Teaching During A Pandemic: Being There

One thing is certain about the teaching situation of so many during this COVID 19 health emergency – there’s a hard time having had by all teachers. Highly skilled in online delivery or not.

Here is one teacher’s “crie de coeur” – “How Are You Doing With Teaching In This Pandemic?“. In the many Facebook and other groups I partake in – almost hourly there are cries by teachers about how exhausted they are from 6 hours a day on Zoom or dealing with students who need help with digital learning.

Of course, any change in your teaching will exhaust you. Imagine the first few days with a new cohort of students. It just sucks the life out of you. But with technology, it is even more than just the normal “new”. There are many new demands placed on teachers and then the “communication deficit” that exists with synchronous communication. People find it mind-numbing to instruct without personal, face to face feedback and presence. Most of this happens when in a video conference and with a large group.

It’s hard to criticize teachers. We are facing a lot of change. Plus, everyone’s situation is very different. But one thing has been troubling me. In the rush to teach virtually during the pandemic, teachers are just “flipping” their face to face hours into Zoom classroom hours, thinking that is sufficient. They are meeting their scheduled class teaching time and that is that. On the surface all is good but also something smells …

I’m totally against this type of online delivery and it leads both to the aforementioned teacher burnout plus little or negligible student learning. It does do anyone any good to be sitting in a virtual environment for 3 or 4 hours at a spell, following along with whatever happens. This is not the vision of online instruction I’ve been fighting for, for many years.

I found this article by Dave White contrasting “contact hours” with “presence” very informative. We need to think more about “being there” for students rather than “teaching there”. Here are a few of my thoughts about what that should look like and how teachers can focus more on being present and not just fulfilling their contractual contact hours obligations.

  1. Instruction and synchronous online meeting as a large group / class should only be once weekly. Keep it fun, light and go over the learning expectations and activities for the coming week.

2. Meet your students with a call individually or in small groups to monitor and assess their learning. You’ll find this not numbing at all and better get to know students and the students will greatly benefit. I’m not talking office hours – but required sessions. But also have office hours and show yourself as being available and accessible.

3. Be available through a communication channel. I advocate using Slack but you can use many other methods. Could just be email, could be your school LMS, could be through a message board or social media group. But make sure students have an easy, clearly recognized channel to communicate with you the teacher.

4. Online learning should also allow for student communication. Student self-study should be in an environment where they can comment, annotate, suggest, discuss and where the teacher also does the same and participates. In this way too, you the teacher will be “present”. Think of some only tools like Now Comment, Hypothesis or even just the Google Docs comment function.

5. Focus your curriculum on student projects and learning through their own interests and strengths. I know this is a big jump in the way teachers normally do the one size fits all, open the textbook to page 235 and do X, Y, Z but it is what needs to happen to benefit from the many affordances online learning offers. For a glimpse at what this kind of curriculum could be, see Kiernan Egan’s “Learning In Depth” approach.

6. Finally, over-communicate. The online environment demands this and with every instruction, you should think of this and be overt, clear and cover every angle.

And – seek administrative change if you aren’t allowed to truly create a strong online curriculum and are forced to just appear in a zoom room like you would a normal classroom. It’s not the way to go!

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