I can’t show you my Google classroom, a dozen faces arranged on the screen like the happiest Brady Bunch ever, eager to hear what I have to say about geometry.
I don’t have any pictures of my kiddos on a screen, singing a song together, wiping away some tears.
There’s no Zoom picture of 20 faces staring at me, absorbing every word I say, minds open and learning.
No virtual band concerts of kids sitting up straight, in sharply pressed uniforms.
No read alouds to students who hold their own textbooks, making notes and asking questions.
We aren’t driving by homes to wave at students, doing special handshakes over Twitter, chatting about our days as we hang out at our homes.
My kids are high schoolers in a Title 1 school with all free lunches and extremely low SES. They don’t get to take home their instruments and the uniforms are black pants, or whatever you can reasonably come up with. We don’t have enough textbooks, so no one takes one home. The library, with its thousands of books—including those hyped up YA books—still has every single one of those books except the ones the teachers took as we left on that last day.
Almost every kid has loving parents who only want what is best for them. The parents I have met are dealing with stuff that would make me quit everything—they are true heroes. They literally inspire me to get my ass out of bed some days.
But. Some kids don’t have homes they want to show me on Zoom. A lot don’t have bedrooms, so they sleep on couches or the floor or with parents, siblings, parent’s friends. They have an apartment today and are in a relative’s house tomorrow, along with 12 other people. There’s one phone number today and another tomorrow. Wi fi is shared with a neighbor and when he leaves, so does the wi fi. The phone is taken by a brother/mother/father/cousin who uses it for themselves or sells it or gives it to a girlfriend. They might be living in a car with three other people. There may not be a room—or any room—to hide in and talk to your teacher. You don’t know what’s in the closet and that isn’t a safe place sometimes.
The neighborhoods are not places where you can drive by and wave. No parades of happy socially distant neighbors will be held in those streets. Some homes don’t have anyone who can make you sit down and do work, or help you figure out where to click on a screen.
Singing a song, doing a read aloud of Huck Finn, chatting about your dog takes a backseat to finding a place to sleep tonight, scrounging up money to do laundry, locating that one plate without crud on it so that you can eat. Getting a dollar for the Dollar Store so you can buy a frozen pizza trumps Zoom hang out hours where you will learn to punctuate a sentence for an essay you will never write.
A lot of what we do in school is socio-emotional learning. Sometimes the most I teach a kid in any day is that I am a stable adult, with a happy life, who consistently gives them band aids and cough drops and a fist bump when they come to my room. Sometimes, that’s enough.
I have memories of how kids bought into me—me as a special ed teacher, there to help and break things down and make math understandable. Resistance, resistance, resistance and then—okay, she’s here to help me. I can trust her. I have memories of kids making a connection between multiplying length times width to get the area and correctly predicting what would happen in the text I read (or many times, coming up with a better ending!)
But I don’t have a picture of my kids on a screen, listening to my talk about geometry. Those pictures are in my heart, where they will be until we get back to the place where beefs are made and settled, where kids come to see me and then apologize for coming in during my planning, where they hold the door open for me, where they threaten and cuss at you for asking why they are in the hallway without a pass, where you wave to kids across the hall and they ignore you or they don’t and respond with a giant smile, and where sometimes, a kid can find a consistent trusted adult, even for a day.