Teacher whispers: Storying education in times of crisis and emergency

17th June 2020

Author: Mark Vicars, Associate Professor- Victoria University, Melbourne Australia

In January 2020, teacherwhispers started with the aim of collecting stories about teachers and teaching. Everything from curriculum to assessment, to classroom practice to pedagogy and theory. School has changed so much over the years.

So much about the ways in which we teach has changed, none more so in recent days than with the Covid 19 global pandemic. The tools and resources we use in the classroom do, to a certain extent, affect how we teach and how we research those who teach. With different tools come different approaches and a particular conceptualisation of the world, one that is rapidly changing as we adjust to the digital learning/ teaching/ research space.

Teaching is the art and craft of building relationships to sustain engagement and yet the pedagogic praxis of student-centered learning is increasingly reliant on being comfortable with uncertainty: in being comfortable with not knowing. Pandemic containment measures such as online learning have been really hard for teachers and for students. One of the contributors commented:

"Unfortunately, it does not seem equitable. It’s only going to serve the students who have access to devices, and Wi-Fi, and whose parents can help them, whose parents are home and can understand what we're delivering. For the students who don’t have that… we can send them worksheets, but we’re not there to explain it to them. We’re not there to help them, we’re not there to answer their questions.

We have expectations that we’ll conference with students for half an hour once a week, and that we will do Running Records via a video link and we’ll hold the book up to the camera and the kids will read it. I think that’s just not going to work. We have to do this 'hold up a decodable' to a camera and have them read it to us. It's hard, because teaching is such a collaborative thing.

I’m in a team of fourteen. We have fourteen Foundation classes, so we’re a massive team, and not being able to see each other, to bounce things off each other, or to support each other is also really hard too.”

Another contributor noted:

“I am reaching the end of my tether.
This COVID-19 and remote learning/teaching have brought out an ugly side to teaching. When this all began, whilst we really received no formal direction and very few of us actually knew what to do, personally, I felt at ease, because I have always felt supported at my school. One of the best things about my little, disadvantaged, low-socioeconomic, high EAL school is that ALL staff, teaching and non-teaching, are extremely supportive of one another.  

We are all facing the same battle with our students – no one is alone.  No one is isolated. Until COVID-19 and remote learning came about. Now, it's clear that many of my colleagues have very little regard for anyone but themselves.  Gone is the mindset 'one in, all in' or 'we're all in this together'. No. Gone is the notion of equality for all students...gone is the underlying principle that 'no one is left behind'. What COVID-19 and remote learning have illustrated in our beautiful little school is that we have been deluded in believing we are a team....that we are supportive...that we are collegiate.

We don't have people willing to help and support others, particularly with the ICT that we need for these times!!!!!!!!

We have people who will stop at nothing to outshine everyone else. We have people who are desperate to impress parents at the expense of other teachers. We have people who clearly have little regard for their colleagues. We have teachers who clearly don't care about some of their students missing out. My current thought process?

Aside from the above...I am really dreading returning to school when everything is 'back to normal'. I have seen a side to some staff that has shattered the illusion I had that this school was special and worth staying at. I would not be surprised if returning to normality leads to my resignation. My husband keeps on telling me to take a breath...step back...it's just a job. But you and I both know it's more than a job...when there are little people involved, particularly disadvantaged, at-risk little people, it's so much more than 'just a job'. Maybe I'm not cut out for it."

Teacherwhispers aims to document shifts in the way education is perceived, conceived, and how it is enacted by teaching professionals at ground level. At a time of unprecedented pedagogical change, teacherwhispers is mapping the impact of becoming an educator.

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