Currently, there are 3.2 million public school teachers in the United States, most of which have been removed from the chaos of their classroom and relegated to teaching from their home. It’s no secret that teaching is a challenge in the classroom but remove the classroom and you have provided an entirely new set of challenges.
How do you teach a class from home? Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy answer to this question. Teaching a class from home has a very specific set of challenges that many educators are now facing daily. Some of the most common challenges are a proper network set-up, a reliable and safe platform to use, making sure students can connect, engagement and a quiet location to teach from.
I am guessing you are either nodding your head in vehement agreement or quietly sobbing from looking at this list. This is a time that nobody could prepare for, including teachers who were quite literally kicked out of their classrooms with little to no time to gather materials. In this article, I’m going to help you navigate the world of online teaching and how to make the most of your students as they begin learning from home.
Just Throw It Out
This is a time in your career that nobody could have predicted. Sure, you use technology in your classroom and have the most fabulous materials to cover every single state standard. You probably even have a time-tested schedule that has been carefully planned and carried out since Day One.
News flash! None of those things really matter right now. The number one priority is your safety and the safety of your students. Learning is going to happen, but it is going to take time and planning on your part as well as the part of the students. This is a time when tight schedules are not going to work. You must become flexible. Trust me as a tried and true “type A” personality: this. is. hard!
As you are “planning”, I use that word very loosely because honestly, we are all just surviving at this point, you have to remember your day and the day of your students is not the same as it was during the school day. Learning from home brings many challenges so anything you plan to do must allow flexibility. Of course, there are things like group calls that need to be scheduled. But as far as work goes, make it flexible.
The single most important thing you are going to do this time is to communicate with your students and their families. You have been a safe place and constant for them since the beginning of the year. Having that safe place ripped away is terrifying for many. Parents are worried about how to “teach” their kids, and you are worried about your kids having a safe space to be in.
If you do nothing else in a day except reach out to your students and families just to say hello and to check in, you have done enough. Trust me, this check-in will go further than any letter on a report card. In a time when everyone is just trying to find their way, the appearance of something constant, whether it be a phone call, e-mail or postcard is going to be cherished.
How Should I Communicate?
There are many ways to communicate. You need to find what works best for you and the students you work with. This may also be something you can create a manageable schedule with as well. Perhaps you email families and or students every Monday, with a weekly breakdown of what is going to be going on. A great way to do this would be to create a google slide that can be used as a newsletter with built in links. Treat this as you would your regular communication. This will help the families of your students feel more at ease and bit connected as well.
If your students have the technology available to them, Google Meet is a great way to bring your class back together. I will warn you, the first time you host a meet it will feel like organized chaos. Everyone will be busy checking out who is online, and they will also be trying to talk to one another. My advice. Sit back and let it happen. They haven’t communicated with most of their friends, so this is emotionally important to them. Not to mention, you will likely feel your heart fill a little bit too!
This is another meeting platform you may be using. Some districts are not allowing this to be used as a form of communication because hackers can come into your meeting without invitation. When that happens, it becomes a safety issue. My understanding is that new safety protocols are being put in place.
E-mail is an ultra-simple way to keep the lines of communication open with your class. Take a few minutes and just send out a “checking on you” note or a more comprehensive email about what you are covering for the week.
Also use e-mail as a tool to help with writing. Make a list and communicate with a few students each day focusing on responding to questions in a message while practicing writing skills. This is also a great way for the students to express themselves. Obviously, it depends on the grade level you are working with. While this may not be ideal for kindergarten, it could be very beneficial to intermediate, middle and high school students.
These are just three examples of ways you can connect to your students during the time away from school. There are many other ways, and maybe you have discovered them already. If you haven’t though, give some of these ideas a try.
How do I Teach?
First off, you know exactly how to teach. The new difficulty is “how do I deliver what I need to teach?” Maybe you are sitting at home with your own children and a spouse that is also newly working from home. Throw in a few pets and you get a recipe that doesn’t even come close to online teaching and meeting. I’ll let you in on a little secret: Almost everyone in America is facing this dilemma. Do NOT try for perfection, because it isn’t going to happen.
The method you use to teach is dependent on the expectations set for you. If most of your students have access to technology, it may be beneficial to record a few video lessons and send them out to students. If you are expected to teach in real time for certain subject areas, plan as you normally would and carry out the lesson.
If you are a lover of worksheets and hands-on instruction, you are going to have to make a shift in both thinking and planning. Unless you have given all your students a worksheet ahead of time, they may not have it to work on. Think about how you can convey the same information and receive the same output over the computer. Is there a web-based practice they can do? Can you do a screen share with them? Be creative here. Learning from home is going to look different, there is no way around it.
The single most difficult thing to do both in the classroom and online with teaching is engaging the students. I guarantee this is an area that will drive you crazy, at least initially. Learning at home is very different than learning at school with the teacher right beside you. At home, there is freedom and many more distractions. You must be okay with minimal distractions during your lesson.
Keep the lessons short and sweet. Let the students practice the skill needed with you. Allow them to ask questions if they need to. Explain what they need to do for homework and move on. This isn’t the time to plan huge elaborate lessons even if you want to.
Quiet space is a hot commodity these days and is likely difficult to come by. You need to realize you aren’t alone with this. Explain to your students that your own children are home doing work as well, so they may hear voices or even see someone walk behind you. You will likely see the same things from your students’ homes.
The more quickly you can resign yourself to the fact that disruptions are likely to occur, and distractions are everywhere, the more quickly you can jump in and enjoy teaching your students again. They may be distracted, but it is more likely they are excited to see and hear you while they are learning from home.
This is the number one feeling of millions of people right now. It.is.okay! The more quickly you accept the idea that it’s okay to be overwhelmed, the more quickly you can move forward. Keep this in your mind as you are planning and teaching. You are an adult with these feelings. It’s likely that your students are feeling this in an even more magnified way. Here are some things to do to help as you navigate the waters of online learning and teaching.
- Get into a routine
- Your routine can be more relaxed than normal, but it is going to be necessary for your sanity.
- Get up and get dressed
- While yoga pants and sweats are super comfortable, they are likely not going to make you feel ready to tackle the day. Getting dressed for the day tells your brain it’s time to tackle tasks ahead of you.
- Check your equipment
- Make sure your platforms for class meetings work ahead of time and be signed in early. Just like you are at school ahead of the students, you want to be in your instructional location early too.
- Ask how your students are doing each day
- You can even have them drawn a smile, frown or straight-line face on a piece of paper and hold it up at the beginning as a check in.
- Give yourself grace
- This is a learning curve. Not everyone is good at it and as soon as you get good at it, you will likely be done with online teaching. Learn with your students and try to have fun.
- You are experiencing grief
- I know this seems a bit dramatic, but you and your students are going through a period of grief right now that WILL get better. You likely didn’t get to say goodbye to each other and that is hard.
- If you received a call that your school is closed for the rest of the year, you are welcome to be emotional and grieve through this. Allow your students the time to do this as well.
- Think about your expectations
- What do you want the students to learn? How are you going to see they have learned? Is it possible for all students to show you?
Plan for Next Year
Yes, you are reading that correctly. Just because you are stuck in what feels like perpetual bad news right now, doesn’t mean you can’t think ahead for next year. We all know that even if school re-opens you will likely not be taking the fun field trips that are common for spring. Things are going to be different and different is okay.
Maybe this experience of being tied to your computer for online learning opportunities has made you start thinking about how easy it would be to implement some of these things into your classroom. Write those things down so you remember.
Think about the field trips you would like to take with your students next year. There are tons of online field trips that have opened for students recently. Maybe you could take a physical trip to one of those locations next year if it is close to you after previewing it this year. When thinking about field trips, even go on to think about how they are handled as far as chaperoning, planning and paying for them. Now, more than ever, people are buying and paying for things online. Would it be too far out to think about the option of parents paying for field trips online too? These are things that you won’t have time to think about when you are back in the classroom. Take this time to do it now.
Teaching is hard and it’s a lot of work to do it well. You are teaching because you love the students and you love the job. Online learning is not easy. Some people gravitate to it, others shy away.
What you are being asked to do right now is difficult, but you can do it and you can do it well if you give yourself time.
This new land of virtual school thrust me head first into the fire that awaits me next school year: a hybrid position split evenly between classroom teaching and teacher support. I cannot pretend to be an expert in virtual school, but I can share some wisdom from the front lines.
If you’d have told me in January 2020 that just a few short months later, I’d be saying farewell to teaching my students physically, I’d have thought you were crazy. But that was early 2020, and as January progressed to February and March, the COVID-19 situation escalated far faster than I could have imagined.
We have been thrown into an era of virtual learning with no time to prepare. Distance learning is new for everyone: teachers, students, and parents. These are complicated times, so here are some quick tips on navigating through distance learning!