On Teaching Now: New Podcast and A Call for More Teacher Voices

Wow, we teachers are on week 7 of COVID19-induced #remotelearning. It’s been hard, to say the least. I talked about it on the Warriors of Education Podcast with fellow NYC teacher Karen Sarah Watson about how pandemic disaster crisis-induced distance “teaching” is going. See more, my thoughts on Teacher “Appreciation” Week, and reflections, below:

I took a mental health day today from work, the first break since school buildings closed March 16th- we NYC teachers have been going nonstop with remote learning since school buildings closed March 16th.

In essence, my bandwidth is shrinking, it’s been really hard to focus on anything for more than a few minutes, and I’ve been definitely demoralized and unmotivated, to the point where friends are worried about me constantly venting about how HARD teaching is right now. While I’ve been able to do my work remote learning, I’ve had a low-grade numbness on the top of my head for weeks, and was struggling with insomnia, both due to anxiety related to all this.

It’s easy to feel isolated about being a teacher right now, especially when all around us there’s disaster striking us during this pandemic. One issue has been that there have been SO FEW VOICES public about how hard teaching has been! A lot of teacher friends and reporters (yeah, I’m talking to them thanks to my teacher tweets) have noticed the lack of teachers speaking up right now. I think it’s because we’re all so busy and tired and demoralized to even be able to put words to the page. We literally changed the face of teaching here in NYC in under a week, with no plans or constantly shifting plans from our Department of Education or Chancellor to guide us. My friend attempted a metaphor: “How can I fish without the hook?” It gets closer to the idea that teaching doesn’t work remotely in so many ways: it’s done in-person, and to try to recreate what we teacher professionals have in our brains and hearts onto an online platform is too much.

I’ll try to sum up my remote learning days in one sentence: I basically put up assignments, supports for those assignments through videos and other visuals, online, for kids to watch and then complete tasks, via quizzes or responses, look through and plan lessons from curriculum that’s from the last-minute test prep books we received and the online curriculum we have left, check in that students are logged in, while also dealing with student tech/literacy/language/device/financial/unemployment/mental health/family issues, being tech support for students/families/colleagues while also being tech support for myself, attending staff meetings, having Gov. Cuomo or the Mayor or Chancellor or the Department of Education change things on us with short notice (Zoom?), cancel our Spring Break with less than a weeks’ notice, with no certainty that we’ll be forced to work through summer and be forced to go into school buildings when schools reopen before things are safe, ON TOP of working gently with families dealing with pandemic issues where students and their families have dealt with COVID19 deaths, AND, the highlights of my days, having twice-weekly Google Meets chats with my students where we just catch up and build a community together.

Remote learning is completely different from teaching. Remote learning is NOT teaching.

As you might imagine, it usually takes 45 minutes or so to explain remote learning in depth to the friends and people who will listen.

And remote learning? It really sucks.

I haven’t had any time really to think about how to make this funner and more engaging for my students- there’s just no time to plan. And it’s so hard to stay motivated. And so, mental health day to just write and rest and reflect.

So on top of how hard it’s been to try to teach, us teachers are breaking. We’re being gaslighted in believing we don’t deserve raises or to be paid well when we have a pandemic (right now we’re only being compensated for 4 of the 7 cancelled Spring Break days we worked), and we’re giving ourselves because we want the best for our students. Here’s how I was feeling last week:

It is really hard to stay motivated around remote learning when we shifted our whole entire industry in a matter of days, with no rest, with little to no guidance from the city on how to do this, working nonstop to make sure Google Classrooms, a platform neither I nor the students have ever used before, is running, and when we’ve gotten no rest time from this. On top of all the financial losses and death tolls our community is suffering right now, WHY are we focused so much on productivity?

AND, schools are about to be decimated, on top of all this: NYC’s Mayor, despite the HUGE digital divide and inequity that’s been exacerbated by remote learning and COVID19, proposed $827 million in education cuts! That will devastate schools moving forward, with little chance of us getting that money back into classrooms for many years. And it is very scary. Asking us to do the impossible: doing much, much more with much, much less.

ON TOP of all this, people are talking about opening up NYC schools in September, but frankly I don’t see it happening. We have overcrowded classrooms and small school facilities as is, where multiple schools are sharing the same cafeteria, auditorium, and gym, and where classrooms, like MINE, don’t have windows! Here’s another tweet on my feelings on said topic:

What a Teacher Appreciation Week, right teachers?

ALL of my students miss school and want to be back, and admitted they never thought they would utter those words aloud. But they shouldn’t come back to school like this. I don’t know the solutions, but I do know it’s important to actually listen to the teachers on the ground right now and make them stakeholders for decision making. (Yes, the linked article is written by a non-educator, but still very much rings true)

——–

That’s why it was so refreshing to talk to a fellow NYC teacher a few weeks ago about this pandemic disaster crisis induced distance remote learning mess that we’re in right now. Karen Sarah Watson is the creator of the documentary Warriors of Education and just formed a new podcast of the same name. I spoke about also trying to grieve for Chinatown and the anti-Asian racism happening now, and admitted something about my current class of students that no teacher should ever admit freely, haha.

Warriors of Education Podcast, Annie Tan

“Today I talk to Annie Tan about her work and how she’s adjusting to remote teaching. Annie is an elementary special education teacher in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, where she teaches primarily Chinese and Latino youth. She is a storyteller and activist featured in The New York Times and The Moth. Find her on @annietangent and http://www.annietan.com” Listen here or wherever you get your podcasts!

Thank you for reading, and for hearing a teacher’s voice. Please speak up if you’re a teacher right now. We need your voices.

Annie

Published by Annie Tan

Annie Tan: Teacher, Activist, Storyteller.

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