(Sorry, I had a class and other things that came up last night (cough cough GEORGIA cough), so I didn’t get around to finishing this post. However, it is such an important one I wanted to make sure that I did share it.)
For me, one of the greatest gifts of 2020, UNDER the circumstances, is how well teachers and students have soldiered on, keeping education going under such trying times. I know we have these rituals to honor and thank our health care workers, which I completely support. But I think we need to better acknowledge and give thanks for the incredible work that teachers have done to continuing to teach, and that students have done in continuing to learn.
Please take a moment to consider the scale of what has happened in education. The government estimates that there are around 6 million educators in this country––around 4 million K-12 teachers and almost 2 million college and university professors. Somehow, someway, virtually all of those 6 million educators found a way, sometime between mid-March to mid-April, to convert all their classes to online or other distance technologies. That has got to be the largest and most condensed educational innovation in the history of our country. It is a magnificent testimony to the commitment and creativity of American educators.
Was it all pretty? Was it all good? Was it all effective? No, clearly it wasn’t. But that it happened at all? Can we even imagine how much collective effort and invention and creativity that took?
And acknowledgements go to the students as well, who adapted as best they could to education situations that were not their preference. There are an estimated 56.4 million K-12 students and roughly 20 million college and university students. Those 76 million+ students deserve a lot of credit for their efforts to continue their education under seriously non-optimal conditions.
My son’s Spring 2020 class experience provides a concrete example. He was on Spring Break when he got an email from his college that basically said, “You can’t come back.” Of the three classes he was taking, one continued live classes via Zoom, one continued live classes using Google Hangouts, and one became totally asynchronous. Because two of these were studio art classes––one of which was Ceramic Sculpture, which is, let’s admit, pretty much impossible to do online from home––much of the previous class procedures, assignments, and expectations had to be thrown out.
But he dealt with it. He quickly learned to take classes in three totally different formats. He abandoned his old planned art pieces and developed some cool stuff that he could do at home. He even gave up his attachment to grades (since he usually gets good ones) when the professors asked them to accept Pass/Fail because it was hard for them to judge the quality of work they can only see via computer screens. And his teachers bent over backwards trying to find ways to re-invent art classes that were still valuable and creative when students obviously don’t have clay, ceramic sculpture tools, and a kiln at home. It ended up being a really cool class, maybe not about ceramic sculpture, but certainly about creativity. I can’t thank both the teachers and the students enough for how hard they worked to make a class like this work online.
Of course, studio arts is a particularly challenging subject to do over the computer. I teach literature classes, which are primarily discussion-based, so that was a much easier transition. Still, I’m so proud of my literature students for how well and how quickly they adapted to an online-only format that NONE of them preferred (I know because I asked). My 2019-20 students missed the camaraderie they had when they met in person. My 2020=21 have never met in person, as much as they would like to do so. Online learning has its challenges. And yet, as the saying goes, they persisted and are persisting.
So if we go out at 7:00 PM and clap for our health care workers, perhaps we should arise at 7:00 AM and clap for our teachers and students, who are carrying on, without much fanfare or recognition, of doing incredibly important work under incredibly difficulty circumstances.