Weathering the Covid-19 Storm, One Student at a Time
This piece was Cowritten by Dr. Jim O’Malley
Having taught for 24 years, I thought I had seen it all. But nothing could have prepared me for teaching through a pandemic. Covid -19 has brought the educational system as we knew it to a screeching halt. With lightning speed, our students’ daily lives have been shattered; going from a predictable rhythm to unstructured hours stretching before them. For some kids, this may be an opportunity to learn about resilience, adaptability, and managing disappointment. For others, they have lost the one place in the world they felt safe. As teachers, we have been their daily long-term first responders, and our collective hearts are breaking that we can no longer fill that role.
Some may think that In the absence of high-stakes testing, teacher evaluations, and staunch directives to deliver the curriculum with proper pacing, teachers would do the bare minimum to limp to the June finish line. From what I have seen, the exact opposite has occurred.
Despite the challenges, I have been in absolute awe of my colleagues (both teachers and administrators) during this tidal wave of uncertainty. Many have given families their personal cell phone numbers, dropped off materials to homes, conducted 1:1 lessons, and customized video instruction to accommodate varied learning styles. Work is being done around-the-clock; days bleed into nights with no work/life separation. Our quest to remain relevant and connected with students invades every crevice of our consciousness and seeps into our restless slumber.
But why? Why, with a guaranteed paycheck, and virtually all teacher accountability removed, are educators still pouring their hearts and souls into their students? I believe the answer can best be articulated by traveling back in time…
The year was 2000 and 150 fourth graders sat in neat rows criss-cross-applesauce-style as the lights dimmed and a VHS recording projected on a pull-down screen. Laughter rippled through the audience as students watched two teachers acting out a spoof on Mission Impossible. The movie featured Agent O trying to teach Agent Double O how to use the school’s new weather measuring system. The kids were riveted by the cinematic wonder unfolding before their eyes. Uproarious applause exploded when the video concluded, launching two young teachers into epic stardom. Translation: epic stardom = ecstatic waving from adoring fans when walking your class to gym. I don’t want to brag, but, who wouldn’t be blown away by these moves?
It started with a simple idea; create an instructional video to teach our students how to use cutting edge technology to measure and record the weather. My dear friend and colleague, Dr. Jim O’Malley purchased a grant-funded system that measured the outdoor temperature, wind speed and direction as well as barometric pressure in our area. Twenty years ago, our students were blown away by this technology. Today, everyone can get a real-time weather update with one click on their smartphones.
Long before YouTube, Smartphones, and social media, Jim and I developed our masterpiece with nothing but a clunky Camcorder and the very first version of IMovie. Truth be told, I was just the on-screen talent. Jim came up with the idea, wrote the entire script, did all the filming, and was the tech genius behind this operation.
There was no mandate from the state for Jim and I to embark on this film-making adventure. There was no financial incentive for us to devote hours of our time before and after the contracted school day. There was no motivation for us to go above and beyond to earn our tenure (we were both already tenured). There was no hope that our extra work would elevate our rankings on our teacher evaluations. There was no high stakes test being given to our students to assess their knowledge of the science curriculum. There was only the excitement that Jim and I shared for engaging our students in learning about weather (we’re nerds- we know).
Twenty years later, videos like ours flood social media daily. Innovative teachers can whip out their Iphones, self-record a fun student-centered video, edit it, and send it out to the universe in less than an hour. Whether it be a million clicks on Youtube, or a bunch of kids watching a VHS tape in the cafeteria, one thing remains the same; students enjoy these teacher creations, not for their high caliber cinematography, but because it inspires a sense of connection.
During this pandemic, many parents are gaining a rare glimpse into the complexity of teaching. It’s true- the variables that impact a classroom would baffle even Einstein and the mojo that makes it all come together is the passion, creativity, and dedication of each teacher. Yes, teaching is complicated, but what makes teachers tick is simple; a genuine desire for each of our students to feel nurtured and successful. We will roll through the hallways, dance on rooftops, and use our best fake British accents in the name of engaging our kids.
Currently, we’re in a hurricane, with no end in sight. Rest assured, teachers, no matter the circumstances, will weather the storm. No mandate, high-stakes test, or external pressure can touch the internal motivation we have for educating your children. Our mission, no matter how impossible it may seem, will never falter. And when the skies finally clear, we will be waiting for the laughter and chaos that inspires learning. This was true twenty years ago and it remains so today.
* Addendum from Dr. O:
The Lisa Helfand you see in these videos is the real deal. She’s not acting. Agent “O” is a manifestation of her personality. She is, in reality, funny, creative, super smart, not to mention a warrior and beautiful both inside and out. I believe she could easily have her own talk show! I know I’d tune in. I’ve been blessed to call her my friend and colleague for more than two decades and when I see her in the hallways, which is rare these days, it always makes my day better. We threw this together for all the great teachers we work with and all the great teachers out there fighting like crazy to help their students succeed. Click here to view the full length version of this masterpiece. 🙂