October Is Hard. October Distance Learning is Harder.

Renay admitted this week, she is a little sick of hearing her coworkers ask when we will ‘return’. But this got us thinking. This last week had not gone according to anyone’s plan.

First there was an internet provider outage. Some folks did have access but their access got worse. Kids who had data plans for their cellphones, hopped in. But that meant students whose primary access was the internet dependent devices issued by the district were stuck even if they could get on their phones. It meant Renay and many others stepped up to cover for teachers in classes that are not their primary, but it was the choice that was left. Then the weather changed. It is fall. Another season beginning and yet, we still don’t know what we don’t know. And that is emotionally taxing. Even for adults.

Let’s Talk About Returning Logically For a Little Bit

No matter where you are, your district should have a ‘plan’. You can disagree with the plan, but there absolutely needs to be a plan.

No matter where you are, your district should have a ‘plan’. You can disagree with the plan, but there absolutely needs to be a plan.


We have about five different groups making decisions about distance learning:

  • The families that really want their children back at school, especially those with disabilities.
  • The families that are ambivalent about wanting their children back in school, but will send them anyway.
  • The families, that do not want their children to return because if they get sick, and especially sick with COVID, other family are likely to become very sick
  • The families that have experienced loss of COVID

Now this list is void of the socio-economic inequity—the fact that some families are choosing between leaving children unsupervised at home so the adults can go to work, ages of children, the emotional toll of how far apart some folks feel. And this doesn’t take into consideration the families of teachers, the risks the teachers face medically if they get COVID, or the emotional cost of what happens if they open a campus and then close even a section of campus because the hybrid team or one class was exposed.

The logic end of the story is: until we can assure that systems are in place to handle if kids get sick, opening and closing school or even preventing certain students from physically returning is actually probably worse for adult scheduling than “all at home.” For those schools on Distance Learning, there are a few parts to Distance Learning that most counties that have barred schools from opening are important. The first is the infection numbers—how many people are getting sick, and then there are the testing numbers, how many people are being tested for the first time, and do they have symptoms. The ability to keep people socially distant is also a challenge. Schools were built around efficiency, the number of students moving through halls, lines in the lunchroom, all of those things are about getting large numbers of people in and out quickly and safely. But this also means increased potential exposure.

We have seen ‘outdoor’ education. And we’re not talking about a wilderness experience. Classrooms set up to be outside. And that works really well until nature doesn’t cooperate. An excessively rainy or windy day. A day with heat temperatures over 100. And it leaves out anything involving natural disasters (thunder, tornado).

But we also need to be honest about returning. Wherever you are on that spectrum of returning, being honest with your level of exposure to yourself. Please follow local government guidelines.

Let’s Get Back to Renay for a minute…

It is normal in October to look around and panic. Somethings are not clicking in school for some students and that one behavior you thought you had a handle on has just amped up. It’s October. We all might already be a little sick of each other’s company. Some districts put in an October Break just to allow for a little steam to be let off. And right now: this sounds very appealing but we really don’t want to go back any sooner.

For those like Renay October in Distance Learning has been approaching burn out. And when Renay hears, “When are we coming back?” as if the choice to return will be as easy as flipping on a light switch, it worries her.

However, this speaks to a volume of other issues including the isolation of teachers. Even those who are fortunate to return to teach from their classrooms there are so many things missing. You aren’t going into the hall to see another teacher to ask about students. You aren’t walking to the teacher’s room to get a coffee. You certainly are not ducking into the library to mill about and check on a book or sign up for library time. Unlike ‘before’, you have to literally make time to connect with a coworker, and even then, you might be at your desk and they at the door, forty feet away. This added physical distance changes the conversational dynamics.

Official meetings are harder. Normal meetings have chatter in little pods before meetings officially get started. You can speak quietly to someone you’d see in the halls normally. You can see what someone else is grading that week. Those are gone. Instead, you might have a series of boxes lined up and the best we can do is private chat or text during the meeting. And we know this isn’t the same sort of interactions we’d have.

And this starts to eat at a person. The Fall schedule feels like you might need a four day a week model, not a full five day, but here we are, filling in the best we possibly can.

And we have not actually even begun to talk about Hybrid scheduling.

So, we offer a reminder to all the adults working school. We know you’ve heard this a thousand times, but it bears repeating.

  1. There is no shame in asking for help. You are the teacher. You are not trained to do anything in education alone—as shocking as that is to hear. You may be in a room with over thirty students to support, but you have never been alone.
  2. The exhaustion is real at the end of the day though you’ve likely sat for nearly eight hours without moving. That is currently a ‘normal’.
  3. Use some calming techniques to help you get through this. Teach them to your students. These techniques matter. It helps many students get through the day. Take the time. Color in an adult coloring book. Eat the cookie (not all the cookies though). Take the nap.
  4. We want back too. But we want back when we know the students and the other staff will be safe without extraneous risk. There will be risks; life is full of risks, but if we could limit the risks that would be very useful.
  5. Hug your loved ones who you live with. Send a happy note to someone who you have not seen in person for a while. Watch a butterfly fly through your yard. (Seriously, have you seen a butterfly fly? Based on pure physics, it’s amusing.) Make a personal goal to have say one good thing about every week, every day if you can. Yes, it’s still all right to say, “I got up. I had breakfast” as your good thing.
  6. Have some space for people who are unhappy with the way things are. For those who have trouble voicing their opinions, hearing other’s voice their opinions about the situation can be emotionally vexing. But what Renay realized, was that was the voice she has trouble stating out loud. October learning is hard. October Distance Learning is Harder.

There are not a lot of things in the world we can control. But for the time being, we can make what we have work. Let’s keep keep the misery from the students, we’re all doing our best. We are going to have some wins. We are going to disappoint other students. But we can do Distance Learning. Not just because we have been told, but because we are ready for the real challenges that Distance Learning should provide.

We Pause for a minute to add a shout out to the student teachers Distance Learning

Student Teachers in the mix of Distance Learning have possibly embraced the worse parts of the circumstances. Not only are they distance teaching, they too are distance learning. They are walking in to classrooms where their students cannot necessarily identify that they are a person to trust.

Do not leave out the mental health of your Student Teachers. Most of their professors may not be 100% onboard with distance learning, compounding circumstances for them. While Student Teachers have access to their University or collective’s mental health support, the hours can be inaccessible to Student Teachers, especially those who are expected to participate over four days a week. Let them take the time to get mental health support. Remind them it will be all right. Remind them they are not alone.

Do you have any comments about this week’s blog? Do you have a question for us? Would you like to have an opportunity to pilot some materials at your campus? Find ParaEducate online herehereherehere, and on our website. ParaEducate is a company providing materials, information, and strategies for people working in special education inclusion settings for grades K-12. ParaEducate, the blog, is published during the academic school year on Mondays, unless a holiday or announced day off. ParaEducate shares their findings at conferences, through their books, and their academic adaptations.

About paraeducate

ParaEducate is a company run to help reach out to paraeducators or paraprofessionals in public K-12 schools, giving advice, talking about publications that ParaEducate produces, and other useful information regarding working in public school settings.
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