Dear educators… this is a lot.

Dear educators,

Whether you teach preschoolers, middle schoolers, or graduate students, I see you.

This is really scary. We all have so much to think about and do right now- for ourselves and our families and friends. So much to figure out in our homes, in our work, and in our communities. This is going to be a marathon of care, compassion, and flexibility. And this? This is a lot.

It’s a lot for our students. It’s a lot for the wiggly kindergartner who isn’t ready, willing, or able to do a handwriting worksheet. It’s a lot for the tired teen who wants desperately to sleep in, but is now caring for their younger siblings while their parents attempt to work from home. And it’s a lot for the PhD student trying to read her assigned peer-reviewed articles while being a TA for 2 courses and grocery shopping for an elderly neighbor.

But it’s also a lot for you.

In the midst of all of this, if you’ve been able to offer your students remote, online, or home-learning, thank you. But I’m sorry if you were forced to do that while simultaneously preparing for and responding to a terrifying pandemic. That’s an unreasonable expectation, to put it mildly. You deserve some time and space to deal with all of what this has brought upon us- and to focus on you, your loved ones, and your community.

On a good day, without a pandemic, with lots of planning and training for online education…  both educators and students have a very wide range of abilities for- and access to- technology. And on a good day, without a pandemic, they have a wide range of capacities for learning and watching and planning and teaching from home.

And this? This is NOT a good day without a pandemic.

It is not a time with lots of planning and training for online education. None of us signed up for this, but we love our students, so we will do what we can because we know that familiar expectations and routines will help some students feel secure. So again, helping with that is a lovely thing to do.

But whatever you can provide? It’s good enough. And whatever students and families can (or want to) do? It’s good enough, too. Schooling should be optional for everyone right now. No keeping score. No schedule or expectation that it looks a certain way or meets a certain standard. That’s inequitable for students, and it’s too much to ask of you right now. Whatever it is, whatever you have, whatever you do or don’t do… it’s good enough.

You’re an educator. I trust that you’ll do what you can to support your students in the midst of a very traumatic time. All of that trauma-informed PD you had? Let’s think about how that maps onto our lives right now. Our “downstairs brains” are in constant battle with our “upstairs brains” just to make all of the decisions and get through the day. Maslow’s basic needs are under fire.

The pressure to “keep them learning” is at best artificial, and at worst, harmful. Keep them learning? In the midst of a pandemic? There is so much to do right now, so many competing demands and critical decisions to be made. Life right now is simply exhausting, but every single second of it? We are learning.

So even if your students don’t log in to your well-crafted zoom lecture, and even if they don’t scribble so much as their first names on that lovingly xeroxed packet, and even if Fortnite and TikTok and Snapchat win the day, every day… please don’t worry.

Because human development isn’t tied to schooling. We are all learning all the time. And right now? Humans are learning so much, and we are learning it at all under duress at warp speed.

What are we learning?

We are learning what a pandemic is.
What is a virus?
How does it spread?
How do we stop it?
What do we know about it?
What don’t we know yet?
How can we find out?

We are debating about what local v state v national governments can and should do.
And reviewing the histories of previous outbreaks, searching for clues.
This is a study in comparative government and an examination of how statistics can predict impact.
How outbreaks multiply-or not-  based on our behavior.

We are feeling how challenging it is to lose access the people and places we love.
How communities pull together.
How personal relationships can be both beautiful and difficult.
How our routines can keep us healthy, but how we must be adaptable.

We are predicting how many months of medicine will we need.
How long will our toilet paper last?
What’s the supply chain for the food we eat?
What are essential and non-essential services?

How can we stay physically and mentally healthy?
What is safe?
What is risky?
How do germs spread?
What can I do to move my body when I have to stay inside?
How can we social distance and stay connected?

How can we be creative? Flexible? Adaptable? Loving?
Who needs care right now? Who is most at risk?
How does identity shape this experience?
What are wants vs needs?
What do I need to feel safe?

How does capitalism compare to socialism, and democracy to autocracy?
How can we flatten the curve?
How do goods move through the US?
How do we build community?
And how do we speak out against xenophobia, inequities, and racism?

We are discovering where continents, countries, and cities are on a map, and why that knowledge matters.
We are asking ourselves about the greatest good for the greatest number.
What is ethical?
Who decides?
Who has power?
Who doesn’t?

We are learning that science really, really, really matters.
And that healthcare workers and delivery workers and the people working the checkout registers at the supermarket… are superheroes.
We are asking questions about how the stock market works and learning the hard way what marks a century.
We are discovering how personal hygiene keeps people healthy and realizing that washing hands is a radical act of community care.

This is a study in how my behavior impacts others.
An investigation into what reliable v unreliable sources are, and how the right sources and transparent information can mean the difference between life and death.

Why are the systems we’ve had in place leaving so many of us vulnerable?
How do we organize for change?
And how do we use this once in a century moment to create a better, more sustainable, and just world?

Whew. That’s a really long list, but I still missed a ton. Did you think of others? We could be adding about a zillion things per minute right about now.

History? Immunology? Virology? Statistics? Geography? Social-Emotional Learning? Ethics? Government? Anthropology? Mathematics? Behavioral Economics? Medicine? Biology? Finance? Creativity? Life skills? Information Science? Sociology?

You can check all of those boxes.

We know that remote and take-home learning could allow some students and families structure and routine in scary times. It’s a lovely thing to offer. But it isn’t equitable, accessible, or reasonable to require that of any of us right now.

So please, let go of the unreasonable expectation and strain of schooling right now… because every single one of us is doing PLENTY of learning.

What educators, students, and families- in fact, what humans need right now, is to attend to our most basic needs of safety and security. To drop the “musts” and focus on the the possible. The doable. What that looks like will be different for everyone, and it will continue to shift on an hourly basis.

So please let go of schooling expectations, take care of each other, reach out to your students and families if you can, and be well.

Because there’s more than enough happening right now to “keep them learning.”

In solidarity,
Jen Bradley

16 thoughts

  1. This is a very helpful message for those who teach and those who need to care for others and themselves!

  2. Dear Jen, thank you so much for this article. It definitely inspires a lot of further thinking. But here’s an afterthought: I can almost certainly guarantee you that none of the teachers who are currently churning out lists, tasks and worksheets actually want to do that. They would much rather simply stay home and think about/do all the things you mention in your article; but their jobs, like the jobs of so many people around them right now, are connected to their customers or consumers which, in their case, are children. If there are no children, there is no job. And if there is no job, there is no money. If they want to keep the money coming in to feed their own children, they cannot just say “we’re learning so much right now anyway, so I won’t be giving your children any work”…because I’m pretty sure that wouldn’t fly with their bosses.
    Just another side of the coin 🙂

    1. Thanks for saying what is really happening with us teachers. My district is requiring us special Ed teachers to work 1 on 1 face-to-face with our students everyday, As well as take care of any IEPs we can in the virtual world. Would I rather be helping take care of my grandchildren, so their parents could work to feed their family and keep a roof over their head….yes. But I need my paycheck so I must be a teacher working from home. And yes I know some of my students need a little structure; but I also know that a lot of my families are trying to feed themselves and keep a roof over their heads… Getting the work done in the packet I sent home is the least of their worries.

  3. This is wonderful. Being right in the middle of all you speak to, it strikes home in positive notes. Thank you

  4. Pithy and articulate argument that, as an early educator I needed to read in the midst of filing for unemployment, emptying a storage unit, assuring myself food for the unknown amount of days to come on a minimal budget, etc. I especially appreciate the recognition that children’s desire, capacity, and capability to learn is vastly larger then our attempts to teach. The teacher/child relationship is important but their learning goes on without us.

  5. Thank you John

    Your article was thought provoking and certainly strikes a cord, especially for educators. Although I agree that we must now think differently about learning, we must also try to maintain some sense of “normal”… this might mean positioning ourselves in a way that isn’t COVID 19 in our face, constantly. It might mean, for some, setting up a quiet workspace to connect with our teachers, our peers, our colleagues, remotely. It might be about posting artwork virtually instead of on the school walls, it might be sending a selfie of a child teaching his parent to “dab” while covering a cough or sneeze! In a time of potentially terrifying information bombarding us, we need to understand that some sense of structure is important for the psyche. After our structured time, let’s check in with our elderly neighbors or family, our loved ones. And before we go to sleep, let’s check in again, as these are the voices that we need to hear before we rest!

  6. I just sent this out via a group message to many of my colleagues. THANK YOU for putting words to what so many of us are experiencing right now. I appreciate this post more than I can express!

  7. Spot on, thank you. To me this is an opportunity to increase transparency with our families, they are seeing first hand how we interact with our children. A new lense, that we hope shows them above all that we care and miss their families. Maintaining a dialogue of inquiry, compassion and kindness is so critical, the learning piece is secondary to me…

  8. Thank you every morning Sunday thru Friday i wake with anxiety. Planning for the right lessons, filling out tracking sheets ti prove that I’m working. Worrying about my own children, self?, family, students, keeping my job. I don’t want to be sick, How do i make my younger adult son believe in the”pandemic” when did i get to hug them last? There is so much more so thank you i felt relaxed reading It is”ok” the chaos is stressful for ourselves and our families and our students who we so want to connect with and their families. So yes you’re right
    Whatever and however long they attend to our tasks we are trying to keep life familiar
    in this unfamiliar course of new life

  9. These things needed to be said and published. We are all out of the box and poised to re-think everything. Let’s not miss the opportunity to do that simply because we are straining at that to which we were once tethered….

  10. So true. I wish administration would understand this as well as the classroom teacher. I teach 3rd but my high school senior, who typically loves school and never ever stresses, is crying over schoolwork and stressed every day. It is way too much on the kids as well as the teachers. Her teachers are wonderful and I know they are doing what they are asked and doing what they think is best, but she is starting to break under the pressure. I will remember my daughter when I finally get my class set up to meet virtually. I plan on just connecting and not assigning.

    1. Michelle,
      My deepest thoughts and wishes are with you and your Sweet high schooler. This crisis has had exponentially as nearly-infinite amount of repercussions and reactions as living organisms on Planet Earth. I know I was near nervous breaking down for the first few weeks.. finally, as the new routines or lack thereof began to settle in, I feel some amount of bittersweetness for this unexpected time with my typically extremely busy growing son.
      I pray that your child’s pains have eased some, and that we as a society can find the compassion and brilliance to solve this new age of global cataclysm. Although it’s far too early and much to expect our children to solve these issues, they are clearly, as are we all, forever changed.
      Prayers, hugs and hope to you both.

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