Teachers are used to being the ones who ask the questions. But, throughout the past 12 months, there have been many questions to which educators are on the receiving end:

  • How are you managing behavior on Zoom?
  • How do you keep children engaged from behind a screen?
  • Is there going to be an enormous achievement gap when the pandemic is over?

All valid questions and all in need of addressing as we come out of an unprecedented year in education. We certainly do have much ground to cover in the wake of not being with our students, in-person, for over a year.

Lessons put on hold that don’t translate well across a digital divide.

Strategies that, despite our very best efforts, refuse to land as they would have if we were sharing the same space as our students.

Wi-Fi failures and Zoom links going awry, or laptops dying and iPad screens fading to black—these moments continue to pepper the landscape of remote learning.

And, the bottom line is that most of these pitfalls along the way were and are out of everyone’s control. Sure, a kid might have snoozed once or twice through their first online class of the day. A teacher may have hit the proverbial wall and dismissed class early a time or two. But, in general, when things didn’t go according to plan, we were (and, are) at the mercy of the universe.

So, when I am asked if teachers are being more lenient this year, my answer is a resounding:

It’s complicated.

Complicated because we know that we must hold our students to a high standard of excellence, whether they are learning from home or learning at school. Complicated because we realize that a lack of equity when it comes to access—in the form of working devices, adequate Wi-Fi, and a conducive space for learning at home—creates a disparity amongst our students’ achievement. Complicated because we know that the loss of muscle memory when it comes to engaging fully in their pandemic classes is going to be truly painful when we are back in the normalcy of being inside classrooms again.

Complicated because nothing has been easy throughout this pandemic.

So, what’s a rigor-seeking, compassion-catalyst, rooted-in-realism-but-inclined-to-optimism teacher to do?

Well, first, we have to trust our intuition. Do our students appear disengaged because they are just going through the typical hormonal surges that any adolescent is predisposed to experiencing? Or, are they disengaged due to the loneliness and isolation synonymous with being at home, without their friends and classmates daily? If the answer is A, then we roll up our sleeves, as we would in the classroom, and apply every strategy we can to get our kids to reach that academic bar.

If it’s B, well, we still act with tenacity, but we call in reinforcements. We partner with parents and guardians to establish a framework for support. We get our students involved in advocating for their needs so that the strategies and interventions applied are going to resonate with them, individually.

If it’s access to stronger internet or a better device, we research promotions available for improving a family’s Wi-Fi and loan laptops or iPads from school so that students are not at a disadvantage when it comes to learning online. Remember, just because we are beginning to head back into the classroom, doesn’t mean that students’ at-home needs diminish. If we have learned anything from this pandemic, it is that we need to make certain that our students have an at-home learning environment that is outfitted for success—a quiet space, near an outlet, equipped with writing utensils and scratch paper. Textbooks and headphones should be readily accessible so that when they sit down, they are instantly in school mode.

Standardized testing is the epitome of COVID complications. On one hand, these tests are crucial in determining the acceleration of stagnation of student progress during remote/hybrid learning. But, our ability as educators to maintain the integrity of tests from a distance—whether that is over Zoom or separated by physical distancing in the classroom—calls the validity of these tests into question. It seems far less complicated to, instead, power through with the rigor of our end-of-year curricular goals, make plans for students to keep learning during the summer, and then resume Fall testing, per usual, when school opens in September.

At this time last year, talk circulated around giving every student an A. Talk about leniency! But, we quickly discovered that was a surefire way to set all students up for failure—the proverbial letdown when we went back to grading according to work produced and not as some conciliation COVID prize.

Grades should still be awarded based upon a student’s performance in school. Based upon their work ethic and drive to succeed. Sure, an assignment’s parameters can and should be modified to accommodate remote learning or a student’s individual learning needs, but accountability must still be the protagonist in this narrative.

There is light at the end of the tunnel. Many schools have brought students back to campus in some hybrid capacity, and those that haven’t are very close to doing so. Make no mistake, it will take some time getting used to the routine. Getting used to setting an alarm that allows for a commute to school and the production and submission of work in real time, in the physical presence of a teacher.

We’re ready for it. This is what we know. This is what we do.

And, the lessons we’ve learned and the growth we’ve obtained during the last year isn’t lost and won’t soon be forgotten.