Day 25 was Friday, and Monday is World Teachers’ Day, so I have waited until Sunday to post this blog. I have been recognizing World Teachers’ Day in many ways over the past couple of decades, but this year has me stymied.
How do we recognize how challenging this past year has been for our teachers? How their relationships with their classes were challenged when they pivoted to Emergency Distance Learning in March? How they rose to the challenge, keeping their students connected and learning? How they worked with their schools to bring computer hardware, connectivity, and support to families? How they had to learn an entirely new skillset, in order to continue as teachers?
In one of my previous roles I was responsible for supporting the use of Instructional Technology in our school district. When we considered the possible use of LCD projectors in classrooms we planned a 5-year process of pilots, assessments, and then staged implementation. But this past March we compressed that entire process into a couple of weeks, and implemented across the entire system an entirely new means of instruction. It wasn’t just the hardware that changed, but everything we know about F2F instruction had to be modified and augmented to meet the needs of our new reality.
Taking attendance? How to you record that a student was late because their Internet connection dropped? What if a student doesn’t actually own a webcam, and you’re only able to hear their voice? What if they have to share a computer, and so they might have to log in, find out what to work on, and then hand back the computer to let Mom or Dad attend a crucial meeting at their work?
Access to resources, while richer due to the Internet, is limited by copyright. All those textbooks are still sitting on the shelves in classrooms, inaccessible by students. Copyright laws permit reproduction of up to 10% of a text, or a single chapter, so teachers are having to choose carefully which resources they may use with their classes. Teachers are doing their best to share, but all resources require editing and clear presentation, in order to match the reading level needs of their students.
Interaction is limited by the platform. While Zoom has been most prominent in the news, it is not permitted for use in our classes. Instead teachers are having to learn how to function with MS Teams and Google Meet, both of which are structured for large group meetings, not group or independent work. Cooperative and collaborative learning is a challenge within a tool that is structured more for a single meet chair or instructor, with the rest of the participants limited to the use of “chat” to interact.
Organization of class materials requires significant writing and uploading on the part of our teachers. In the past one might write on the blackboard or overhead projector, or prepare a PowerPoint presentation.. Now there must be a file uploaded, and in most cases it needs to be in a PDF format, requiring additional steps. While video has become a key component in our F2F classrooms, teachers are now limited by bandwidth, knowing that many of their students won’t be able to stream without lagging.
And building community has been a challenge. Much of the time our students have their webcams and microphones off, so when we speak it is into a “void” of silence. No nodding heads. No excited chatter. And creating opportunities for students to interact with each other is a complex and time-consuming activity.
And added to this is the anxiety related to the safety of our students. We can no longer listen for signs of bullying. We can’t see if our students appear tired or stressed. We can’t whisper in their ear, and ask if they are “OK”.
Despite all of this, our teachers are doing an amazing job. They are juggling the demands of curriculum against the need to support the mental health of their students. They are working in isolation, and then reaching out to support each other through subject- and course-based networks. Social media is connecting teachers, and shared drives are allowing them to divide up the work, and reduce their load.
I am excited to hear what our teachers have learned through this process. Will they adopt a hybrid approach, integrating more media and technology tools into their teaching? Will they choose to work online, having developed strong skills that support learning by students who need to work remotely? Will our models of “school” finally shift from desks in rows?
Tomorrow, please take a moment to recognize the extraordinary efforts of our teachers over the past seven months. And please continue to support them as we face the challenges of the months ahead.
Happy World Teachers’ Day!