– Dan Jones –
“Staff, tomorrow we will be going to online learning. Use today to get ready.” When I heard this, my first thought was ‘No problem. I already flip my class, so my students will be ready to hit the ground running.’ Truth be told, no matter how prepared I thought I was, the challenge of moving a class online was no easy task. After going through a week of teaching remotely, some elements worked, some that didn’t, and some that really surprised me.
Day one of remote learning felt like the first day of school. I greeted each student as they entered my remote Zoom classroom. I had almost 100% of my students in attendance. Though students were used to my expectations in my classroom, it became very apparent that they didn’t feel like they were in my classroom; they were in their home. And most students were not used to being in front of a camera so there was a lot of entertaining occurring. For the first time, though, each student came with a mute button. I was able to mute the entire class at the same time and settle them down.
Once we got rolling, I was able to take attendance, explain my expectations, and address any student concerns or questions. After day two, it became apparent that a revised schedule was necessary. I had thought that because my classes (54 students between 7th and 8th grades) were asynchronous classes, they would have been able to function in one Zoom classroom. That could not have been further from the truth, so on day three, we implemented an actual class schedule. What a magical moment that was. I was dealing with 18 students at a time instead of trying to manage all 54 at once. As the week went on, we started to find a rhythm for the class, and students became much more manageable. Routine was starting to set in, and the students were adjusting to their new environment rather well.
Though my students were accessing the content in a familiar manner, the group space had completely changed. This change had its benefits as well as significant drawbacks. My students could now tune out distractions from other peers and really focus on their work, but this also meant that my students needed to exercise self-discipline in ways that they have never had to before. The temptation of answering a text, checking social media, or participating in a group chat was overwhelming, and working from their bedroom or dining room table was going to take every ounce of focused energy they could muster. What surprised me was that the students were more focused than I anticipated.
We all know that kids thrive on routine, and by implementing a new schedule and maintaining classroom expectations, the students were working harder than ever. The mom of one of my students reached out to me and said that she had never seen her son work so purposefully. He was focused and she didn’t have to redirect him over and over. I had another parent reach out to say that her kids were actually excited for class. Parents were seeing a side of their kids that I typically saw in the classroom. An element of the classroom was missing whenever we got together. Though we saw each other and talked to one another every day, something was missing. It took me almost a week to figure it out: community. The students were struggling emotionally, and they were missing being in the physical presence of their peers.
I could sense their anxiety, loneliness, boredom and fear. I challenged them to start to journal about their day and to put down on paper what they were feeling. Then the students shared their journals with me. What an eye-opening moment; peering into their world allowed me to see that each of them missed being in school (as painful as that was for some of them to admit), and they missed being around their friends. I had been so focused on making certain that my students were learning that I had neglected the social-emotional aspect of the classroom. It was at that point that I decided that I needed to restore community to the classroom, and we needed to set academics aside and rebuild. I prepared a remote learning scavenger hunt. This activity brought joy and laughter back into the classroom. It was the most fun we had in class in a long time. By meeting their social-emotional needs, they had been rejuvenated.
It is safe to say that when I started this new chapter in my career, I felt like I had become a first-year teacher all over again. I was trying to figure out classroom management, assignment turn-in policies, how to take attendance, and how to enable students to access the content. I was working harder than I had ever worked and because I was working from home, I was working longer days. There wasn’t a disconnect between home and school; it was all the same. But now that I am almost two weeks in, we have hit a rhythm. I am still trying to figure out this journey, but it is a journey that is worth traveling. As I tell my students, though we cannot be together, together we will figure this out.