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Opinion

The Whiteboard Jungle: Teachers face new challenges as the coronavirus moves them into virtual classrooms

Teacher pointing to raised hands in classroom
Teachers in Glendale Unified and across the country have started instructing using remote platforms due to the coronavirus pandemic.
(Jupiterimages / Getty Images)

As I write these words, I am completing the first week of teaching in a completely new way — without students in a physical classroom.

Over the coming weeks, I will share with you my successes and pitfalls teaching in a virtual classroom. Right now, my head is still throbbing with how quickly the world has changed in just a few short weeks.

Recall that old Chicago song, “Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?” That’s how life feels like: Is it morning or afternoon, Wednesday or Thursday, and does the word “weekend” mean anything anymore?

Have you noticed how quiet it is in your neighborhood lately? Eerily quiet. Cars are parked in front of houses, but there are no people, reminiscent of the first episode of “The Twilight Zone,” “Where is Everybody?”

Social distancing hits older folks harder. Those under 25 have been practicing social distancing most of their lives through texting and apps like Skype and FaceTime.

In fact, they are more comfortable not speaking over the phone or seeing each other in person. Can you imagine how people would have dealt with social distancing just 20 years ago?

Never before has the use of technology been so vital than during this shutdown of America. Parents who used to shudder at the number of hours their children spent on their devices now view those electronic menaces as lifelines especially as they scramble how to do their jobs at home.

However, no workers have had to revolutionize their occupations on such a grand scale as have teachers.

Welcome to the birth of remote (or distance) learning, which has kicked off all across America this week.

Teachers, students, parents, and school officials are all experimenting with a brand-new form of learning all at the same time. It must be what astronauts felt like when first going into outer space.

Imagine doing a job you have been performing for several years and being told you have one week to do the same job in a completely new way. It is a humongous undertaking.

New York City Schools Chancellor Richard A. Carranza described it well, telling the New York Times that “we are literally flying the plane as we’re building the plane.”

One of the negative aspects of the teaching profession that I have addressed frequently is the lack of trust school officials have in allowing teachers to determine how best to serve their clientele, the students.

Too often top-down education trends are forced down the throats of educators with little input. Teachers are supposed to behave like good soldiers, following the orders of their superiors.

Since this online revolution came out of nowhere so suddenly, education officials were clueless how to proceed.

Credit goes to the Glendale Unified School District for stepping out of the way and allowing teachers to decide how to teach remotely.

The district provided teachers with a panoply of webinars and other resources from which an educator could pick and choose which ones to use.

For those with an advanced case of technophobia, the district gave teachers the option of handing out printed materials even though that meant figuring out how and when to deliver them to students.

Never before in all my 31 years have I been so entrusted to make professional decisions on what is best for me in reaching out to my students.

Well, teachers, I hope you are paying attention. Take advantage of a situation which may never come your way again. Everyone — students, parents, even principals and superintendents — are counting on you to teach kids in a way that has never been done before.

Once this health crisis is over, and school officials see how heroic teachers met this challenge, hopefully teachers’ stature will rise.

Let’s show everyone what we can do. Make the country proud.

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