If we’ve learned nothing else this year, it’s that the word “just” is a four-letter word. “JUST click that and it will…” Or “You JUST need to open it so that you can…” How about “If you JUST scroll over there…”
The implication of that word is that everything is easy. We know by now that NOTHING about this year is easy. Let’s not minimize the extreme challenge that teachers are feeling. Every. Single. Day. It is, however, easy to roll off the tongue, as if anything that is being asked of teachers is a simple request. It isn’t. We know that, and nothing we are sharing is meant to seem that way. Simply put, it is meant to offer a different perspective into the craziness that is the 2020-2021 school year.
Our days are spent in a district central office, coming in contact with Instructional Coaches and teachers. We coach, plan, and troubleshoot, in a nutshell. Two days before school began, we were asked to cover a 3rd grade virtual classroom. No problem, right? We are both experienced educators. While we haven’t been in a classroom for several years, it’s just like riding a bike, right? Once a teacher, always a teacher. Right?? WRONG!
What we quickly heard was a battle cry! “I’m a first year teacher,” was the anthem being spoken…SCREAMED… across all schools, whether it was from a truly novice teacher, or from a teacher who has been in the trenches for 20+ years.
Folks, this was hard. Like hard hard (preaching to the choir, obviously). And there were two of us. Managing 22 eager students who hadn’t been in school since March, who were now “in school,” but school looked a lot like their home. Because it was. Since it was their home, there were toys and dogs and siblings and every other distraction imaginable that came with them. They wanted to talk. And talk, and talk, and talk. When they were done talking, guess what? Yes! They wanted to talk some more!
The mute button meant nothing to them. “Just hit mute,” we would say. “Just type ONE ‘Q’ in the chat if you have a question,” we repeated. Somehow the “one Q” always turned into 57 Q’s, all from the same student! Then we knew we had to get to know the students, teach procedures, begin content, manage small groups.
We could continue the list forever, but quite frankly, teachers know what is being expected of them. Everyone is so quick to talk about the tech savviness of this generation. While there’s no denying this is, indeed, a digital age, that does not necessarily mean students know how to toggle between screens, turn off pop-up blockers, go to “settings” (oh wait, not that settings, the settings that is under tab in the column to the right of the link that is at the bottom of the page next to the asterisk in the second to last paragraph). It was exhausting.
We needed to quickly rework our plan and adjust to the virtual needs of our students, and to the insanity of ourselves. One thing seemed certain…we NEEDED two people. Co-teaching was going to be our savior. It gave us the ability to monitor the chat effectively, to monitor screens effectively, and essentially, to teach effectively. So, there you have it teachers, just co-teach! Easy-peasy.
The daggers that must be coming our way right now! It’s like we feel them piercing our souls as we type this. As with EVERYTHING this year, it is not a matter of “just.” We know.
We know about budget cuts and teacher shortages, about lack of time and lack of resources. We know it and we feel you. There is just no denying the power that having both of us in that classroom brought. Not only to us, as the teachers, but to our students.
Since there is no real “normal” this year, why not experiment with things? Is there another teacher in your building at your grade level teaching virtually right now? You don’t have a partner in your building? What about a partner in your district? What if, for one day, the two of you decided to co-teach? You are likely already planning some, if not all, of your lessons together. So what if you could figure out a way to “just” try one of these co-teaching ideas?
- Stagger times in your schedule so that you are both available to be on a LIVE meet teaching, monitoring, and engaging with one class, while the other class is working independently through your LMS.
- Have a departmentalized mindset. Perhaps one teaches the reading lessons while the other teaches the math lessons.
- Use breakout rooms, or separate meets, for small group instruction, scaffolding support, or technology troubleshooting.
- Utilize the power of two. Both teachers present the same content, interacting and building off of each other’s ideas.
- If for nothing else, the extra adult is another set of eyes and ears that is so desperately needed.
This is not a be-all-end-all solution. It may not even be a solution at all! What we know is that your infamous “teacher bag of tricks” has to be full this year. Co-teaching is hopefully one more piece of magic to pull out. After all, you “just” have to reach for it.