As humans, we are in a global crisis, and everyone is doing their absolute best to survive during a period of grief and mourning that is also a period of limbo. We mourn and grieve losing our way of life, we mourn and grieve losing loved ones and contact with loves one, and we shelter-in-place, waiting around to see what else we will have to mourn and grieve.
As teachers, we were energized by interactions with our students, by connection and relationship, but seeing the spark and joy of learning and engagement and growth. Now, in this state of limbo, of ongoing trauma and disruption, we watch from afar as many of our students’ families lose their jobs and their homes, and with our old ways of supporting and helping and caring stripped from us, we feel powerless.
So, I understand why many teachers would try to recreate what felt safe and familiar in the school building through “distance learning” or “distance teaching.” I can understand how many teachers let their anxieties and fears about an uncertain present and future morph into a need to make students produce work and access content and not fall academically behind. I can understand that many teachers might feel that they’re creating something new or different in their curriculum because it’s happening virtually, with new EdTech tools they had perhaps never used before, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they are doing anything beyond reproducing the status quo build on standardization, oppressive grades and individualism.
In order to teach distantly, many teachers are placing unrealistic expectations on students, and on themselves. To me, distance learning and teaching is a distraction from the real work that must be done — creating a new form of education that actually involves collective care.
This is why I want to reject the terms “distance learning” and “distance teaching.” Neither of those terms capture where we are in the present moment. As noted in the article, “The Difference Between Emergency Remote Teaching and Online Learning,” teachers are not and should not currently be trying to “re-create a robust educational ecosystem but rather to provide temporary access to instruction and instructional supports in a manner that is quick to set up and is reliably available during an emergency or crisis.” I would add to that that teachers need to be executing remote care for themselves, for their peers, for their students, and for their families.
I want a term and a framework that captures caring for students and colleagues and self that are vulnerable to class, racial, political oppression during a global crisis. I want a term that captures the magnitude and impossibility of that. I want a term that communicates the ways in which traditional education can be reimagined in this very moment, and how we can take advantage of this moment to realize our agency and power to create a real change, instead of reproducing business — or capitalism — as usual.
The framework and term I’m proposing — (and I mean proposing quite literally! I’ve spent days with this writing in draft trying to come up with a term to propose) is R.E.E.C.H.— Remote Emergency Education for Community Health. It seems like so much of our work these days is trying to reach our students across the physical distance of virus prevention.
Remote — This feature of the framework communicates that teachers are working to reach students with care, love, support and academic access virtually.
Emergency — This feature of the framework communicates that the situation of a global pandemic has come unexpectedly, with little to no time for teachers, administrators, district or government officials, or anyone else to plan for. Families are facing job, housing, food insecurity and instability, and we are all in crisis. Everything that teachers and students are expected to do must be done with this trauma in mind.
Education — Teachers are currently privileged to, tasked with and paid to provide academic resources and content for students. This cannot and should be overlooked.
Community — This feature of the framework illuminates how many of the problems of this pandemic have been caused by the individualism of the countries suffering the words of it. This feature of the framework is meant to be in opposition to oppressive capitalism, individualism and imperialism.
Health — This feature of the framework is meant to honor the holistic way in which educators in this time are positioned to try to provide care and support for the students and families they serve.
I am not a distance teacher, and my students are not distance learners. I want to REECH my students, care for them holistically and work in this time to push myself, my practice and my classroom to be a partner in struggle with students and families. I want to build a new educational system that is radical, subversive, supportive and enriching. Please, contact me if you do, too.