Pandemic or No Pandemic, Learning Must Go On

March 30, 2020 Updated: March 30, 2020


“The king is dead. Long live the king.”

This ancient saying means that the monarchy continues even after the king dies. It signifies stability at a time of major change. No matter how different the new king might be, the institution of the monarchy endures.

One could say the same about schools in this time of dramatic change. In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools across Canada are closed. But learning goes on, thanks to the work of teachers.

In some form or another, teachers have transitioned, virtually overnight, into distance educators. With regular classes suspended and increasingly strict restrictions on public gatherings enforced by provincial governments, teachers cannot have in-person interactions with their students. This means that teachers must find creative ways to connect with them.

The good news is that teachers have stepped up to the plate. Across the country, teachers are conducting video conferences with their students, making phone calls, sending emails, and photocopying work packages for families without internet access. Considering the instability and upheaval students are experiencing, it is comforting for them to have some sense of normalcy and reassurance from their teachers. And parents are thankful for the work that teachers are doing.

Some social media pundits have used the pandemic as an opportunity to scapegoat teachers and accuse them of sitting at home doing nothing. Anyone who claims that teachers aren’t working doesn’t know how much effort they are putting in to salvage whatever is left of the school year. There’s nothing easy about transforming in-person classroom instruction into distance learning, and yet teachers across the country are doing exactly that.

In the last week alone, I created about a dozen instructional videos, conducted Google Meet video chats with each of my classes of students, participated in several online staff meetings, started revising tests and assignments to deliver in a distance learning format, and responded to many emails from students and parents. Other teachers are working equally hard.

Let’s not forget that in the midst of this transition, teachers must also deal with their own family issues and health concerns.

One positive thing to come out of this health emergency is that it has forced governments and teachers’ unions to set aside some matters and work together for the common good of students and their parents. As a case in point, the Saskatchewan Teachers’ Federation put a halt to its work-to-rule sanctions for the duration of the crisis. This makes it possible for Saskatchewan teachers to go into their school buildings outside of regular work hours to organize learning material for their students. Obviously, Saskatchewan teachers recognize that now is not the time for restrictive job sanctions which will hurt their students.

Apparently, B.C. teachers agree with Saskatchewan teachers. Last week, the British Columbia Teachers’ Federation reached an agreement with the B.C. government after nearly a year of acrimonious negotiations and threats of job action. Only a few short weeks ago, a teachers’ strike looked likely. No doubt the pandemic played a major role in getting both sides to set aside their differences and to quickly hammer out a mutually acceptable agreement.

Labour issues are, of course, important, but it is even more important to safeguard the health and welfare of all Canadians.

Even in Ontario, where teachers’ unions have been at “war” with education minister Stephen Lecce for months, there are signs of a thaw in labour relations. Lecce has been making public statements of gratitude to teachers for their work in the midst of this crisis, while leaders of the teachers’ unions have expressed a willingness to work with Lecce to ensure that Ontario students are looked after.

The unions have also made it clear that while classes are suspended for the time being, teachers are still on the job and are expected to be available to students during every school day. For example, the Manitoba Teachers’ Society recently sent a memo to its members reminding them that their first responsibility is to their students and that all teachers must provide “meaningful learning opportunities for students to experience/explore while learning from home.” In other words, pandemic or no pandemic, teachers remain on the job.

Unfortunately, it looks like it will be many weeks before the public health restrictions can be safely lifted. While regular classes will not resume soon, learning still continues. Obviously, learning is going to look different for students from different grades and from province to province. Families without easy access to computer technology are at a significant disadvantage, although some school divisions have already begun sending electronic devices home to help students keep in touch with their teachers.

Even though we are in the midst of a global pandemic, teachers and school administrators are working extremely hard to ensure their students aren’t left behind. Pandemic or no pandemic, learning must go on. And across the country, it is.

Michael Zwaagstra is a public high school teacher and author of A Sage on the Stage: Common Sense Reflections on Teaching and Learning.

Views expressed in this article are the opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Epoch Times.