If Teachers Went Back in Time to Warn Themselves About Distance Learning

If Teachers Went Back in Time to Warn Themselves About Distance Learning

The following occurred at 12:07 p.m. in my junior high Spanish classroom on March 13, 2020, two days before the announcement was made to close the schools over Covid-19 concerns.

I was sitting at my desk, grading assignments, and glancing occasionally at the clock. I was trying to finish up a stack of abysmal first-year paragraphs during my 10-minute lunch period.

Suddenly, a disembodied head of someone who looked just like me, albeit with an atrocious haircut, appeared. A slow, sonorous voice called out:

“Andrew… Andrew….”

 “…Mufasa?” I ventured.

The floating figure rolled its eyes, heaved the type of annoyed sigh usually reserved for extra credit requests and spat, “Yeah right, you speak Spanish, not Lion. Dude, it’s me, Future Andrew. Listen, I came back in time to tell you…”

“Hold on, you’re me, but from the future? You mean I survived my seventh period?”

Future Me hesitated, then spoke, “Er, sorta. Listen, today was your last day of in-person teaching for the year. They’re closing it all down over the weekend, seventh period included.”

“Closing school down for the rest of the year?!” I cried in disbelief.

“Well, first it will be for two weeks and everyone will be pretty cool with that because you’re all just holding on for Spring Break anyway.” He paused. “Oh, by the way, that trip to Spain you had planned this summer? No se puede, amigo. You’re swapping beaches and vitamin D in Barcelona for a spot on the couch and the ‘Can I Watch an Entire Season of Star Trek in a Day?’ challenge.” He smirked. “I’ll give you a hint, you can.”

“So they’re just going to cut school off at Spring Break?”

A slightly terrifying smile spread across Future Me’s face.

“Oh no, my friend. You’ll be running your classes online ‘til the bitter end. Be glad you paid attention in all those boring tech meetings instead of playing solitaire.”

I shivered. “How on earth do I teach Spanish over the internet to kids who can’t even focus when I’m singing ‘Los Días de la Semana’ with maracas and a sarape right in front of their faces in my classroom?!”

The off-putting smile remained. “How indeed?” its owner said cruelly.

“You know what, Future Andrew, you’re kind of a jerk!” I said heatedly. “Do you have ANY good news?”

“Social distancing changes a person.” He replied flatly. And then, after thinking a moment, “Hmm, good news… Well, you’re never going to hear that kid in the back corner of fourth period call you a ‘boomer’ again. You can finally eat your lunch AND use the restroom instead of having to choose, which is nice.” He paused and smiled. “After a couple of days of homeschooling their own kids, loads of parents take to social media finally professing their appreciation for teachers. That’s pretty entertaining.”

 “So it’s really all online from here on out?” I asked in bewilderment.

 “Oh yeah. They call it ‘Remote Education’ and it’s pretty much your life from now on. You’d better find somewhere in the house where the kids won’t be able to see the mess in your house. Oh, and if you have any savings, consider buying up some stock in Netflix or Amazon. Tonight, or like now. Trust me. My man, from here on out your life is a non-stop thrill ride of face masks, Zoom meetings, and answering the most ridiculous student emails you’ve ever seen in your life.”

I was immediately apprehensive. Student emails were something I had experience with already.

“Woah… wait, what the heck is Zoom? And how ridiculous of emails are we talking here?” I asked uneasily.

My future self chuckled the dry, humorless chuckle of the weary.

“Let’s just say… Vocab assignments done entirely in the subject line, students who have suddenly ‘forgotten’ how to turn in their work online, and my personal favorite,” -The face grimaced- “A 3 a.m. email that simply and eloquently asks: ‘grade?’”

Perplexed, I asked, “Just that? ‘Grade?” Like, ‘What’s my grade?’  or ‘Please grade my assignment?’ or ‘I’ve forgotten what grade I’m in, please help?’”

Future Me smirked.

“Ha! I’ll let you have the fun of deciphering that little enigma all on your own.” He paused as if remembering something. “Also, you might want to make it to a barbershop tonight. Come Monday you’re going to have two hairstyle choices: let it grow until you resemble the singer of an 80’s metal band or grab your beard trimmer and scissors and go it alone. My bald spots and I strongly caution against the latter.”

“…But the district finally gets this all figured out, right? I mean, there will be a plan in place for the Fall?”

Future Me shrugged, “Your guess is as good as mine. This virus is like a seventh grader, it does whatever it wants, however it wants and if you try to anticipate what it’s going to do, it does the opposite!”

I groaned. “Well at least it must be nice to get away from the building and the students, right?”

At this Future Me actually laughed aloud.

“For about a week. Then one day you find yourself altering your route to the store to drive past the school. And you see half the science department there just sitting in their old parking spots, staring at the doors until the custodians come shoo them away. Two weeks from now you’re going to run into the ‘boomer’ kid and his mom during the Great Toilet Paper Famine of 2020 and it will be the highlight of your day! That is, until his mom uses the distraction to hit you on the head with a bottle of disinfectant and make away with your case of two-ply.”

I took some time to consider what I’d just been told and finally asked:

“So, you’re saying I need to enjoy my last day with these kids and my classroom before it’s too late?”

“No doofus, I’m saying go grab a few cases of TP tonight and wear a helmet to the store in the future! But yeah, you might want to re-think just watching a movie in class today. You’re not going to see those kids for a long, long time.” Replied my future self.

“A long, long time…” I murmured to myself. I’d spent the better part of a year with these students, was I really going to say goodbye to them with a lame 1997 video documentary on Guatemala?

The image of Future Me began to fade. The next words he spoke seemed to come from far away.

“I must go now, from now on you’re on your own. Welcome to the ‘New Normal’ buddy, say goodbye to the ninth graders for me. Oh, and watch out for the giant murder hornets!”

“Wait, giant WHAT?!”

But it was too late.

I sat for a moment, stunned by what had just occurred, then stood up and checked the clock. 12:15. I hesitated a second and then popped the movie out of the VHS player and replaced it on the shelf. My Spanish kids deserved a better last day of school than that. Even seventh period.

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If Teachers Went Back in Time to Warn Themselves About Distance Learning

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Andrew is a Jr. High Spanish teacher. He loves rock 'n roll, Chinese food and collecting military antiques. When he's not teaching teens that "¿Cómo se llama?" has nothing to do with Peruvian quadrupeds, he can be found hanging out with his family, playing drums, buying old Russian helmets and plotting the downfall of internet translation apps.

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