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The ups and downs of remote learning

This is my Google Classroom page for AP Lit.

We've been remote learning in Illinois now since March 17; although, it feels much longer than that. It can never replace being in a classroom interacting with students and knowing you're physically there to help them whenever needed. I never thought that I would see the day when teaching could go entirely online, but here we are, doing just that. It's been a challenge, and I applaud all of my colleagues and teachers everywhere who have risen to this unprecedented task.

Advantages to Remote Learning

1) A later start time

Let's first talk about the positives to remote learning. The school day does not begin until 9 a.m. and it ends at 3. Our physical-contact school day begins at 7:25, 7:15 for staff. The students are barely awake during those times, and our school seems to be one of the earliest starts out of any high school in the area. Studies have shown that teens perform better when school starts later. I am also a big proponent of this, as I feel more rested as well. Does it have to be as late as 9? Maybe not. But moving it back from 7:25 would be nice.

2) The 'Four Day Work Week'

I put this in quotes because technically we do work Fridays, but we do not need to meet with kids that day. That's our day to see kids who need extra help, catch up on phone calls, lesson plan, grade, answer extra emails, etc. I feel much more productive and less stressed than I ever have. A number of businesses have moved to a four-day a week model and have seen an increase in productivity. Whenever we have had a four day week, such as after a three-day weekend, staff has more energy, is less stressed and is more productive. Students are more refreshed and seem to perform better that week. I would be in favor of extending the school day an extra hour or so to make up for that lost Friday. This would also give us that day to make up for all those clerical things that teachers do that is so hard to fit in during our normal week.

3) It forced teachers to learn and implement technology

Prior to remote learning, several teachers still relied on hitting up the copy machine and passing out huge packets of worksheets. I was at fault for this from time to time as well. But now we have been forced to explore new options. We all learned how to flip our classrooms, incorporate online learning platforms such as EdPuzzle, Quizlet, or CommonLit. It has pushed teachers out of their comfort zones, and we have adapted for the sake of our students. Because that's what we do. We teach.

4) We learned to communicate with student support staff and families more than ever

Not like we weren't calling home and staying in touch with deans and counselors before, but now I find myself doing this on almost a daily basis. Since I'm not around my students, I have to find a way to keep myself involved in their lives and grades as much as possible. This is a good thing because when regular school does finally resume, it might help us realize that we do need to incorporate family and student support staff even more in our weekly routines.

5) The Commute

There is none. I don't think I have to say anymore about this?

Disadvantages to Remote Learning

1) We lost face-to-face contact

Communicating over Google Meets or Zoom can only connect someone so much. Something tangible is lost during those meetings, whether it be with students or staff. With staff, meetings tend to be very formal and all the fun that comes with being with your friends and colleagues seems to be lost. With your students, well, we miss them don't we?

2) Juggling parenting and teaching is a challenge

I certainly feel for my friends who have kids. I have a one-year-old, but I am in the fortunate position where the grandparents are close enough to relieve me of my duties when I am on calls with students. But many teachers do not have that luxury, and somehow they have to make do. Those teachers also have to teach their own kids who are home in addition. So they're hit from both sides of the spectrum.

3) Technology is great, but it doesn't replace in-class teaching.

There is only so much I can do with kids over a Google Meet or with an EdPuzzle. Before we left school, I gave kids activities like a 'make your own board game' or design a setting using Lego. You can't get that kind of interactivity with remote learning. You can't see the joy on their faces and those ah-ha moments. You can't pair kids into groups. Granted, there are virtually no behavior issues, and that is amazing, but there is also no personality. Getting kids to talk in a Google Meet is painstakingly difficult. It's not that way in a normal class. So, it's definitely not the same.

4) The grading system doesn't work.

The idea behind the system where you can only insert grades if it helps them is a noble one, but I have talked to a few parents now who said that they just got WiFi installed in their homes. I sympathize with these parents. It's not their child's fault they didn't get anything in, so why should they be punished with incompletes? I do like the idea of giving incompletes when we get back to regular school, however. I think the day of an F should go out the window. If you get an Incomplete, you should not be allowed to move forward until you complete that assignment. That's what I believe. There is a feeling among students though that they will only complete the work if it is for a grade. Thus, I have not received nearly as much work as I had the first three quarters. Many do not see the point, and I don't know how to break them of the idea of just doing work for intrinsic value versus extrinsic rewards.

5) The attendance has dropped off steadily

Attendance varies greatly between classes. In a few classes, things have not changed attendance-wise all that much since before remote learning. In others, It's almost like a ghost town in my Google Meet sessions. I have heard from a few other teachers this was the case as well. Despite several phone calls home, students still don't seem to be coming. There is that disconnect again with technology versus in-person instruction.

Final Words

So, this has been a learning experience for all of us. I applaud all of the teachers, administrators, support staff, and students for making this work with little time to plan for it. We weren't supposed to start remote learning until next year, and it was only supposed to be used for emergency days. I never thought school would be like this, but we are making the best of it. If school does continue remotely in the fall, we will be ready.

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