Commentary: Distance learning may provide opportunities for teachers

Luther Burbank Middle School
Luther Burbank Middle School teacher Stefanie Enokian set up her at-home workspace on her kitchen table where she was teaching six classes through online learning in April
(Courtesy of Stefanie Enokian)

Clearly we cannot go back to school as we know it right now. The virus is spreading, and it has become a matter of life and death. Do you know what is not life and death?

Distance learning.

If you really want to look at it from a glass filled to the brim for teachers, then this is the moment. This is the moment for teachers to not be ordered to teach to tests, not teach guidelines from an administration building where creativity has gone to die but to bring all those pent up creative lessons to their classes.

This can be the moment when teachers all over the country can breathe and create lessons that will inform and inspire kids to become better citizens, understand their world a little better, gain confidence in their own individuality, read to relate to people’s stories, be overwhelmed with science, do math that’s understandable, and write.

There are two great things about teachers ... well, maybe three. One, they care about the kids almost as much as you do. Two, they’re smart. Three they have skills that can work magic with your students. Given this opportunity they will.

If they have the freedom to do what they have wanted to do for a long time, which is to throw the shackles of standardizes tests, programs that don’t work, and money not used for students, they will blow education out of the water.

Even though this virus came like a thief in the night, and teachers had to learn programs they had never heard of, figure out how to teach to 25 to 40 confused kids and more confused parents in a completely different way, work night and day, worry their brains out, feel inadequate to the task before them, and mourn their usual way, they performed like rock stars.

The thing about teaching is that these dedicated people have gone to school for a very long time and in most cases have received higher degrees. Yet in the last few years they have not been trusted to actually do what they have learned to do … teach. They are the professionals.

Also, in the last decade there has been an undercover move to take the personality of the teacher out of the classroom. It’s incredibly important that the person who is standing in front of that class, whether actually in class or on the screen, be seen by kids of all ages as an actual human being with all the wonderful special characteristics. When everyone thinks of their experiences in school, they inevitably think of teachers who have made a difference in their lives.

Ada Jeppeson was that teacher. She was the one you remember forever for so many reasons. Her way of teaching was casual yet stern. She was fun yet as serious as a heart attack. She was funny. She was understanding. She seemed to understand everyone’s little strangeness. She knew you. She got you. And this is the best part — she remembered you. A few years ago my brother-in-law, Rick Asper, invited us to his Pomona High School reunion. They had not only invited Jepp but paid for her trip from Ohio to Pomona and paid her weeklong hotel bill. They honored her the night of the reunion and had many little reunions for her that weekend at alumnis’ homes.

We could say that Jepp was special, and she was, but right now there are so many “special” teachers out there, teachers whose great ideas could make a huge difference in kids’ lives but have been stultified.

Let’s free them this year.

The writer is a Newport Beach resident who taught at the Newport-Mesa Unified School District for 40 years.

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