I Refuse to Be the Pajama Police

And other thoughts on classroom management while teaching virtually.

A young girl dressed up in a unicorn costume while playing on her phone.

We started teaching virtually this week and, while I’m thrilled to be able to do that, it’s not an easy transition. I’ve been teaching for fifteen years, and I believed I was fairly good at it. Suddenly, I’m a first year teacher again, reinventing everything I thought I knew.

One of the biggest shifts has, unsurprisingly, been classroom management. Because, you know, there’s no classroom. And, honestly, there’s not that much management, either. However, I think I might be alone in that perspective. In our faculty meeting recapping the first week of instruction, there were the usual concerns about technology not working and kids failing to log in on time. But a surprising number of teachers were concerned about things that hadn’t even occurred to me, like what kids were wearing to class, whether they were lying in their beds while doing schoolwork, and whether they were playing games on their computer during class (which we can see via our high-tech spyware). They were suddenly the pajama police.

I’ll be honest; I could not possibly care less if a kid is in her bed during class. Don’t care if your dog is licking your face. Your baby brother loves Zoom? Awesome. Hey, nice bag of Takis you got there. Make sure you’re on mute if the bag is noisy. Wow, llamas on your pajamas! I’m a fan. I just can’t bring myself to care about rules that do not directly impact student learning and engagement, and here are a few reasons why.

1. Pandemics suck

And they suck for everyone. Online learning, no matter how well you do it, is no substitute for the real thing, and these kids are lonely and stressed out and depressed. If some cozy jammies can act as a consolation prize, then I vote we let them curl up in their unicorn onesies and do some learning. My administration’s been admirably flexible during all this. But any time they try to enforce a deadline or set a standard for something, my first response is, “Why are they acting like this is just business as usual when the whole world seems to be collapsing?” The kids feel the same way, and they’re not wrong.

2. It’s crazy to make rules you can’t enforce

I can tell Alejandro six times to sit up in class, or order Jasmine to turn on her camera. I can remind Shaun not to snack in class. But they’re not stupid; they realize there’s not a damn thing I can do about it. What’s to stop Shaun from taking a big bite of his apple while making aggressive eye contact with me through his webcam? Probably better to compliment his healthy life choices and focus on the lesson. Grant me the serenity to accept the behavior I cannot control, the courage to control the behavior I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.

3. It’s detrimental to your own mental health


Man, I’ve got enough to do figuring out which Google Forms I’m supposed to be grading and how to find the spreadsheet where they’re saved. How does anyone have time to watch kids’ screens and see if they’re on Instagram? We’re completely reinventing the teaching wheel right now. I’m not suggesting we just throw our hands up and give up, but there are better ways to use that energy.

4. We have WAY more important things to do

Online school is less than ideal, but it’s also an exciting opportunity. We’re shaking the Etch-a-Sketch; we have a chance to examine how we do things and why we do them that way. Personally, I’ve already had some revelations about student involvement, community accountability, and purposeful storytelling. I’m devoting everything I’ve got right now to supporting my kids and making sure they have what they need to be successful. The bandwidth—both literal and figurative—that I would devote to telling a kid not to get a glass of water in her own damn house is desperately needed elsewhere. It’s triage, and I’m choosing engagement over compliance.

I understand the argument that kids who are snuggled up in bed with their pajamas and a plate of chicken fingers might not be taking online learning seriously. And I’ll admit that I make my own kid brush his hair and make his bed before he starts school in his room. But I can use my own limited resources to be either a curriculum architect and perpetual hype man for my seventh graders, or to be the pajama police. I know which one I’m choosing.

Are you team pajama police, or team wear what you want? Come and share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group on Facebook.

Plus, why we need to be more flexible than ever in our expectations of students.

I Refuse to Be the Pajama Police