This week's blog post is by my friend Ed Windhausen from my Word Weavers group. His writing is always creative and compelling. He has 25 years of experience in early childhood education, but this year was his first experience teaching online. As the whole world has been upended this year, and we've learned new ways to do things, I appreciate him sharing the lessons God taught him. May you be blessed by his story.
“Something is happening in China,” she said. I had heard about the turmoil with the coronavirus on the news, but China was so far away, why should I worry? How would that have any effect on us? My co-worker was contemplating what would happen if we had to teach our students over a computer. The term distance learning hadn’t yet entered the conversation, and as the only man on an all women preschool teaching team, I was taking the, let’s wait and see, stance. I was not one to over-react or jump to conclusions. I felt like I had to be the one who did not respond emotionally, but inside I was worried.
We were notified on Thursday that there would be a mandatory training on Distance Learning the following Monday. I listened to the radio the next morning as I drove to work. The news was dominated by talk of coronavirus and how quickly it was spreading. My phone alerted me to a text message, which was unusual for 5:45 am. My instructional assistant informed me that school had been closed for the day. I had no idea that the previous day would be the last time I saw my students or co-workers face-to-face that school year.
Decisions happened quickly from that point forward. School systems around the country were taking action to protect their students and staff by closing buildings, halting instruction, and formulating plans on how to progress in a way that was safe and effective. Many of those decisions were then challenged, amended, and re-sent out to the masses. My wait and see stance still seemed prudent, as it saved time on taking action with standards that were sure to change. As a preschool teacher in special education, I wasn’t sure how many of the decisions being made were even relevant to my population. I was worried for my students and their families amidst this ever-changing global crisis.
We started distance learning a few weeks later. Then we stopped because the systems kept crashing. We attended virtual trainings to adapt to a new platform; a platform that we were assured could handle the volume of users. It did not. We then waited as our school system tested and implemented a new approach. Along the way I worried for my students. Would they lose all the ground that had been gained during the school year? Would the parents have the availability to assist us in the education of their children? We were all worried. We had started and stopped distance learning three times. We were hopeful that this new protocol would succeed. It did!
My worries continued as I adjusted to a new way of doing school. Arranging digital sessions with families met with limited success. Whether because of schedule conflicts, technology challenges, or language barriers, I didn’t feel that I was doing any good for my students. My teaching partner assured me that I was doing all I could to provide resources and opportunities for families to engage, but was it enough. It worried me to think that even one of my students might be left behind because of the quarantine.
My teaching partner and I conducted a group lesson each school day for one hour. During that time, our two classes were given the chance to log in to our virtual classroom and participate in reciprocal learning experiences. Out of the combined 22 students available, we regularly had 12-16 students attend. I later learned that our participation numbers were much higher than the average.
As time progressed, I found that my families became more available to my one on one virtual office hour meetings as well. While these sessions were established for me to engage with my students, often I spent the time chatting with parents. These conversations became more casual each meeting. My 25 years of experience in early childhood education was put to use during these chats. But, more importantly, these parents of young children sought out my 22 years of experience as a parent.
It dawned on me one day after a particularly emotional discussion with a parent, that I hadn’t worried in quite some time. I concluded that the difference was not in anything I had done with my students or families, it was my attitude, and my Bible. Since quarantine had begun, I had become so distracted by the changes around me, that I altered my former routine. I had stopped my morning quiet times. I was not regularly in the Word. How had this happened? I know the peace I gain from reading and mediating on Scripture. How could I have deprived myself of this practice that helped ground me during so many tumultuous moments of my life? I realized that there was a correlation to my time in Scripture and my feelings of peace. During the last couple of weeks, I had gotten back into the habit of reading scripture before engaging in my work for the day. It seemed so obvious to me now, but why hadn’t I seen it before?
In Matthew 6:25-27, Jesus instructs us, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life” (NIV)?
In retrospect, I know that I did my best for my students. I am confident that I gave every opportunity to those families that may have been going through challenges during distance learning. But, what if I had devoted all my energy to teaching my students and serving my families from the very beginning, instead of wasting that energy on worry? I learned a lot through distance learning, but the most important lesson had nothing to do with my methods of instruction. I learned that I must trust and rely on God through everything. When I do that, I eliminate the distance between us.
Joanna Eccles has led Bible studies for over ten years and completed the year-long C. S. Lewis Fellows Program. She is passionate about discipleship and helping people know God better. Joanna enjoys coffee, traveling, and reading, and currently lives in Virginia.