I have been fortunate enough to enjoy two careers.
They are much more alike than they are different, so I guess you could say I have had one calling – teaching – and two distinctly different audiences.
Some people are surprised when I tell them that teaching “The Great Gatsby” to 11th graders can be as rewarding as teaching the Sermon on the Mount to seasoned pew-sitters.
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused me to change my approach with both of my callings.
I teach Sunday School from my deck in the backyard on Facebook live. I am live streaming an “interactive” Bible study from the church I attend.
People are able to respond, and the moderators keep it all going. Attendance has been surprisingly good, and feedback has been immediate.
People who would never listen to me in a church building are happy to listen on Facebook live.
Teaching school in a new way has not been as rewarding as church – yet. I will give it my very best effort, and I expect it to improve as I become more effective at helping online.
Online teaching is a stopgap method to hold us over until we know what the future looks like.
The Cypress-Fairbanks Independent School District in northwest Houston where I teach is responsible for the curriculum.
I am responsible for encouraging parents and students to undertake a whole new approach to their education.
There are unintended positive consequences as this goes forward.
Relationships with parents have improved. They have a newfound appreciation for what teachers do. Motivating sleepy 17-year-olds is not always easy. Parents have found their children actually miss school and miss their teachers.
I have a student from Vietnam. Her sister told me she calls me “PaPi” at home, apologizing and explaining this is the term she used for “older” men. I told her being considered grandfatherly for me is the ultimate compliment.
Teachers understand good teaching is about trust. You have to build relationships before students will really engage the learning process.
This should not surprise students of the Bible. Jewish rabbis would take on a handful of students and invest huge amounts of time with them. They knew their students incredibly well.
Good teachers know you have to love and appreciate a student as a person first, then as a scholar. You have to get to know who they are in all of their life and not just during regular school hours.
Students are in sports. They work. They go to church. They have dreams and aspirations. Good teachers should know those things.
I know a lot about my students. That is where the pain comes.
Some of my students are impoverished. I am grateful our school is continuing to provide good meals for students in need.
Yet, that will not span the complete gap many are facing with job loss or reduced hours in their family. How will they pay the rent? How will they pay for gas?
I have students whose parents fight and argue more than most. They are already stressed about their home life.
Social distancing in the real world means social crowding at home, which will multiply the opportunities for conflict.
I was not surprised to hear Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo say in a press conference, “Almost every area of crime in Houston is down … except domestic violence.”
I worry some of my kids will be the collateral damage in those domestic wars.
Many schools will eventually go to more and more distance learning and less and less brick and mortar. Colleges, universities and prep schools are already there.
I just don’t think that will work very well for public grade schools, especially a diverse school like mine
So much of what we do is personal. It is face to face, eye to eye. It is about relationships.
The people who watch me on Facebook Bible studies do so because at some point they grew to love me or trust me. Similarly, the students in my class learn best when they trust me.
On day one of each school year, I talk to my students about “unconditional love.” Very few of them have a church background so they don’t know what that means.
I tell them it is really simple. Let’s say one day you have a really bad day. My promise is I will forgive and forget. Tomorrow will be a fresh start.
Students can tell you the names of people – parents, coaches, teachers, bosses, relatives – who hold grudges. They desperately want to believe that there is a person who can treat them with unconditional love.
That is what I do best. I love my students unconditionally.
Fortunately, my scholars have had some academic success. I teach STAAR re-testers. They have failed before. When they succeed, it is a time for celebration.
That is why distance learning for me isn’t really learning at all. Some of life’s lessons are taught by consistent daily interaction. You lose that with distance learning.
Parents, please know we as teachers care deeply about your children. This is a grief process for us. A necessary, but painful process.
That is why I can only pray we return sometime this spring when public health experts have determined it is safe to do so.
I can’t wait to see my students’ faces. I can’t wait to help them write essays about the lessons learned from a virus that cannot be seen.