In Defense Of Kids

One of my favorite things that came from the whole quarantine experience last spring was the explosion of Tik Tok. I found it entertaining to see people do these silly dances, create scenes with funny voiceovers, and actually teach people how to cook. Last spring, I would even post my own videos and challenge people in my department to do some with their families. I’d also post links for my students on Google Classroom so they could get a laugh at my expense. I can’t tell you how many meals or DIY projects were inspired by this social media platform. The running joke in our house is, “where did you learn that, on Tik Tok?”

While my enthusiasm for the platform has gone from daily check-in to perhaps weekly check-ins, I still admire the creativity that people of all ages and backgrounds have on the platform, college admission essay writing service.

Then, teachers got involved.

Many use the platform as I did, just goofing around. Others used it to share ideas and tech tips. Just the other night, I learned what the paint brush on Google Slides actually does from a Teacher of Tik Tok. That’s awesome and two positive ways to use a platform to connect with kids and others in the profession. We talk an awful lot about professional networks across social media, but Tik Tok is one of the few that goes beyond posting quotes and platitudes.

But, there is a terrible downside to Teacher Tik Tok that goes far beyond anything that happens on other platforms. We now have teachers making fun of their students for not submitting work, not knowing how to navigate a Google Meet/Zoom call, getting things wrong, and everything else a kid could get wrong. Perhaps this is all in good fun, but quite honestly, none of it is funny. None of it should be happening. And, everyone in the teaching profession should be ashamed.

Now, one could argue that I am being too sensitive or that these videos are made as a sort of stress relief for the teachers. After all, this year has been difficult for the profession. We are teaching in multiple mediums. We are learning things on the fly and in real time. We don’t like not knowing everything and having to admit that we don’t know how to do something during a Google Meet.

If you think teachers are stressed, let’s take a look at the students. When you dig a little bit, what you’ll find is that today’s students are nothing short of spectacular. And, they are not getting credit for all they are accomplishing despite all that they are going through.

Here’s a sampling of things I’ve been told this week…

“I don’t feel any connection with school right now. It’s hard for me to be motivated to do any of this.”

Middle School Student

“I feel like some teachers are so overwhelmed by tech that they are just giving up because this is too much. That makes it harder for me to want to do their work.”

High School Student

“We are getting more homework than ever. They are just assigning things to us.”

High School Student

“It’s getting harder and harder for me to find the motivation to do anything.”

High School Student

“I’m sorry for the noise. My cousin has Kindergarten in my room with me.”

High School Student

Yes, as you can see, kids are dealing with quite a bit. It should be noted that each quote is from a different student. All of them, however, are doing incredibly well in school. All of them are high achievers, taking advanced courses at their grade level.

The middle schooler is someone who is good at school. She’s conscientious, hardworking, loves to write and read, and wants to please her teachers. She’s doing the work and doing it well. But, as her proud father, I see her struggle to keep that motivation up every day. I see her struggling to maintain the teacher-student relationship that she has valued since the day she walked into a public school. If she’s struggling, imagine how the kids who ordinarily struggle with school feel.

The high school students are all amazing kids and doing well. But, they see the strain in many of their teachers. They often say how they feel bad for teachers and that they know it isn’t easy. Yet, here are these amazingly talented students trying their best to stay motivated, keep on top of their work when they have every reason to be distracted. They have to self motivate without the routine of coming into the building, without the natural interaction between peers, between teachers and staff, and without being able to escape their home environment.

Are the students perfect? Of course not. Nobody is perfect in this pandemic setting. But, do they deserve every single chance to get back on track? Of course, they do.

I’ve had a couple of students simply check out earlier this year. They started the year and were doing really well. Then, they just stopped showing up. At first, you wonder if they are going through something like they or one their family members are sick. So, you reach out. Then, you reach out again. And, again. Repeat that every day for two weeks. Still no response. You enlist your guidance counselor colleagues and they help. But, still radio silence from the two students.

Finally, I decided to take one last shot. I needed to make myself a bit vulnerable to get them to see that I didn’t care about their grade and that I didn’t see them as a number. While I won’t share exactly what I wrote each one of them, I will share what I closed each email with:

“I know there is a lot going on and that it’s tough to do this school thing. But, at this point, I just want to know you are ok. Please let me know because you are most definitely worth worrying about. I can promise that there is nothing that’s unfixable.”

Within two days, both students responded. We set appointments to have a talk. Each one is going through a lot. Each one wants to do better. Each one made a commitment to coming to class, doing the work, but, more importantly, making a commitment to talk to me on a regular basis. We came up with a plan to manage their stress with work. They are both incredible people and they are trying really hard. I have no doubt that if we weren’t in a pandemic and that they both weren’t isolated at home, they would’ve never had a problem with motivation.

I truly believe that the kids who aren’t logging in, who don’t appear to be trying, and who aren’t succeeding are simply looking for someone to care enough. I know it is difficult to continue to reach out to those kids. It’s time consuming. It’s often fruitless. But, kids need to know that we care about them as people, not as a number. That’s a rule that should be followed during non-pandemic years, but this year it’s even more important.

I’m not special in this regard. Many colleagues have similar stories. Now, more than ever, kids need us to reach out, give more chances, and to never give up on them.

It’s our time to step up and do more. Again, so many are. The problem is that the ones who have always done the bare minimum stand out now. The whole profession is exposed as we beam into our students’ homes every day.

Hearing people talk about how too much is being asked of teachers is simply embarrassing for the profession. Why are teachers always asking to give more, be more, and do more? Why are we one for the few professions that has to do more than the job description?

It’s what we signed up for. We didn’t go get a regular job that ends at a certain time. We didn’t get some office job where we could leave it and come home. We chose to work with kids and make a difference. We chose this profession, no matter what environment we are thrown into; we have to remember that we chose this.

I get that people are stressed and dealing with a whole lot. I get that hybrid models and virtual models are stressful, sometimes unfulfilling, and more work. We didn’t sign up to teach in a pandemic. But, that’s the point; everyone is dealing with a lot or too much. Our profession is no different right now. Restaurant owners are barely hanging on. Nurses and doctors are dealing with another wave of this thing. People are out of work due to all of the closures. People can’t pay the bills. People can’t feed their families. People can’t see their families.

Is teaching more challenging this year? Of course it is. Is it impossible? No way. But, none of that challenge matches what kids are dealing with.

I overheard a conversation between a first grade student and her teacher the other day. The kid was so excited to share that her Mommy didn’t work on Friday so she didn’t have to go to the babysitter for school. The kid said, “yay!!! I can have quiet time and listen better.”

Imagine being a first grader and having to learn all of these important life skills and academic skills through a computer in a noisy environment that isn’t even their home. Yet, this kid is doing it.

Imagine being a high school student who is tasked with not only doing their work, but having a kindergarten student in the same room and keeping them on task.

Imagine being a student who has learning difficulties, emotional difficulties and being isolated to a computer screen for an entire day and not have the access to help during each class.

Imagine being a student who is struggling with WiFi crashes and then having teachers question them why they are a few minutes late to a Google Meet or why the homework wasn’t turned in at exactly the precise minute.

Imagine being a student who has a chaotic home life and now has to give every teacher and peer access to it.

Imagine being a student who thrived on extracurricular activities and sports and used those as motivation to do their school work. Now, those “extras” are gone.

Imagine being a student who is stuck with a teacher who couldn’t bother to pay attention to all of the PD about utilizing tech all these years.

Imagine being a student who has lost someone or multiple people due to this disease.

Imagine being a student who is aware of all of these uncertain times in our country. We, as adults, have anxiety about it all. Imagine how you might have felt as a teenager, a pre-teen, or a little kid.

Making fun of kids on social media? Complaining about having to do some extra work and reach out? Complaining that kids don’t watch our videos?

While I will never be on board with the social media thing, I get the frustration about the other stuff. It is difficult not to be in our classrooms with them. It is difficult to continue to reach out when we have lessons to plan, things to grade. It is difficult to go back and re-grade things that kids submit late. All of that is definitely difficult.

That is nothing in comparison to what kids are dealing with. Most kids are doing spectacularly well. They show up. They do the work. They interact. And, for those few who are finding it difficult to do that, we must reach out like never before.

Our students are doing amazing work. They aren’t stopping, even if they are finding motivation difficult right now. They are moving towards their goals, they want to make connections with their teachers, and they want to learn meaningful stuff from a person who is genuine in every way.

They don’t deserve ridicule. They deserve our praise. Despite having every reason not to do anything, kids of all ages are showing up, learning, and remain this positive force. I am so proud of all of my students. And, in many ways, this year has formed a relationship with them that is unlike any other bond I’ve ever had with them. I’ve learned so much from them and I am grateful that they are with me this year.

They deserve the best from me, no matter how tired or frustrating this work can be at times.

Something Practical

I promised that after each piece I write this year that I would offer something practical. This one is very simple.

Our District, in collaboration with our Teacher Union, has allotted time in our day for extra help. Basically, we are to be on an open Google Meet for students to come for extra help twice during the day. This is such a good thing and I am grateful that our Union and Admin can collaborate so well.

I am finding that more kids responded to it when I don’t mention extra help. I am simply calling it Office Hours and told each of my classes that I will be there for anything they need. Each day, I’ve had students join the open Meet. Most days, it is just to talk about how things are going outside of school, or for them to vent, or for them to ask me questions. And, yes, some extra help has happened, but they mostly want to talk.

Remove the stigma of extra help by calling that open time something more inviting. The conversations are what I miss most from not being in the building. I have those back now. It is worth every second of my time to connect with them in this way.

One other thing with online class…

I am struggling with the idea of having whole class conversations. I want to replicate the feeling of community online. What I am finding that works is starting class with some sort of random question (Would You Rather, favorite cereal, etc.), game, or something not related to the lesson. That has gotten kids to unmute and interact as a whole group.