Learning and Teaching at a Distance
The pandemic has certainly made it challenging for us to bring the best of who we are to what we do, especially if our method of working or performing has changed dramatically. Parents of school-aged children, students, and teachers have certainly been impacted. This week, we have a guest contributor who can share practical insights from teacher and parent perspectives for navigating these changes as good as possible. Our thanks to Moira for sharing her thoughts! Without further ado:
As we all do our best to navigate through this pandemic, I am hopeful my perspective as a public school teacher might be useful to you in some capacity. In addition to teaching since 2005, I am also the mother of two elementary-aged children. So, I am able to see this challenging situation from the perspective of a teacher and a parent.
If you asked any teachers I know why they pursued a career in education, you can bet they would not say to teach from home. Teachers are all about STUDENTS! We thrive on engaging students in the classroom with exciting, hands-on lessons. We love creating a culture of caring. Interacting with students energizes us as we focus on our goal of helping our students develop their understanding and character.
For me, March 13, 2020, was the day everything changed. Abruptly, my district informed us that we would be teaching virtually for an indefinite period. Although I saw the writing on the wall, the lack of time to process or plan was unsettling at best. I said goodbye to my students not knowing if I would even see them again in person before the end of the year. Working at a Title One school added to my concerns. I was not sure how or if my students would be provided the resources (educational and nutritional) needed while my district created a plan.
My two children came home that day with their own set of feelings and questions. As their mother, I did my best to provide assurance and stability in response to this drastic change. Adjustments were made to try to accommodate the new logistics of our lives.
Teachers and parents carry many burdens during this pandemic. With so many factors out of our control, it is a day-to-day process we struggle through to give our very best under such restricted circumstances.
Now that the first quarter of this school year is complete, I have some “take-aways” for both parents and educators from my experience. Stripping away some of the finite, complex factors in the mix, these big-picture ideas could help you narrow your focus and elevate your daily experience.
“Take-Aways” for Parents:
If you feel overwhelmed, just imagine how your child must feel! Your child has to learn a whole different set of student skills. Keep this in mind when you feel frustrated because your child logged in late to a Zoom or forgot to submit an assignment. Let your child know you appreciate his/her flexibility to adapt to a whole new way of learning. If your child is struggling, look for small things to praise. For instance, “I’m so proud of you for keeping up with your Zoom schedule. That’s a lot for a kid to remember, but you’re doing a great job!” A little love goes a long way. Some encouragement will start to lighten the burden your student may feel to do things perfectly.
Please keep in mind that, despite your loftiest goals for your child, this is not a normal school year. While you should help your child get the most out of his/her virtual school experience, balance your expectations with the reality that this experience is new and imperfect. Just as your job has changed, so has your child’s “job” as a student. Make sure your child knows you are aware of the differences—and that you are empathetic to the challenges.
If you are unsure about something, ask! Ask your child. Ask his/her teacher. Don’t settle to live in a state of worry. I have spoken to so many parents who just needed a link to a resource or a password to access their student’s grade—or just a simple clarification about an assignment. Trust me, you’ll be so relieved you took time to communicate. Whatever you can do to alleviate stress or misunderstanding is worth the effort.
Let’s be real. Life is tough right now. It’s easy to get down and discouraged. Your child feels the same way. Look for ways to celebrate the small victories! Did your child finish a long district assessment? Celebrate his/her hard work and perseverance! Did your child turn in his/her missing work before the end of the quarter? Celebrate him/her getting it done! You can even celebrate making it to Friday! Order a pizza. Play a family game. Spend one-on-one quality time with your child, and let him/her know that you are proud of these accomplishments!
“Take-Aways” for Educators:
1. CULTIVATE A CLIMATE OF CARING
Students, regardless of their grade level, want to feel connected and valued by their teachers and peers. Despite the pressure to teach a million different standards, take some time to get to know your students. Embed questions or activities into your lesson that allow students to share and showcase their individuality and experiences. Start your Monday class allowing students to share out a highlight from the weekend. Take five minutes at the start of class on Fridays to let them tell jokes. When they finish a project, devote some class time for them to present their work to their classmates. Use humor. Model and encourage kindness. Be creative in finding ways to personalize your students’ experience, and make them feel part of your class “family.”
When planning lessons, ask yourself how you can streamline things. Do your students really need four homework assignments about the solar system? Is there a way to check for understanding while they work in small groups instead of having them do an additional assignment? If they are assigned to write a persuasive essay, can you narrow down the rubric to a handful of standards? Put yourself in your students’ shoes, and find ways of making their experience less overwhelming. Even something as simple as putting a link to their assignment on your Google Classroom or Canvas page (rather than having them click on multiple tabs) could make a difference.
3. ZEST IT UP
Don’t give a boring lesson! What can you do to make things relevant, fun, and interesting for your students? Teachers are creative, so don’t hold back when it comes to teaching! Incorporate music. Give your students choices. Solicit input from your students. Use a variety of media to draw in students. Bring energy (even if you don’t have any) and enthusiasm with you to class. Find ways of showing students how their learning directly applies to their lives and interests.
Remember that you were once a student. Who was your favorite teacher? Why? Who was your least favorite teacher? Why? If you didn’t love hearing a teacher talk at you for twenty minutes straight, then please don’t do the same. If you loved how your teacher created learning games, then do the same. Was thirty minutes of homework in each of your six middle school classes too much? Don’t do that to your students. Keep in mind how refreshing it is when you have a principal that keeps a teacher perspective as an administrator. The same applies to you as a teacher. Your students will benefit when you keep a student's perspective in mind when you make teaching decisions.
I wish you all a meaningful and positive experience this school year. Take care of yourself, your family, and your students. Do your best, and don’t perseverate on the setbacks. Keep moving forward.
6th Grade ELA Teacher