“Teaching in a Pandemic” by Ron Woodruff
I recently had a colleague publish a thank you letter to our teaching staff for going “above and beyond” our daily responsibilities. It caused me to reflect on this past year and how we, as a teaching staff, have persevered through this unprecedented year. It has been a struggle with overwhelming challenges, but ultimately, it has also had positive moments of triumph. Moments where God’s influence, grace and guidance were vital for my peace of mind.
Although the fall was the beginning of my 29th year of teaching, it felt like my first. I had one week to get ready for the start of the year, which required learning new online platforms and curriculum. Behind the scenes, while the state grappled over school funding, there were late budget concerns that caused teacher layoffs, and ultimately, a massive scramble to solve the scheduling problems. Although my job was safe, it was still impacted by the day to day schedule changes. For example, during the first two weeks, I was teaching American Literature, and suddenly, the next day, it changed to a combined class of Journalism and Digital Media. I was expected to teach my advanced newspaper along with an introduction to media class. Like everyone, I had to adapt.
To make it all work, I had to totally immerse myself into school with every available minute. I take pride in being organized and strive to control how my classes function and flow. So, I pushed myself to make it work, to overcome and thrive in this new environment. Because of this desire, it was not uncommon for me to be up until midnight, making sure my lessons would function online for the next day. I put everything in my life on hold. I felt like I didn’t have time for my family, my friends, or even God. Looking back, God was there, and he used each situation to guide and influence me, even though I was too overwhelmed to know it at the time.
Yet, I had it easy compared to those teachers who had young children. They also had to manage how to support their family while teaching. This became especially hard when we would go virtual, and those teachers were trying to Zoom from home while their own children were also trying to learn. Often their children needed help, but they had job responsibilities that took priority. Furthermore, most of us had never learned to use technology the way we were expected to use it, and I couldn’t imagine trying to manage school while also supporting young children. We encountered new online software like Schoology, Zoom, Loom, Kami, Edpuzzle and many other programs. When we started, teachers did not have a good grasp of all this new technology, and every day seemed to bring new challenges. Students faced issues with their devices, and there were daily internet problems. These issues were constant disruptions. It was well into November before the technology demands began to slow down, and it was during that time I noticed little triumphs of how God was using people to support others.
We needed to support each other because we were being asked to educate students face to face and online, simultaneously. We were sitting at our desks, trying to communicate and teach passionately with both online and in-class students, and never knowing when, at the drop of a hat, we would be sent home to total virtual. It was overwhelming! There were so many things to remember that I even found myself on the edge of a nervous breakdown. I remember one day sitting in front of the computer, just clicking buttons because I couldn’t focus. I even said to myself, “What are you doing?” It is the only time in my career that I didn’t feel in control. The only time I felt inadequate. That is when my wife was there to help. That was when my colleagues were there to support me. I had learned a great lesson that I was trying to do everything on my own. I believed I didn’t need anyone’s help. However, God knew better. He knew my limitations. So, he provided support.
God knew it was time for me to stop trying to be perfect and let Him intervene. It was time to realize I was not in control, and God’s grace was there to comfort me. I realized that He had placed people in my life who were there to support me through these uncertainties. My wife, family, colleagues, and pastor were all there in different ways to guide me through the fear, the stress, and the frustrations. It helped me understand that I also needed to be a better servant of God so that I could be there for others during these challenging times.
Week by week, I didn’t know whether I would remain in face to face teaching, or because of COVID quarantines, move to online. I had to be ready for both. However, this also impacted students and parents, and I needed to be sensitive to their needs. Many students were too unorganized to keep up with virtual work. They no longer had teachers looking over their shoulders or reminding them of what was due, and with parents working, nobody was home to monitor classwork. Many procrastinated while others simply shut down completely. Instead of the usual stresses, I was now facing new problems. I found myself frustrated and totally focused on myself. I only saw my problems and my needs. Ultimately, I needed God’s grace to shine through me. I needed God to use me as a tool of support for these parents and students. I needed to stop focusing only on my needs and to understand the situations and needs of others. Once I started focusing on how I could help them, everything else seemed to work itself out.
Now that the year is coming to an end, I can reflect and remember where teachers and students were and how better it is now. I can see the triumphs of how we persevered through fear and uncertainty. Overall, God showed me my weaknesses, and he taught me the importance of fellowship. I learned how meaningful relationships are especially when life is not easy. He taught me that I can not do life without support. I do not have all the answers. I will struggle; I will fail. But, with the grace of God, I can do all things. I learned how He has surrounded me with amazing people. Loving, caring people who understand me and are always there to help. In all, this lesson has been a teaching triumph, and I hope it has prepared me to be a better person, educator, and servant of God.
This article appears in the June-July 2021 issue of the FBCJXN Magazine. If you’d like to sign up to receive a copy of our magazine in print or digitally, you can subscribe online.