By Susan Jerrell, TOFT Founder
Flexibility has always been the survival word for teachers, but this year teacher flexibility is being put to the test more than ever.
Will schools open? When will they open? Will they stay open? Do we teach online, in the classroom, both?
The only certainty is that things are uncertain. Anyone who claims they know what it will be like is either lying or delusional.
Knowing this, here are a few things as a teacher you will have to face.
Keep a distance and show compassion
For now, school life as you knew it does not exist. That means the high-fives, fist bumps, hugs, and other close contact is a thing of the past. This will affect teachers greatly because most of you immediately react to student emotions with touches of kindness.
A kindergartner afraid on the first day of school won’t have a teacher to take her hand and walk her to the classroom. A student having a breakdown over a break up won’t get a hug of reassurance. A student who aces that tests he studied so hard for won’t get a high five. With masks, students won’t even experience a positive smile from their teacher.
People who are not teachers may think that has nothing to do with education or learning, but those who are, know it has everything to do with it. The relationships built between teacher and student is what makes the day to day pleasurable and meaningful for both parties.
This year won’t look the same, but teacher flexibility tells me that you will come up with new ways of showing that compassion. It may be an air hug, a wave, a sign that says congratulations, air high fives or teaching students to use sign language to replace the act of a smile or love.
One thing I know about teachers is that you are creative, innovative, and determined. You will find a way to show your students the love, acceptance, and care they need.
You may have to abandon best practices
Another thing that will hurt many teachers is that you will have to abandon best practices. Research shows that student best practices include: active learning, hands on projects, and collaborating with peers.
In fact, one study showed a 20 percent increase in performance by students who participated in activity-based programs over students who used traditional or textbook approaches. Research has also shown that collaboration develops higher-level thinking, oral communication, self-management, and leadership skills.
Social distancing planning has mainly focused on the physical things like rooms, buses, lunch, etc, but it also requires teachers to rethink the way they teach. Many of the best practices simply will not work while social distancing in a classroom.
So for now, your classrooms may have to look different physically, but also more importantly in the way you teach. As a dedicated teacher, it hurts to know that you cannot do what is best for your students because in doing so it could put them in harm’s way.
As a teacher, you are going to have to accept that learning conditions are not going to be ideal this school year. The daily changes may mean you teach at school sometimes and at home sometimes. It may mean you are balancing in class students with online students.
To preserve your sanity and help you manage your own needs, you cannot approach this year like all is normal. That means you will need to accept that good enough is going to have to be good enough. You will need to dig deep into your teacher-flexibility psyche and not over plan or plan too far in advance because no one knows what the week or day will look like, so typical planning isn’t going to work.
Now is the time to re-imagine what school looks like. Teachers will work together to create a learning environment for your students. While you will do the best you can with the existing circumstances, don’t beat yourself up when it doesn’t compare to previous years.
Extend your teacher flexibility to those around you
Lastly, you are going to have to be flexible with yourself, your students, and your colleagues. Expecting things to be like normal and for people to act like normal may be unrealistic.
The unknowns have people feeling a myriad of emotions. You have people adamant about going back to school. There are others who fear for their health and that of their loved ones. There are people who are die-hard supporters of wearing masks and those who are not.
This range of emotions can create a lot of tension and stress for all involved which means that you will have to go out of your way to extend grace and forgiveness to others. In an emotionally charged environment, feelings are going to get hurt and tempers are going to flare with students in your classroom and with colleagues in your building.
Uncommon times often result in people acting in uncommon ways. It is also highly likely that your own emotions will be all over the place too. You will need to acknowledge that as well. This year is going to take a lot of patience for others and for yourself.
Enter survival mode
This year is first and foremost about survival. The only way to survive the turmoil is to assume the best about other people and to give them the benefit of the doubt. You also need to be kind to yourself.
The goal is to persevere. Keep in mind that everyone is struggling with figuring out this new school setting. No one has answers, and it is likely to change many times throughout the year. Unrealistic expectations will only lead to disappointment, frustration, or anger.
One good survival tactic is to take each day one at a time. Another is to find your people and get support when you need it. You will also need to provide support for others. Remember, everyone is in this together even though it is going to be a messy year.
The unknowns, the added stress, and the inevitable changes are why teacher flexibility is going to be in high demand this school year.