What We Have Gained

What We've Gained

So much discussion has focused on what students have gained, or lost, during this time of interrupted learning. But what have we, the educators, gained?

Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, while most school buildings were closed and our society pivoted suddenly to learning and working from home, we heard a nearly universal outpouring of gratitude toward educators. “A Hero Lives Here” yard signs, appreciative discounts and promotions from businesses, and features on talk shows (at least, those airing new episodes) celebrated the work of educators and the contributions of local schools.

And then, it started to shift.

As buildings stayed shuttered longer, as educators voiced concerns over returning to in-person learning in potentially unsafe (or at the very least, unknown) conditions, the public response grew increasingly negative. It’s common, now, to hear more about what teachers are costing our society than any good we’ve wrought.

Have there been losses? Undoubtedly.

But I don’t believe that’s the whole story.

I was grateful, then, to see AMLE Advocacy Committee’s recent op-ed, Let’s Stop Saying Learning Loss. The article acknowledges that yes, there have been losses, but that, in most cases, we won’t know the true impact of COVID-related interruptions for some time yet. Rather than focus on the loss, the authors note that students also gained much and that now is an ideal time to leverage this momentum for the good of our students and schools.

I agree wholeheartedly. But I’m also interested in another, slightly different take: What have we, the educators, gained? I decided to ask you, our AMLE community, for your perspectives.

“I have been teaching for 27 years and this past year is like nothing I have ever experienced.  I could sit and dwell on what students and teachers are missing, or I can embrace the opportunity to try new things.  I choose the latter.  Teachers have been given the opportunity to get rid of outdated teaching practices and to reflect on what they can bring to a new format. Being virtual has challenged many teachers to get rid of worksheets and packets. Tech apps and websites have made virtual engagement possible in ways different from our traditional classrooms. I hope teachers will come out of this feeling renewed, (once we recover from the incredible exhaustion many of us are feeling) focused on what we’ve gained.”
Michele Simonetty, Special Education Teacher, @simo845

“After nearly two decades of being in the classroom, I thought I had a decent amount of experience.  But nothing could have prepared me for teaching through a pandemic.  While the loss has been tremendous, and much discussed, there has also been profound gain.  For me, the most significant shift has been in my perspective and classroom approach.  I have made a conscious effort to let go of the insignificant grievances that used to drive me crazy.  My focus shifted from what was going on and how it impacted me to making sure that my students were supported.  I let go of my need to control everything and turned my attention to my presence in the classroom. Additionally, I believe that a benefit to teaching through a pandemic has come in the form of evaluation of teaching methods.  I was forced to confront head on the things I do simply because I have always done them.  The easier choice no longer made sense.  I was forced, and very quickly so, to evaluate what worked and what didn’t. What new strategies, methods, and resources were available that I had been hesitant to try?  How could I use technology differently?  How did I need to adjust my daily approach?  Being an effective teacher quite literally changed overnight, and I had to figure out how to change with it.  As someone who often resists change, I had a difficult time at first.  But the end result was an updated and fresh approach to curriculum and building relationships. I have always tried to focus on relationships in the classroom, but that has increased tenfold in the past year. My students have to trust me.  They have got to know that I am here to support them, and I am not going anywhere.  Teaching through a pandemic has had moments of defeat and exhaustion, but it’s also brought a renewed sense of purpose and joy.”
Melissa Lynn, ELA Teacher, @melissaglynn

“We have all heard of the pounds gained during Covid, but what about the gains in the classroom and the collaboration amongst our faculty and staff. Let us stop talking about the Covid slide and focus on the Covid RISE. Teachers have embraced the changes placed in front of them and they have reimagined a classroom in which students must collaborate from 6 feet apart or across a computer screen. Lessons have been reimagined to incorporate both the distance learner and the in person learner at the same time. Regardless if you are in your first few years of teaching or you are a seasoned educator, college classes and student teaching did not prepare us to lead in this manner.  At my school, we turned our focus to balance and kept homework to the very minimum so that when students went home for the day they could focus on time with family and non-academic activities. It is my hope that some of these changes remain in place, but most of all I know we all miss that human connection and we look forward to the day when we can pass along a high five for a job well done. For now, I pass along an elbow bump to all of my fellow educators as they have truly risen.”
Dawn Rafferty Smith, Assistant Principal, @DawnSmith05

“Teaching through the pandemic has certainly had its challenges. I’ve had face-to-face students since September with a handful of online students as well, but I’ve had a lot of positives. For one, my focus has further shifted to what’s most important: students. I’ve been intentional about creating complete people, not just good test takers and content masters. I’ve learned to be more flexible, which has subsequently made me much more patient with students. The shutdown last March pushed us to reevaluate why we do what we do in school and adapt, and my hope is that we will not go back to what we were doing just because it’s what we’ve always done.”
Lee Tucker, ELA Teacher, @comicsocks, 8bitinstructor.com

“There have been two main gains for me teaching through the pandemic. First, I’ve benefited from mutual empathy. My students have seen a lot more of what I do to support them, and I’ve seen a lot more of the inequities at play for my students. The shared empathy has put us all on the same team. It’s also given me clear indicators the kinds of supports I can put in play to support all learners. Second, and not unrelated, the pandemic forced me to think about customizing class experiences for students in ways that I would have gotten to eventually – but without the pressure-cooker of pandemic teaching maybe not for another five or six years. Both benefits of teaching during the pandemic have made me a much better teacher.”
Stephen Capone, Middle School Humanities Teacher, The McGillis School,  @CaponeTeaches

“When schools shut down a year ago and we were all treading in the remote teaching waters for the first time, we had to determine what the most essential parts of our lessons were. Having to trim all of the excess was a real wake-up call of being able to ask ‘if these parts aren’t essential, why are they here?’ This year has been a crucial time for educators to reflect and discover what’s most important in their teaching.”
Blake Mellencamp, ELA Teacher, IN, @bamellencamp

“Our year started in a hybrid model and as much as it was an unknown world to all of us it was wonderful in many ways. The ability to work with students in small numbers was something educators can only dream! Our kids were on an A/B day schedule, so they attended two consecutive days in person and then two days asynchronous and all students were virtual with their teachers on Fridays! This was to allow for a deep clean day. I believe that even though kids were face to face two days a week, the small class size provided an opportunity to get so much individualized instruction, feedback and needed attention! I knew their strengths and weaknesses much earlier than had I taught a class of 25 or more! My largest hybrid group was 12 and my smallest was 5! The other amazing benefit was the ability to really get to know these students and individuals! Building relationships is something I feel is my strength, but this year we were a little family: each hybrid day and in each period we connected in a unique way! Now that we are all back full time in masks and plexiglass, I feel that those who are naturally introverts have shrank next to the larger numbers and the louder voices where they had thrived before in the hybrid setting! Virtual Fridays were an awesome opportunity to teach a lesson and then keep back those who truly needed more attention, small group instruction and extra time! They had a safe space to join throughout the day to receive that individualized time! I truly miss our hybrid schedule!”
Raedene Averitt, ELA Teacher, @raedeneaveritt

“As students have come back to in-person learning, an attitude shift is evident. I see students who are motivated to learn. I see students who are asking questions, seeking help, and just being kinder. Being forced into online learning took away the personal contact. I experience intentional conversations to build relationships across my building. We’ve learned to make the most of today.”
Courtney Zahn, Special Education Teacher, Baker Elementary, @ZahnCourtney

“While there have been many sacrifices made over the last year, this pandemic has forced education to look at itself and see what matters most: our students! We have come to realize we do not need standardized test scores to tell us our students’ well being trumps all testing. We have seen how vital relationships are as we navigate Zoom calls and hybrid learning models. Empathizing with our community members has been emphasized throughout this trying time as we attempt to remain connected despite physical distance. With that in mind, we have been able to use new resources and tools to go beyond our masks and see one another, albeit on a screen. While many of us are fortunate to be teaching safely in person, we know our students are weary. Ultimately, this time has served as a wake up call for all of us to be prepared to make sure we remain committed to our kids and keep their “education” in perspective as we all navigate the world together. We teachers know our goal is to help those in our care reach that next level in one piece, even if that means during a global crisis. No test can do that, teachers do.”
Rob Kowalski, Teacher, @skeeTX

“My personal gains are: better feedback, increased tech skills and building relationships in new ways. Students: learning to use technology, communicate efficiently and advocate for self by asking questions.”
Todd Bloch, Science Teacher, @blocht574, coordinator of #mschat

Todd is right–like the AMLE position paper indicates, our students have exhibited gains as well.

“After riding the pandemic rollercoaster this past year, my students have built tremendous resilience and flexibility to navigate the punches of life.  More important than any specific skill set or content knowledge, we have taught this generation to pivot, take risks, and navigate the unknown.   My students have also developed tremendous compassion and more willingness to help one another (and their teachers) with the struggles of the situation.  They accept change and challenges much more easily, and we have had fewer discipline problems this year even when in-person. Imagine how society will benefit in the future from our students’ ability to turn on a dime, collaborate, and problem-solve.”
Jennifer Smith, Middle School Team Leader, @Jennifer_Smith5, Blog: The Playground

This can be a challenging stretch of the year even under normal circumstances, and many of us have been teaching through a screen or are welcoming students into our buildings for the first time, enforcing over-the-nose mask-wearing, wiping down surfaces, monitoring distanced lunches, and, of course facing standardized testing. Perhaps we’re exhausted, even discouraged. As you read these words of your colleagues printed here, you know none of these gains were achieved by magic. You know each is the result of the effort, humility, creativity, community, ingenuity, professionalism, and dedication of each of these educators.

Of you.

I’m proud of what we’ve gained together.

Katie Powell, a veteran middle grades educator, will be joining the AMLE team as Director for Middle Level Programs. Check out Katie’s book, Boredom Busters, or connect with Katie to see how AMLE can support your school community.