Virtual Reality

The first months of my sons’ freshman and junior years of high school are in the books. Our district reopened 100% virtually, meaning all students in all schools receive all instruction via their district-issued Chromebook screens. If one more person uses the phrase “new normal,” I’m gonna lead the revolt.

It’s both understandable and appropriate that huggy, emotional high school students as well as boogery, teary-eyed kindergarteners are prohibited from sitting shoulder-to-shoulder in school hallways and classrooms right now. I get it. I hate it, but I get it, and I’m not looking for an argument. I could and I do focus a lot on what my boys are missing right now, but that doesn’t serve me here.

Remember that week back in March, when the world shut down and everyone realized how much they appreciated their kids’ teachers? Those were the four finest days of my career! I’m kidding, but what fries my beans right now is that people think virtual learning is the easy way out for teachers–you think this is easy?? We hear of parents complaining how they should get a property tax refund because they’re “homeschooling” while teachers are “not working.” I’m sorry, what??

Parents, we need you like never before. And we have always needed you. When schools were closed last March and working from home/distance learning became a necessity, I said that I could not possibly have done my job if my children were any younger. I cannot imagine the strain of trying to work while ensuring my children were tuned in in a meaningful way. And here we are. Still.


But we can’t complain, even though here I am doing the very thing. I put my smiliest, happiest face forward when I see my students for I am genuinely elated to see them. I acknowledge the weirdness, tell them I wish we were learning together, practicing our skills face-to-face, sure, but do I complain? No! My tone sets the tone for their time with me, and I need them to be up! So I’m up. And my students don’t know this, so let’s keep it a secret, OK?, but that they show up is a joy that’s carrying me.

Like this crabby, old speech path, my children’s teachers are working their butts off trying to get and keep the kids engaged. I know this because my children are working their butts off and engaged. I see their Google Classroom updates, the boys pop down to my basement “office” to check in “between classes.” The innovation required of educators right now in their lesson planning and presentation is unlike anything in my lengthy history as an educator. And, in 2020, you don’t get to pick which new digital platform you’re dipping your toes into–you have to be savvy about all of them, everything, immediately, right now, right this minute!

When my students log in for their session, I provide therapy and then log session data in one online module. When they fail to show, I’ve got to log their non-attendance, document my many contact attempts with the kids and their families, and that’s after I’ve spent the time making those phone calls, and composing emails and text messages. I could detail the minutiae (and I did actually before deleting a ton of text here, so you’re welcome) of why I’m working harder than I’ve worked in my life, but it’s not exciting. It’s exhausting.

By late afternoon, I am bone-weary, mentally and physically spent.

The hardest part of my job right now isn’t service provision though. And it’s not the enormity of therapy planning, delivery, and documentation–I’ve long abandoned the notion of being able to manufacture time. Constant multitasking is taxing my working memory in unsustainable ways. I’m quantitatively less happy and less effective than if I were working in a linear fashion (yes, there are studies and if I had the energy to find them, I’d link them here. Maybe another post). But still that’s not the hardest part.

The hardest part is feeling acutely that I cannot be enough of a support to my coworkers who need it. I’m a speech-language pathologist program support teacher, and it’s tearing me down that my support part of the PST gig is falling flat in my estimation.

The innovation and willingness to share “what works for me” demonstrated across our profession is inspiring. It’s also daunting. Speech paths tend not to be real good at not being great at their jobs, so when you hear that Speechie Blogger A has a super cute Bitmoji classroom and Speechie Teachers Pay Teachers Millionaire B is crushing the green screens while Speechie Webinar Producer C’s the Boom Card queen, you might feel a little, um, less than stellar. . . I’ve asked people to find a way to be OK with doing their best, even if it’s not their ideal, but I don’t know that message is what people need or want or are even ready to hear.

Now I’m old, and comfortable admitting I’m doing my best and that’s going to have to be enough. I know my best isn’t as flashy as everyone else’s, but it’s a buoy keeping me afloat in this vast sea of technological overload: I did all I could today. At the end of the day, I don’t even want to LOOK at my computer to surf online anymore–my whole life is on my computer!!! I used to love sitting at my keyboard, creating stories here in this blog, what I once labeled my “sanity-saving project.” Ha. These days I write almost not at all, and hey, you’re welcome for that too.

I want to help others better than I’m able to right now, but I’m also doing everything I can to do my best for my students. I’m doing the best I’m able to support my own children’s learning (and I was never one for classes titled Theory of Knowledge or Global Politics). I’m trying to run our household, trying to keep my family alive and fed and stable. Last week I lamented to a colleague much younger than I that I believed myself ill-equipped to help in the ways people need me to and shared with her a little about what my day-to-day sounds like.

Isn’t this magic? It’s part of a building-side mural in my neighborhood, painted onto the side of a print shop. The mural includes many elements, but this one fits best today.

And what does this wunderkind do? Like a ninja, leaving no trace (was she even ever really here?), she drops a package at my door the next day. From her I receive a copy of the book she and I discussed some months ago along with a perfect drawing of my dog, drawing being her pandemic project, and a bottle of Prosecco. (See, I drink a lot now that I’m home 24/7 and have to wait for happy hour only as long as it takes me to walk upstairs after shutting down my laptop). She also included a beautiful plant, just beginning its bloom cycle. And the plant, though destined to live a short life under my care, gave me pause to focus my energy on growth.

I work with the most incredible people, and I thank this extra-special Speechie for all the goodies, including the pale lavender-pink petals which sparked the reminder that even when we feel buried, we can still reach out and seek the sun. Thank you for the reminder that kindness goes a long, long way. So does laughter. So does hard work.

We are trying, we really are. Before COVID-19, teaching did not involve a jillion Google Chrome extensions like Jamboards or Pear Deck slides or naked parents passing their kid’s Google Meeting screen or tragically here in my town, the murder of a student’s mother, the gunshot fired during a live lesson. Please be kind to your children’s teacher. I’m not saying you’ve got to buy them books and booze, but I’m not saying not to either. . .

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