An Educator’s Reflections on “A New Normal” For Schools

by Justin Birckbichler

In this post, educator and instructional technology coach, Justin Birckbichler, shares his thoughts on the “new normal” that schools across the country are facing. 

In Virginia, where I work as an instructional technology coach, all schools completely shut down for in-person instruction in March due to the pandemic. While the state gave an option to reopen schools in the fall, my district chose to begin this school year in an all-virtual manner. Given that the current situation has only gotten worse since spring, this was clearly the safest choice. Despite knowing this was the best option from a seemingly impossible decision, I’m still left with a hard to describe feeling.

While I don’t have my own classroom anymore, I do have the pleasure of connecting with over 650 kids each and every day. Although the vast majority of them don’t quite grasp my job – I’m either the science, computer, TV, or maintenance guy, depending who you ask, none of which are my official job title – I like to think they know that I’m there for them. I already miss seeing every single kid from the beginning of the day to the end, but it’s not about me.

For many of these kids, school is a safe, special, and important place for them… even if they don’t always show it in the “best” ways. The ones who will fight you hardest are the ones who secretly love being there most. Through the shutdown, throughout the summer, and beginning this year, my thoughts have been with these students – my current Lions, as well as my former Cardinals, Bobcats, and Bears. Wow, I really need to learn to stay in one school for a while.

However, we have a unique opportunity here to make a commitment to being there for the kids. Undoubtedly, it sucks that they’ve missed out on face-to-face instruction for over six months and counting now, but realistically they will be fine in the long run. When was the last time you added fractions with unlike denominators, or had to know the French nobleman who aided the Continental Army? We’ll work out the logistics of distance/e-learning in time, but we can start on the far more important mission immediately.

We can’t change the decision to be virtual or this scale of virus (although wearing a mask will help). But what we can change is how we use this time to impact our students’ lives on a far greater scale.

What we must do (and now is a good time to say that this is solely my views and are not necessarily reflective of the opinions of my school, district, or state) is use this time to connect with the kids on a daily basis. When I missed three months of school as I underwent chemo in 2017, I wrote back and forth on Google Classroom with each of my kids every single day. I learned more about those kids through that three months of writing than I did in an entire year of some previous classes. I made video calls and phone calls to keep up with them. These were moments that the students and I truly treasured, even when one student exclaimed, “Wow Mr. B you’re really fat now and have no hair!” Yes, Neil, that’s what chemo does.

Though I wasn’t physically present with them, I never felt like I was missing out on anything because I was there in the only way I could – and we worked together to make it count.

The point of this post is to focus on what matters. It’s not how we feel about it. Yes, we’re upset and sad. It’s not about the teaching and curriculum that’s being missed. Yes, these skills are important and it’s literally our job to provide them with the required knowledge. But what truly matters is growing strong connections and creating safe spaces for our students.

Ten years from now, they’re not going to remember how they did on their end of year tests or what they learned in class… unless it’s that the mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell – that’s important and they will remember that forever.

They will remember how we rallied around them to make them feel loved and supported even when we couldn’t physically be there.

So I will wrap up this “teacher as a martyr post that Justin usually hates” and get off my soapbox by saying I know educators are all upset about the decisions of their respective districts. There’s really no right answer and not everyone will be pleased with whatever choice is made. 

But we must – and I repeat, must – do everything in our power to make sure that our students know just because school will look drastically different than in any previous year, our love, support, and care for them will never change.

Justin Birckbichler

Justin Birckbichler Justin Birckbichler is an Instructional Technology Coach in Spotsylvania, VA and a Google for Education Certified Innovator. In his work, he is very passionate about forming strong relationships with students, purposeful technology integration, and thinking outside the box. Connect with him on Twitter at @MrBITRT and read his blog at blog.justinbirckbichler.com. Outside of the education world, he’s is a testicular cancer survivor and spreads awareness at www.aballsysenseoftumor.com.

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