in static rows, spaced at least 6 feet, wearing masks, unable to see the expressions of their peers and instructors; others isolated at home attempting to learn all day through a pixelated screen. To put it mildly, these are not ideal environments for hands-on, minds-on learning. And the questions of equity and access keep me up at night as well.
That’s why we need great teachers now more than ever.
Instructional coach, Elena Aguilar, wrote an article about addressing tough topics in faculty meetings that I keep returning to. She lays out six steps to make difficult conversations both possible and productive:
- State the topic. Name it at the outset.
- Acknowledge the fear in the room.
- Communicate confidence that it can be discussed.
- Share the impact and its consequences.
- Ask others how they see it and how it impacts them.
- Remind everyone that “addressing it” is not the same as “solving it”
When it comes to what’s being demanded of teachers, can we even name it? What do we call these synchronous, hybrid learning environments in which we’ll be teaching students? Lots of us have been using the term “blended learning,” but, technically, that’s not what we’re dealing with here. We need a word for it. We need to name it.
But what else needs to be named? COVID safety protocols? It sounds nice, but what we continue to learn is that we still lack a comprehensive understanding of this challenge. It seems like guidelines keep changing on a daily basis. Have you heard the latest on wearing gaiters, for instance?
One thing we can name is racial justice, but the more one explores each person’s understanding of what we mean by racism, the more clear it becomes that many of us still have disparate definitions of what that word even means.
Can we acknowledge our fears as Aguilar advises us to do?
When leading my first faculty meeting during preplanning two weeks ago, I told my colleagues that I’m afraid.
- I'm afraid to lead and coach our teaching practices in an environment that I’ve never taught in;
- I'm afraid to push our teaching towards a more culturally responsive lens when my experience as a white, privileged, cisgender individual has always kept me safe and at the center;
- I'm afraid to work and encourage others to work during a pandemic that threatens all of us.
I am afraid. And I know everyone else around me is as well.
Despite plans to start this blog well before we got to this moment, it’s clear to us that the agenda and direction have already been determined, regardless of our previous plans or intentions. Our priorities are clear:
- We need to understand our new hybrid learning landscape as well as the pedagogies it necessitates.
- There is a call to action regarding culturally responsive teaching and anti-racist work, both for ourselves and for our communities.
- There is a need to remind teachers that, to get through this, we must emphasize self-care and wellness.
I have confidence we can discuss these matters, but we cannot ignore the impact it will have upon all of us.
Stephen and I don’t want to do this alone, however; we invite others to share how they see it and how this new climate is impacting them. We want to hear your stories, your triumphs, your hard-earned wisdom, your hopes and fears.
With this in mind, we encourage fellow educators to reach out, submit ideas for future posts, and share their voice with us. We don’t pretend to solve anything, but we will strive to provide the following:
- Solace in the fact that you are not alone.
- Tools to help you implement a student-centered, culturally responsive pedagogy.
- Methods for increasing your productivity and taking care of yourself.
We can find common ground in these uncertain times and remain rooted in who we are as emancipatory, human-centered teachers, even if everything else around us seems like it's up in the air and, in some cases, crashing down all around us.
We invite you to join us right here, on the ground, to map this new landscape together. Visit the submissions page for more details.