Richard Swerdlow: And You Thought Teaching Was Easy?

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 (Richard Swerdlow)

If parents didn’t know it before, they know it now: Teaching is hard. Just ask Richard Swerdlow.

As shelter-in-place drones on, I've lost count of the number of parents of school-age children who have texted a frazzled message: “I'm trying to teach my kids at home ... I can't believe how hard this is. How do you do this all day?”

Welcome to my world.

I've been an elementary school teacher for 25 years, and you don't need to tell me it's hard. The exhausting day you're texting about is my day every day, or at least it was before COVID-19. As computer screens and kitchen tables become makeshift classrooms in the largest home-schooling experiment in history, a silver lining of quarantine has been the public discovering what teachers already know teaching kids is not as easy as it looks.

This newfound respect for teachers has me bursting with pride for my profession. Almost every day I hear about an educator who has gone way beyond reading, writing and arithmetic in this brave new world of distance learning.


From the kindergarten teacher's phonics lessons over video, instructing home-bound kids to find an object starting with letters of the alphabet to display over the webcam, to the first grade teacher who drives to each of her students' homes every Monday to leave a packet at the front door, and sends a pantomimed hug from 6 feet away. Students are so overjoyed to see Miss Lynn they actually cry. That third grade teacher who bought and mailed, at her own expense, a letter with a carefully selected book to each student. The Texas high school principal who drove 800 miles over 12 days to offer in-person congratulations to every one of his school’s 600 graduating seniors.

And all those teachers across the country who log onto video class every day, smiling and waving at 25 disembodied young faces in tiles on a screen, providing a sense of normalcy in what are far-from-normal times, proving it may be called distance learning, but it doesn't feel far away.

Nobody knows what school will look like when this is over. But this pandemic taught us if students can't go to school, school will go to them.

So, relax, parents. Teachers will always find ways for kids to keep learning, virus or no virus.

With a Perspective, I'm Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.