An Open Letter to Students

Kathryn Ives | Guest Writer

I have been teaching at County for twenty years, and I’m pretty good at it. I don’t profess to be amazing, but I think I hold my own at making a class relatively interesting and engaging. I think most of my students leave me having learned; their horizons are broadened and they see my passion for books and the written word (and cats.)

A few years ago, I had an AP class where one of the boys started keeping track of the strange, funny, and crazy things I would utter.  That same boy said I should get a Twitter account because I was so funny. He said many people would follow me. I replied, “No, I would not be funny in print.”

Why is this relevant to teaching online during the COVID-19 pandemic, you ask? Here’s the thing – I am engaging, in person, in the moment. I am at my best responding to the action in the room. My funny, my “living out loud” personality is all because I have these students (all of you): live, breathing, smiling, pouting, happy, exhausted, sad, excited, nervous, brave, enthusiastic, resistant, churlish or avid, but breathing and responding to me. Without you, teaching is not the same.

Now, my days are spent sending emails, creating hyperdocs (that have suddenly become the panacea of online education), posting said hyperdocs to Google Classroom, praying that the links work (they never do the first time, and luckily, at least one of my students is always kind enough to contact me and tell me that my links don’t link), and trying not to lose my mind when I get a new, and frequently contradictory, declaration from my higher ups. More and more directives keep coming. Each time, my colleagues and I roll with it and adjust.

Despite all of the adjusting, the reality for most teachers is that the only email that matters is the one to all of our students/parents asking them to let us know if there are any issues, especially if students have not completed any of the tasks we have posted. Honestly, we just want to know you are okay.

Coming from my deep teacher heart, I don’t care if you do my work as long as I know why you aren’t doing it. Respond to my email that asked if you are okay and write, “Yes, Ms. Ives, I am good, but I’d rather focus on math.” Or “Ms. Ives, I’m just trying to adjust to this new normal where everything that made life fun is suddenly unavailable, so school seems unimportant.” Or “Ms. Ives, my family’s world has fallen apart, no jobs, no income, worrying about food.”

No matter what you tell me, I will understand, and if I can help, I will. I, we, just want you to be safe. School is a bonus. I check off who has completed work to know they are alive and functioning. I figure if you are doing anything I post, from a survey to a journal, I know you can access the work and your life is functioning enough that you tried.

This was supposed to tell you what it is like from the teacher side. We make work for you because we want you to have it if you want it. We may make too much because we honestly don’t have a clue how long it takes to complete an assignment in this new online school world. Tell us!

If we assigned something and it took much longer than the 30 minutes a day, 150 minutes over the course of the week, tell us. We will change it, we will adjust.

We are flying blind and you are our eyes. However, if you do not talk to us (via Google classroom, email, or any other way we have set up to communicate with you), we cannot change course.

Starting in the next few days, many of us will be using Edmentum. It is brand new to us. It is County mandated. It will not feel like us. In its defense it covers the required standards. If you take it seriously, you will learn more. And once again, if it takes longer than we think, tell us.

Finally, I know I speak for many of the teachers when I say this. Teaching online sucks! But it is all we have right now, and we are just trying to follow the directions as we are being given them. You know how you sometimes sit in a class and think, this is such a drag, maybe I can go to the “bathroom” and walk around school for a little while. That’s how it is for us these days. But if you check into our online school on a regular basis, even if it is just to do one thing, we will be happier. And if you want to chat with us, we will be ecstatic. We miss you. I miss you.

Ms. Ives