Education is not the building

In the latest edition of the distance teaching diaries, Deborah Rowland, a Middle School History Teacher in Idaho, USA, reflects on the realities and challenges of teaching under lockdown.

When my 12 year old grandson sent me his first entry to a Covid 19 diary stating, “The virus has in a sense ruined my life….” I smiled, quickly wept, then smiled again, as he followed it up with, “I mean ok, it didn’t really ruin my life but it did bring me so much disappointment…”.

So much in his honest reflection. We all recognize that this pandemic is a global issue, we are all frightened for our vulnerable loved ones, and broken-hearted over cancelled events. For my grandson it was his long awaited school trip to Washington DC, for others it is postponed weddings, or fear of not being present for a loved one’s illness. It really is too much.

And yet, here we are as educators, not just taking it in and making sense of it, but trying to keep some sense of normalcy, determined to have kids see education is not the building. What an incredible opportunity.

What an utterly terrifying task, but what a beautiful way for teachers to model resilience. We preach it, we tell them they can do anything, we provide lessons that portray people who overcame insurmountable odds to achieve greatness. I teach history, so this is particularly true in my subject. Ordinary people doing extraordinary things.  Now as educators we are living this global challenge together. I find that to be a great comfort.

My grandson’s diary entry resonated with me because he is the same age as my students. In America, schools are divided up into school districts which have a fair bit of autonomy. My district is the largest in Idaho, with 40,000 students, 1,100 of them in my building alone. Despite our local autonomy, we are still under federal laws mandating fair access to education for all.  And all means all. If we can’t provide access for every single student, we can’t provide it for any. All very tricky stuff.

The art of collaboration is being fined tuned to a new and creative level. Each grade level will create packets for core classes; a link to the packet will be on our school website and hard copies available to those without internet/devices. Grades are frozen from March 13, our last day with the kids. Because we can’t be assured all have equal access, the work will not be collected or graded. Articles and activities will be designed to peak interest. What if they don’t do it? Our job is to provide the opportunity to learn.

Learning without grading. What a peaceful endevor in the midst of an uncertain time.

Spring in Idaho is lovely, and despite the 6.5 earthquake we recently had, I love the opportunity to sit outside during the day. I miss my students, I miss hugging my local grand kids, and having 24 hour access to my kitchen is a challenge. Desiring and researching unique ways to engage kids, that is still the same.

About the author:

I teach teach history in Meridian, Idaho at Lewis and Clark Middle School. I have been married for 40 years, have four grown children and nine grandchildren scattered throughout America and England. With my husband a flight attendant and kids in essential frontline jobs (British Rail, nurse, teacher and ministry) my heart is permanently walking around outside my body. Deep breath and exhale. As a history teacher my goal is to have students “do” history rather than just learn about history. Thanks universe for helping me meet that goal.


This article features as part of a special distance teaching blog series by teachers and educational leaders, about life during the current global health crisis. We want to hear about your experience of school closures, distance teaching, wellbeing and everything in between. Please email elizabeth@teaglo.com if you’d like to contribute a blog.

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