Fall is here and teachers and students are back to school, though in actuality, many did not physically go “back” at all.
For everyone, school looks very different than usual. It also looks different from building to building and district to district.
So to kick off our new video series, the Remote Teaching Diaries, we invited a panel of teachers to share their experiences with remote learning. These teachers’ schools are all operating under different models this fall, and we think they’ve got a lot of great insights to share.
So without further ado, let’s introduce our panel:
Discussion moderator Susie is a middle school English teacher in southern California. She is a Google Certified Educator and is part of the California Federation of Teachers (CFT) committee for English language learners.
Carly is a high school moderate-severe special education teacher in southern California. Her program focuses on functional academics and independent living skills.
Kayla teaches 7th grade language arts in an inclusion classroom in Georgia. She’s taught high school English in the past, and also spent a year teaching overseas in China.
Natalie teaches middle school English learners. She is a Google Certified Innovator and the co-founder of Teacher Mama Collective.
Different school models this year
Carly’s district is fully online. They have three days a week of live, synchronous instruction from 8:30 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays are asynchronous learning days. Special ed teachers like Carly use those asynchronous days for monitoring and to pull small groups and individuals.
“The most important life skill you can have is to be flexible so I will try to practice what I teach,” Carly said.
Kayla’s school is operating on a hybrid model. One group of students chose fully online learning and has dedicated virtual teachers in an online academy. The second group of students was split into two groups who attend school twice a week on alternating days. On two of the remaining three days in the week, these students work online. The remaining day is used for administrative tasks, and are also when teachers meet students who need extra help.
Natalie and Susie’s schools are both fully online, with students divided into two groups to alternate between synchronous instruction and asynchronous learning. They see their odd class periods for live lessons twice a week and their even periods twice a week. The remaining day is used to communicate with parents and meet students individually.
The biggest challenges of remote learning
The challenges have been numerous. Natalie and Susie teach mostly English language learners, and language barriers have heightened the logistical difficulties of remote learning. Susie lamented the loss of resources like computer labs and in-school support, on which many of her English language learning families relied.
Kayla’s students are in school, but are still missing opportunities to socialize before and after classes and at lunch. And Carly has found that her special ed students need a considerable amount of assistance to access online classes from home.
To meet this challenge, Carly dedicated the first two weeks of school to just teaching her students about the tools they will need for learning this year. For example, she ran a scavenger hunt to see who can find a button on a web site first, and played Simon Says with the mute and unmute button.
“By being really intentional and strategic and dedicating the time early on, I am hoping [to] help students build that confidence [to participate in remote learning],” Carly said.
Our panels’ best tips to navigate the school year
We asked our panelists to give one tip to help other teachers navigate the upheaval of this year. Here is what they said:
Natalie’s advice: “Keep it simple.” She usually teaches in double-period blocks, and her classes will do seven activities in a session. But during remote learning, she aims to complete just one objective per lesson.
“Even if we go back [to in-person learning], I’m going to keep this simple format this school year and save all my bells and whistles for another time when it’s not going to stress the kids out,” Natalie said.
Susie stresses the importance of staying organized during remote learning.
“You have to get organized especially if you teach more than one class,” she says.
Carla recommends celebrating the small successes.
“Find a moment each day that validates the important work that you are doing for your students because even though it looks really different, those moments are still happening,” she said.
Kayla’s best tip is not to stress out over the things you can’t control.
We think these are all outstanding tips. Nothing is going to go as planned this year, and that’s just a fact. But students, parents and teachers can survive and maybe even thrive with the help and support of one another and our communities. Let’s keep learning from one another.
Summary and Key Takeaways
Schools are functioning very differently this year. Our panelists teach at schools that are doing hybrid and fully remote options. Their challenges include logistical difficulties with tech, lost resources, and limited social opportunities for students. Their best tips for this school year include keeping it simple, celebrating the small successes, relinquishing stress over things beyond your control, and of course, staying organized.