Heidi Crumrine: Coronavirus and the real point of class lessons

Monitor columnist
Published: 4/5/2020 6:30:12 AM

Two weeks ago, I went for a run. While running (alone, of course) I found myself looking at each car that passed by and hoping that I would spot a student so that I could wave hello. I really miss them.

On Friday, March 13, I had a strange feeling of foreboding as I wrapped up each of my classes. I have this vivid memory of sitting next to and working with a student on her writing and thinking to myself, “I’m not going to see you on Monday.” My heart sank a bit with this realization.

It turns out that I was right.

I love my students. I love seeing them every day and hearing their stories and their insights and looking at the pictures of their dogs that they show me or the videos of their football highlight reels.

They bring me joy on a daily basis; they make me laugh; they are what I love about teaching.

I missed a lot of school in February because my father passed away. My first day back I was showered with notes and cards from students – and one class even stood up to clap when I walked into the room. I promptly told them to knock it off and we all laughed together. I really love them.

Don’t get me wrong. They can grate on me and make me question my sanity. But my why – my reason for walking into school every day – is all about them. It’s not about my lesson plan. It’s about my lesson plan that is for my students. Which is why the COVID-19 pandemic and shutdown of my school and plans for remote learning is so hard for me and my fellow educators.

It’s not remote learning; I can do that. Truthfully, I did it for the entire month of February when I was with my father. It’s not the learning I’m worrying about; it’s missing the connections with my students.

When I say that I will miss the connections, I don’t mean that I will miss social time with them. I am talking about the student who sits with me every Monday to look at his grades and then we make a plan that prioritizes work for the week. I am talking about the student who comes to see me when she finishes a book and needs a new one. I am talking about the student who needs a dollar for lunch. I am talking about the student who is anxious about asking for help and needs me to help him self-advocate. These are the students who I’m thinking about and wondering how it will all work in our new reality.

I am sure that many of my students and their families are wondering what remote learning will look like. The truth is that none of us really knows the answer to that question. We just know that we are trying our best and that we hope to figure it out together. Every teacher that I have talked to is nervous, but also tapping into creativity in ways we had never before imagined.

There are so many of us trying so many things, but at the core of each is a desire to help our students know that we are here for them and that we love them.

There is the teacher who is filming herself reading aloud a book beside her fireplace; there is the teacher who is enlisting her son as the example student in all of her math lessons; there is the teacher who is dressing up in a T-Rex costume and sending her students video messages of encouragement as The Coronasaurus. There is my first-grader’s teacher who called and said, “Do you miss us and your friends at school?” And when my daughter replied, “No,” she laughed and just kept rolling with it.

Moving forward, the most important thing for our community to remember is that we are all in this together: Administrators, teachers, students, parents, community members. We must allow ourselves the grace to try new things while simultaneously failing. Students and teachers alike.

Perhaps during our time at home, we will begin to ask ourselves what is essential to an education.

Despite being inside, can we broaden that view of education and recognize that we are all interconnected? Can we open our hearts to those living on the edges of our society and for whom a lack of access will further the divide that exists but which we so often choose to ignore? When we begin to leave our homes and enter our schools again, can we remember these lessons so that we come out more connected than we were before?

Lastly, and most essentially, we must remember that it’s not about the lesson, but about what we do with the lesson in our homes, in our communities and in our world.

(Heidi Crumrine, the 2018 New Hampshire Teacher of the Year, teaches English at Concord High School.)


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