Surprises from Remote Learning
Teaching remotely is exhausting. I’m not sure why. Is it the sitting all day? Is it the eye strain? Is it the constant striving to be the most engaging screen a second grader could be watching? Probably all three.
I don’t know how the middle and high school teachers are doing, but those of us in early elementary are collapsing once we get home. Whew! And I thought traditional teaching was tiring!
But here’s the thing: as hard as this has been for me to adjust to, my students are actually doing amazing. From Day One they’ve been excited to see each other, engaged in (most of) what we’re learning, and resilient when things go sideways with the tech. And for some of my students, learning from home has been a game changer.
For the little girl who reads everything aloud and hums all day? Mute yourself, honey, we can hear you! And then keep on humming as much as your heart desires without interrupting class or distracting anyone.
For the boy who has soooo much extra energy? You have freedom of movement while you tune in! You can wiggle, play with fidget toys, stand up, jump around. Just make sure you can still hear my voice and come back if I call your name.
For the child who didn’t get enough sleep last night? Lay down under that snuggly blanket for the read aloud. That’s okay! It looks super comfy, and I wish I had one, too!
For the boy who has sensory issues? Turn the volume down when we’re singing. Spin around in that office chair as much as you need to! Take a break when you get overwhelmed and come back when you’re ready.
For the student whose grandparents have COVID? I understand you’re sad today. You can leave your camera off until you feel like joining us. (And then the other kids flood the chat with well wishes and heart emoji!)
If you are a teacher who believes in kids’ freedom, then remote teaching is not the worst thing that can happen to you. If you value relationships over compliance, it can actually be awesome.
Next week, students begin coming back to the classroom. In my district, parents can choose to keep their kids remote or send them back for in-seat instruction. I will be teaching both sets of students simultaneously, which we’re calling “hybrid.” I worry about what this will mean for my in-seat kiddos.
Parents who have chosen to send their kids in-seat say things like, “He needs the structure,” and “She needs to be around other kids.” I think they’re envisioning a classroom that looks and feels normal. It won’t be normal.
My in-seat students will have to stay in their seats for most of the day. No more laying down, getting comfortable, spinning in their chair or walking away when they feel the need.
They will need to be quiet so kids online can hear my teaching too. No more humming, reading aloud, talking to themselves. No more mute button.
They will need to stay physically distanced. No more holding hands, whispering, sharing toys and materials. No more hands-on centers or reading partners. No more messy, gluey, creative group projects.
The playground has been divided into sections, and the cohorts can’t intermingle. No more waiting for your best friend from another class so you can run off and play together.
For a teacher who believes in kids’ freedom, this is a nightmare. We are about to enter a world of super-charged compliance policing. I worry about my wiggly kids, my sensory-sensitive kids, my chatty kids. I worry that they will be less happy in the classroom than they were at home. This is not why I do this job.
And yet, if I don’t enforce these strict protocols, I’m responsible for potentially spreading this deadly virus. Maybe the kids won’t get sick, but what about their families? And everyone their families come into contact with? That’s a huge responsibility. It feels like the choice for teachers is between children’s happiness and their health. Obviously we have to err on the side of health.
Maybe things will be better than I expect. Maybe everything will go smoothly, no one will be sad, everyone will keep their masks in place, they won’t have a hard time keeping their hands to themselves, and the technology will work seamlessly. Maybe I’ll be able to keep everyone safe and engaged and happy. I sure hope so, because I won’t be able to hug them if they cry.
Going back to in-seat instruction is what a lot of families need right now. I get that, and I’ll do my best. But remote learning isn’t all bad. For some kids it’s been surprisingly good. Now I’ll just have to wait and see what surprises hybrid learning brings.