I know, I know, online school totally sucks. Learning through a screen, not being able to talk to friends in class, having no extracurricular activities, I mean how much worse could it get?
While students and parents are scrambling to point out every (valid) negative effect that follows online learning, the unsung heroes of quarantine often go overlooked – the teachers.
While many students are struggling to learn through a screen, there are teachers that are struggling to teach classes of sometimes 50+ kids through a rectangular frame.
Driving to school to record science labs, grading hundreds of assignments virtually, and trying to teach art or food classes without every kid having easily accessible materials cannot be easy.
Above all this, online teaching deprives teachers of an essential element of the foundation of teaching, human connection.
“I think the biggest challenge has been not having the connection with students the way I am used to. Teaching to a square with a face (or sometimes just a logo) is hard. Not knowing what is getting through to my students and how well I am delivering my instructions and ideas…Not being able to sit next to a kid and help them with writing, etc. Grading is not as effective,” said Mrs. Melvin, who teaches English and AP Study Hall at Palo Verde High School.
Even though student attendance has improved, the same can’t be said for student participation. From open body language to a classroom environment, students do not tend to feel as comfortable after the absence of what they were taught they should experience in school.
Mr. Read, who teaches Psychology and AP Psychology at Palo Verde said, “I’ve had to adjust pretty much everything. I’m a pretty interactive teacher so a lot of discussion based things are just not translating to online. Where big discussion topics would excite a class and I’d have to stop them from talking, I’m pulling teeth here online, and it’s hard. It really is…It’s heartbreaking, to feel that this is the year where so much is going to be missed out on.”
To many teachers, a connection with students is vital in order to understand what is being well digested by students. Come test day, it is ideal that kids have a decent grasp on what has been taught.
“The major differences of online teaching versus in person teaching are the social-emotional awareness that occurs in an in person classroom where the teacher knows whether the students are able to make the connections and synthesize information. In an online platform, it is extremely difficult to tell if each student is understanding the material,” said Mrs. Reed, Coordinator of the IB program, IB Literature teacher, and AP Literature teacher.
Like us students that miss our friends, teachers miss out on social interaction as well, and it can definitely be challenging at times.
“I’m a very social teacher, I like talking to my fellow teacher friends, and they’re nowhere to be found. Even if you do see a couple of them you have to stay a distance, you have to keep the mask on, and you don’t have the same social circle that you used to,” explained Mr. Read.
On top of this, teachers (like many of us students) have to deal with the effects that come with looking at a screen all day. Before quarantine, we were always told to spend less time on the computer, except now no one has that option.
I know that myself along with other students have experienced fatigue, headaches, and more from being still and on the computer all day, so what about the teachers who are required to spend far more time online than we are?
“I spend on average ten hours a day online. That can sometimes sway to 12 hours if I am also grading, which is also all online at this point. Absolutely, the amount of time I spend on the computer has affected my well-being, as I often have a headache or am unable to think clearly after being online for a long period of time,” Mrs. Reed clarified.
While the quantity of the amount of time spent online increases, the quality of what is being taught is limited. Teachers are not only experiencing a shortcoming of what projects/activities they could create in a classroom, but they are also questioning what they can even teach considering the situation of the student.
Mr. Read said, “I’m in a weird spot with what I can talk about, because I don’t know who’s on the other side of that camera. I don’t know if there’s a little brother or sister sitting right there and I’m about to start talking about Freud and all of his things. I don’t know if mom is gonna walk in and take everything out of context and not understand what I’m getting at. I’m really kind of watching what I’m saying and letting certain stories go this year, it’s just not gonna happen.”
Acknowledging the circumstances, some teachers have suggestions as to how to make online learning less difficult for everyone, such as how Mrs. Melvin suggested, “hybrid style — where we would see the kids once or twice a week and then online,” along with, “Better participation requirements for students. Some are good about it, but some know they don’t have to have their camera on, or always show up, so they don’t.”
Mrs. Reed brings up the idea to “…change the organization of Wednesdays since it demands too much from both the students and teachers to check in with every core class, complete assignments for all classes, or to create a mini-lesson for all the classes.”
Instantaneously expecting teachers to normalize online learning seems a bit ridiculous no matter how much experience there is. There is no denying that this new format where teachers have to learn new things everyday in order to teach material they have taught in the past however many years, can be frustrating.
“Teaching in person I’ve been doing it for so long, I could do it standing on my head. If I’m having a bad day I can still wing it, and I can get through it. It feels like right now with online that I’m starting from scratch as a new teacher again, and I’m really struggling with it, especially if something happens that I’m not prepared for. I just feel completely inadequate and at a loss, and I hate that feeling. For 23 years of experience as a teacher, that’s not a feeling I was expecting to have this late in the game,” said Mr. Read.
Even with all the complications though, teachers are still bending over backwards in order to lessen the stress of their students. Whether that means staying extra hours on lives, pre-giving out data for labs, or providing us with additional resources, they always seem to have our best interest in mind.
Mrs. Melvin assured, “…I am making the best of this situation. I know kids have to deal with a lot and I want to make this better for them. I strive to come up with engaging and collaborative lessons, so kids feel included and like a part of a class — even though they are stuck behind a screen. I love teaching and I am finding ways to love teaching this new way.”
At the end of the day, students should really take into account how much teachers are going through to better our learning experience. The amount of effort put in by them is absolutely incredible, yet under appreciated.
Next time you enter a Google Meet, maybe turn on your camera or un-mute yourself to ask a question. Again, why does talking to a screen have to be embarrassing? The teachers at Palo have already done so much to help us students out, and now is our time to return the favor.