Last March our schools shut down, teachers putting their courses online and students were learning from home. Or at least, that's what was supposed to happen.
In truth, most teachers panicked, because they (we) were suddenly thrown into a role we were not prepared for. Some of us were better prepared than others; the difference lay in our familiarity with technoligy, and the level and quality of support our district leaders and colleagues were able to offer. On this point, the differences remain vast and deep.
Nonetheless, we all tried, to the best of our ability.
And we all made mistakes.
1. TOO MUCH WORK
The most common complaint from parents and students was "there's too much work!". Teaching remotely is very different from teaching in a classroom where you can see the students in the room and react in real time to their needs.
Most teachers posted a ton of assignments for kids to do without communicating with their fellow grade teachers to see what they were also posting. As a result, Google Classroom, Schoology and other learning management systems (LMS) were exploding with assignments and alerts not just in the morning, but throughout the day as teachers got new ideas to share.
And why did this happen?
Nerves. Anxiety. The unknown.
We are so used to the brick and mortar classroom, students and a teacher in a room together, talking and collaborating and sharing their thoughts. It is so hard to do that online.
Zoom is an effective way to gather a group of people together but it is not the same. Every teacher and kid will tell you, it not the same as being there, with your friends, sharing a laugh and a smile or a gesture in the midst of a learning moment. Zoom does not capture the nuances of interpersonal communication. Neither does Google Meet or any of the live-streaming meeting platforms. People behave differently when they know they are on camera. And the connectivity, the interpersonal, non-verbal communication is lost.
2. TEACHERS CAN'T TOUCH STUDENTS
First of all - bullshit.
Teacher's reach kids all the time through touch: a pat on the back; a fist bump for a great job well-done or a 'you got this' moment of encouragement. Slapping hands, and hugs - yes, for the little one's those warm teacher hugs can go a long way in instilling confidence and a safe space to learn.
Learning means failing and trying again. And kids don't like to fail. Having a teacher there to give you that look of encouragement, bending down on their knees, getting to the students level sitting at their desk, that's when teachers can be at their best, zoning in, being totally present for one student only.
Those private moments don't happen in a zoom session unless you use a private breakout room, which means zooming yourself into a private chat with one or more students; it also means leaving a hole bunch of other kids unsupervised in the main zoom session.
You can imagine the myriad of wrongs that can happen in that situation.
Teachers communicate with their students all the time through some kind of human touch - it's natural and it builds so much confidence in a kid it's amazing.
3. SOCIAL EMOTIONAL SUPPORT
Online learning removes the social emotional learning (SEL) and support that naturally occurs when people are together in a room. Like the above mentioned points, we thrive on non-verbal social cues and communication: a smile, a wink, a silly face, passing notes, doodling and showing our buddy what we drew. All this 'living together' stuff is what builds social-emotional learning, the willingness to share, and feed off of each other.
We can do ice-breakers on zoom. We can use Jamboard or Google Slides or Kahoot or Peardeck or Screencastify or youtubing-ourselves or whatever app you want, but it's all an attempt to recreate the power of natural communication.
4. THE REAL DEAL
Let's face it, come August or September, depending on the state or province, students will be meeting their teachers for the first time, and teachers will be meeting 100 or more new students.
Last year, the relationships between students and their teachers was already established after being together since September, or at least since late January in the case of semester classes.
This coming fall, we're very likely all going into a new world of online learning from the get-go. So what should we do?
Here's the deal - there is nothing more important than creating a trusting relationship between teachers and students. Kids have to be willing to let their teachers know who they are, and teachers need to try their damndest to get to know the person in their classroom - not the student, but the kid, and who they are.
In a world where we are all nervous and guarded about how close we get to someone, or where they have been before we encountered them, we all need to be willing to be a little less guarded when it comes to learning.
We have to learn to trust each other again.
We have to learn to trust that learning and being in school with friends - even remotely - is a good place to be and better than being alone.
trust yourself to know that you are good enough, and help shine your light for others to be guided and inspired. This is a time to shine, not go dim. This is a time to share your superpowers of love and laughter and kindness; we all need to bring our best, and be open to the process.
nobody is an expert on tomorrow, so be the best you that you can be today.
Hi. My name is Stephen Tesher. I am a writer and an educator. Most importantly, I am a father. I've authored three books, staged numerous plays and written screenplays, articles, and this blog.