Always Something New

A micro-essay. Originally submitted to but not published by 3rd party publisher.

School returns to us, full time and in person.  As a vocation and an institution, education has its triumphs and its challenges.  Some are new for us this year, and others persist.  The current state of the world intensifies all such things.

The vocal minority yells ‘no new normal’ even though the quieter and more pensive voices mumble that such things aren’t and were never intended to be so and that hopefully, the end is in sight.  That we won’t have to always do the things that we have been putting up with.  There are those trying to use their best judgment to get us through this.  We, teachers, have always done this on a smaller yet very relevant scale- acting as those even, constant, voices for the people that don’t always settle without dispute and hassle.  No new normal, but for children, especially at the elementary level, wearing a mask and distancing at solo desks, and sanitizing between every rotation of the day is normal; it’s been that or being in front of a Chromebook and teleconferencing for the past nearly two years.  That’s just about a half, a quarter of these small peoples’ lives.  

I taught on Zoom all last year, and also supported my fellow teachers with the technology that was make-or-break for just getting through the day.  I worked with students learning new functions on their Chromebooks for the first time, seeing only their frustrated faces in a tiny frame among a jumble of others.  How it would have been to be there in person, to guide their fingers to practice scrolling up and down a page, or to lead them to the proper icon or link or tool with my own hand.  

Now we’re back.  We’re catching up on things that were lost and forgotten, or worse, never even covered last year.  The first many lessons have been review.  Those who got half-days in person last year are getting used to being back for many more hours  There’s one silver lining though- all of that independent learning and troubleshooting and helplessly quiet observation forced many to have to discover and practice and learn new things, things that are now second nature.  Not just students, either.  My colleagues have all obtained a new level of technological independence after being forced to digitize what is effectively the entire school experience.  Their presence in the classroom- their demeanor, their guidance, and their expertise and lessons- was at one point all funneled down through a webcam, a microphone, and a virtual classroom.  

As an instructional aide, I get to visit most classes, K through 5th, and instruct them once a week.  I get to know the lay of the land pretty quickly.  I notice when the classrooms I go to are different from the week previous.

An email goes out about a possible or confirmed exposure or current case.  Everything is on a need-to-know basis.  I often don’t need to know, it seems.  We have smaller classes this year in general, which is good for everyone involved, but it is easy to tell when we are a few short.  Young kids only know that their classmates are out sick, nothing new or groundbreaking for them.  A cough is just a cough to them, but to us, it isn’t.  At least most have masks that fit well.  Not all parents have put the thought in that they aren’t one size fits all, and likely some parents simply can’t put that much thought or money in.  Whether parents are trying or not, the very least we can, we must do as an establishment, is to pick up the slack.

The situation we’re all in is challenging, but if there’s anything that teachers know, it’s that if one is challenged by something enough, it can be turned into a strength.  On so many layers, we as educators, administrators, support staff, parents, even those in government- people in general- are in this together, and we can come out of this stronger.

I apologize for the lack of posts. I’ve been focusing on writing and slightly about the upcoming NaNoWriMo. Also video games. I’ve decided that with one book waiting to be edited, and another halfway done, I will be posting the entirety of my NaNoWriMo book as it is written this November here on the blog! Look forward to the details!

-Sandwich Sean

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