Districts that aren’t experiencing a shortage may require a teaching certificate as well, but beggars can’t be choosers. In districts where it is hard to get subs (i.e. those serving poor and minority kids) you can get emergency certified for a year.
And many states are lowering the bar even further!
Not only would lawmakers have a chance to look over teacher’s lesson plans, but they’d get detailed instructions from the absent teacher about how to actually teach the lesson!
They’d get to interact with principals as they’re told which additional classes they have to cover in their planning periods and which extra duties they’d be responsible for performing.
They’d get to do things like monitor the halls, breakfast and lunch duty, watch over in-school suspension, and – if they’re lucky – they might even get to attend a staff meeting and be front row center for all the educational initiatives being conducted in the school!
If our representatives took this opportunity, they would learn so much!
I mean, sure, we encourage kids to stand for the pledge to the flag and things like that but when it comes to telling them how to think – that’s not a public school thing. That’s a private and parochial school thing.
They’d see that public school lessons give students information on a subject but then ask them to come to their own conclusions about it.
In fact, this would be such an educational experience, I think legislators on both sides of the aisle should take advantage of this unique opportunity.
And not even just those in Harrisburg. What better way for school directors to understand the institutions they’re overseeing than to volunteer as subs? What better way for the mayor and city council to understand the needs of children than putting themselves in the classroom when the teacher can’t be there?
It could make them better public servants who craft legislation that would actually do some good in this world and not – like Lewis – just showboat to enrage partisans and stoke them to vote for people willing to feed their fears and prejudices.
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He is holding his gut and rocking back and forth in cries of wordless emotional pain as the rest of the class looks on in bewilderment.
Students from other rooms start to cluster around the door until a security guard makes them go away.
I close the door to my own classroom and try to settle my students down – but we can still hear him through the walls.
“Why don’t you make me!?”
Believe it or not, this is not what teaching middle school used to be like.
Eighth grade students were never perfect angels, but at least by then they used to know how to talk to one another. They could usually interact without constant sniping. They knew what was expected to get respect from each other and at least tried to do it.
But things have changed.
After 18 months of a pandemic, even when they aren’t infected with disease, children still are suffering tremendously from the effects of Covid-19.
Adolescents are dealing with higher rates of anxiety, depression, stress, and addictive internet behaviors.
When Covid-19 swept our shores last year, much of the benefit of formal education fell through the cracks.
Consistency went out the window. Many schools went to on-line learning or a hybrid model of in-person and on-line offset with increasingly common periods of quarantine.
These were often necessary to keep kids and their families safe – and in some cases still are. As a society, we could have done more to blunt the blow such as paying parents to stay safe at home as well as supervise their children, but economic concerns took precedence to human ones.
My students are not suffering from a lack of academics. They’re suffering from a lack of social and emotional development.
I teach Language Arts and, sure, my kids may not have been exposed as deeply to certain concepts as those who came before them. They may not have written an acrostic poem or read Dickens or had as much experience writing. But that doesn’t mean they’re deficient.
Teachers know this. That’s why we scaffold our lessons. We get to know our kids and where they are before we can gauge what they still need to learn.
My students may not have read the play they would have in 7th grade, but I can help them understand the components of drama when we read a play in the curriculum for 8th grade. They may not have written a particular type of poem last year, but we can still read one and understand it this year.
I was in and out of the hospital all last week and the district had great difficulty finding an adult to sub for me.
For two days they resorted to hiring parents from the community to watch my classes. I’m told that one of them reported to the office at the end of the day and promptly told the secretary not to call her tomorrow, that she was never coming back.
It’s hard for professional educators, too.
According to a 2020 survey by the New York Life Foundation and American Federation of Teachers, only 15% of teachers feel comfortable addressing grief or trauma tied to the pandemic.
This isn’t rocket science. If people refuse to work for a certain wage, you need to increase compensation.
But it’s not just pay.
According to a survey in June of 2,690 members of the National Education Association, 32% said the pandemic was likely to make them leave the profession earlier than expected. That’s almost a third of educators – one in three – who plan to abandon teaching because of the pandemic.
Another survey by the RAND Corp. said the pandemic increased teacher attrition, burnout and stress. In fact, educators were almost twice as likely as other adult workers to have frequent job-related stress and almost three times more likely to experience depression.
However, the RAND survey went even deeper pinpointing several causes of stressful working conditions. These were (1) a mismatch between actual and preferred mode of instruction, (2) lack of administrator and technical support, (3) technical issues with remote teaching, and (4) lack of implementation of COVID-19 safety measures.
I have to admit that’s what I’m seeing in the district where I teach.
We have had several staff meetings in the four weeks since students have been back in the classroom and none of them have focused on how we are keeping students and staff safe from Covid. In fact, administration seems happy to simply ignore that a pandemic is even going on.
We’ve talked about academic standards, data driven instruction, behavior plans, lesson planning, dividing the students up based on standardized test scores but NOTHING on the spikey viral ball in the room!
And these communiques willfully hide the extent of these outbreaks. For example, here’s an announcement from Sept. 13:
“We have learned that a Middle School staff member has tested positive for COVID-19. There were no close contacts associated with that case. We also have learned that a Middle School student has tested positive. Close contacts for this case have been identified and notified. Thank you.”
This announcement failed to disclose that contacts for the student were the entire middle school girl’s volleyball team. That’s 16-17 students who were all quarantined as a result.
Teachers are tired of this.
And I don’t mean palm-on-my-head, woe-is-me tired.
I mean collapsing-in-a-heap tired.
We are getting physically ill – even when it isn’t directly attributed to Covid, it’s from the stress.
There are so many teachers absent every day. We know because there aren’t enough subs, either, so those of us who do show up usually have to cover missing teachers classes between teaching our own classes and fulfilling our other duties.
The pandemic is not over – not in Pennsylvania. Covid-19 cases are on the rise in my community and an increasing number of children have gotten sick, been hospitalized or died.
Forgoing masks would risk more. It’s just not worth it.
Only a month ago child Covid cases numbered in the zeroes or low single-digits each day in my home of Allegheny County, according to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. During the past two weeks there have been as many as 30 to 40 new child cases a day.
Some of these are kids 11 and younger who are not eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine. Some are those 12 and older who have not been vaccinated. And a few are break-through cases among vaccinated kids, said Dr. Andrew Nowalk, clinical director of infectious diseases at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh.
Both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) are recommending everyone in schools – students, staff, visitors, etc. – wear masks whether they’ve been vaccinated or not.
As a school director, why would you take a chance with the children in your care?
Dr. Todd Wolynn, CEO of Kids Plus Pediatrics, an independent pediatrics practice with several locations in the region, put it this way:
“We’re here to ask one question to school districts not doing universal masking: Why is your situation safer [without a mask mandate] than what is recommended by the AAP and the CDC?”
Why is it safer to forgo this precaution?
Wearing a mask is not all that hard. We all did it throughout most of the last year and a half.
Why is it so hard to just continue doing it a little while longer?
I asked a similar question of Bryan Macuga, Assistant Superintendent of Steel Valley School District where I work.
He mentioned at a district wide meeting that the new health and safety plan approved by the school board makes masks optional this year. I asked him why.
He refused to give me an answer. He simply said that’s what’s been decided and would say no more.
Superintendent Ed Wehrer was there at the meeting wearing a mask to – as he put it – “model” that behavior. Wehrer said he was empowered by the school board to mandate masks if it became necessary. He hasn’t done so nor did he find it necessary to answer my question, either.
I can’t imagine it.
If these leaders really think it is better not to mandate masks, why not explain their reasoning. We may agree or disagree with them, but they can’t even show us the courtesy of a straight answer to a fair question.
Whatever their reasoning, most Allegheny County school directors must disagree with it.
The majority of the county’s 43 school districts – 70% – have mandated masks in their schools. It’s heartening to see so many school leaders putting children over politics this way. I just wish I lived and worked in one of their communities.
Only 13 county districts are making masks optional and most of those are clustered on the southeastern border with more rural (and Republican) Westmoreland County.
I don’t understand how ideology makes people risk the lives of their own kids.
Throughout the rest of the state, the situation seems even worse.
Pennsylvania has 500 school districts. Of 474 that submitted health and safety plans by July, only 59 reported plans to mandate masks for the 2021-22 year. This number is certainly higher now as districts changed their plans based on increases in Covid cases through August. But the situation is still incredibly frustrating.
The Covid-19 pandemic closed school rooms across the nation for various lengths of time. Some are still closed. Some are beginning to close again.
Many classes were conducted remotely through conferencing software like Zoom and file sharing programs like Google Classroom. Others were conducted through a hybrid model combining in-person instruction and cyber instruction. While still others met in-person with numerous mitigation efforts like masks, social distancing and air purifiers.
Many students were absent, struggled to learn and experienced countless traumas due to the isolation, sickness and deaths.
But in 2001 we created an industry. Huge corporations write the tests, grade the tests and provide the remediation for the tests. Billions of dollars in taxes are funneled into this captive market which creates monetary incentives for our lawmakers to keep the system going.
We shall go on to the end. We shall test during Covid, we shall test in the classes and on-line, we shall test with growing confidence and growing strength wearing masks, we shall defend our industry, whatever the cost may be. We shall test in the homes, we shall fill in bubbles on sanitized desks, we shall test in the fields and in the streets, we shall test in the hospitals; we shall never surrender!
Do you live in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania? I’m running for County Council in District 9
It’s absurd, like paramedics arriving at a car crash, finding one person in a pool of blood and another completely unscathed – but before they know which person needs first aid, they have to take everyone’s blood pressure.
They could say, “Vote for Sam Smith. He got an Advanced Score on the Democratic System of Statesperson Assessments (DSSA).”
Or “Don’t vote for Megan Mission. She only scored a Satisfactory on the Partnership for Assessment of Republicanism for Congress or Klan (PARCK).”
What an improvement that would be!
Finally, we wouldn’t have to rely on a politician’s voting record or campaign contributions or platform…. We could just look at the score and vote accordingly.
But who would we get to make and grade the tests?
It couldn’t be the politicians, themselves, or even their respective political parties. That wouldn’t be standardized somehow.
If we can’t let teachers create tests for their own students, we certainly can’t trust politicians to do the same for their fellow campaigners.
I guess we could task the testing corporations with making these assessments, but that’s a conflict of interests. We should instead rely on the educational experts, people with the credentials and the most experience actually giving standardized tests.
Most questions on these tests are multiple choice. They limit the possible answers to 4 or 5 choices.
If you’re asking something extremely simple and clear, this is achievable. However, the more complex you get – and by necessity the more subjective the question gets – the more the test taker has to think like the person who wrote the question.
This doesn’t matter so much when you’re asking them to calculate 2+2. But when you’re asking them to determine the meaning behind a literary passage or the importance of a historical event or the cultural significance of a scientific invention – it matters.
Moreover, the idea that the amount of learning children have done in school is a mystery is, itself, a farce.
Of course, most kids have learned less during the pandemic than under normal years.
Schools have been disrupted. Classes have been given remotely, in-person and/or in some hybrid mix of the two. Parents, families, friends have gotten sick, jobs have been lost or put in jeopardy, social interactions have been limited.
You really need a standardized test to tell you that affected learning?
You might as well ask if water’s wet. Or fire’s hot? Or if a starving person is hungry?
Okay. How about looking at the classroom grades students have earned? Look at the amount of learning the teacher has calculated for each student.
After all, most of these kids have been in school to some degree. They have attended some kind of classes. Teachers have done their best to assess what has been learned and to what degree.
Look at teachers’ grades. They will give you 180-some days worth of data.
Look at student attendance. See how often children have been in class. I’m not saying that there aren’t justifiable reasons for missing instruction – there are. But attendance will tell you as lot about how much students have learned.
Ask the parents about their kids. Ask how they think their children are doing. Ask what kind of struggles they’ve gone through this year and how resilient or not their children have been. Ask about the traumas the children have experienced and what solutions they have tried and what kind of help they think they need.
And while you’re at it, make sure to ask the students, themselves. I’m sure they have stories to tell about this year. In fact, many teachers have suggested students keep Covid diaries of what they’ve been going through.
Finally, take a look at the resources each school has. How much do they spend per pupil and how does that compare with surrounding districts? Look at how segregated the school is both in comparison to other districts, other schools in the district and class-by-class within the school. Look at class size, how wide or narrow the curriculum is, how robust the extra curricular activities offered, what kind of counseling and tutoring each school offers. That will tell you a lot about how much learning students have achieved – not just during Covid times but ANYTIME!
If that’s not enough data, I don’t know what to tell you.
There are plenty of measures of student learning this year. Standardized testing is completely unnecessary.
But unfortunately that doesn’t end the stupid.
Now we come to the rationale behind assessing learning in the first place.
Because, after all, one of the most precious resources this year is time. And that’s exactly what these tests will gobble up.
Wasting time on testing is bad in any year, but in a year when school buildings have been closed and learning has been conducted remotely, when we’ve struggled with new technologies and safety precautions, when we’ve seen our friends and neighbors get sick, quarantine and hospitalize… Every second learning is that much more valuable.
It didn’t have to be this way. We could have put humanity first. We could have taken every step possible to protect our children from a deadly virus whose full effects on the human body are unknown. We could have protected their teachers and teachers families who by all accounts are even more susceptible.
Instead, about 47% of students attend schools providing some kind of in-person instruction, according to a poll by Education Next. That’s about 19% of the districts in the country providing some kind of substandard hybrid program and 28% trying to run blindly as if the pandemic wasn’t happening. Moreover, those open to in-person instruction are most often located in communities with the highest Covid infection rates!
Let’s start with hybrid models. Most involve some kind of in-person instruction combined with remote learning. Partial groups of students come to the buildings certain days and stay remote on others. Meanwhile, a significant percentage of the student body refuses to participate and remains remote entirely.
The result is inconsistent programs. Students switch from one method to another – either because of changes at home or schools rapidly going from one model to another. Kids get used to learning one way and then have to change to another. They have to keep track of elaborate schedules and often fall through the cracks.
No wonder grades are tanking. We’re asking students to do things that are simply too complicated for their ages. And parents who are struggling with their own Covid-inspired juggling acts are often just as confused.
As a parent, it’s hard to make sure your child attends in-person or remote learning sessions when you aren’t even sure when these sessions are. The result is a spike in student absences which can come as a surprise to both parents and students.
Critics of remote instruction complain that it exacerbates existent inequalities. However, the hybrid model does so to an even greater degree – all with the sanction of the school board. And once inequalities are no longer the result of federal or state legislators or lack of resources but come directly from decision makers in your hometown refusing to care about all students, you have a deep systemic problem that no amount of moving students around from place-to-place can fix.
Even when everyone is on the same page and in the school building for instruction, the normal benefits of having students in-person are outweighed by necessary mitigation factors in schools.
Teachers help students by observing their work and stepping in if students are making mistakes or need help. However, teachers who are attempting to stay outside of 6 feet of their students cannot help because they cannot adequately see what their students are doing.
Moreover, kids benefit by working with each other in small groups. But this cannot be easily accomplished when they have to stay 6 feet apart.
In fact, both situations are best remedied by some kind of remote instruction. Students can share work through devices with both teachers and other students. They can collaborate virtually and get help. Being in-person gives no benefit. In fact, it just obscures the real solution.
Either teachers burn themselves out trying to address the needs of two different groups with two different styles of instruction simultaneously, or they teach the entire group as if it were meeting remotely.
This results in one of two possibilities. One, teachers pay more attention to those in-person and mostly ignore those on-line. Two, they have to spend so much time dealing with technological issues that crop up or that they didn’t have time or training to anticipate that they end up ignoring in-person students.
This is a method that looks good on paper. It makes school boards seem like they are trying to meet the needs of all learners. But what they’re really doing is meeting the needs of none.
Academics can be consistent and schedules predictable. Problems can be anticipated, planned for and best solved. And the needs of the most students can be met. Districts can ensure everyone has the necessary technology and wi-fi. They can make sure teachers are trained and have help.
But too many decision makers see this as a defeat. We’re giving in to the virus instead of molding it to our will.
The sad fact is, if we want to defeat Covid, we need to defeat THE VIRUS. Pretending it doesn’t exist will not help anyone.
The short-sightedness of current academic plans that try to circumvent remote learning when infections are high will have lasting consequences on American education for years to come.
The same goes for larger government institutions like the President, Congress, the CDC and state legislatures. The Trump administration was a never ending dumpster fire. The hope was that a new administration would be better – and the Biden administration has been more efficient in many ways.
There could be thousands of Covid’s Kids who have to pay the rest of their lives for the recklessness of adults today.
Not to mention adults suffering from these conditions and having to leave the workforce immediately.
So rushing to reopen schools is a bad idea.
It robs kids of the best possible education given pandemic conditions. It increases racial and economic inequality. It erodes faith in government at all levels. And it gambles with the health and safety of everyone – adults and children – caught in the middle.
The best way to promote student learning isn’t to attack the very system providing it. Nor is it to endanger the lives of those who do the work and provide instruction.
The current crisis can be a temporary situation to survive with a minimum of risk and a maximum of support and caution.
Or we can recklessly pretend it isn’t happening and put the future of our children and the nation at large in unnecessary jeopardy.
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Along with students whose input and experiences should not be ignored, it is our collective educator core who have been thrust into this strange experiment. But unlike children, they have the knowledge, maturity, skills and life experience to evaluate it best. And being one of those intrepid individuals, I here offer my thoughts.
After more than four months teaching this way, I’d say these are the top 5 pros and cons of virtual instruction:
1) There is Less Pressure Day-to-Day
Right off the bat there is something to be said for virtual instruction – it feels more low stakes.
You sleep longer, can more easily access amenities, the bathroom, food and drink.
For one, you sure can’t beat the commute.
Some students admit that they roll out of bed each morning and onto the computer. This is not always optimal for learning in that the mind needs time to wake up and focus itself. However, the fact that one has more choice over how to prepare for school, what to wear, more leeway about breaks and whether to eat or drink in class – all that leads to an increased casual feeling to the day.
Though I certainly don’t roll from my bed to class, the extra sleep I get from not having to drive to the building and the reduced stress of forgoing a commute, traffic, bad weather, etc. are extremely positive.
It helps me be more relaxed and ready to meet my students needs. It makes me a better teacher.
True, a dedicated disruptor can find a way to cause a ruckus. He or she can try to use the chat or even the video camera. They may even have each others cell phone numbers and communicate back and forth that way.
However, few students are aggravated enough to take such measures. I haven’t noticed much beyond simple teasing.
Some of my students put pictures of each other as the backgrounds on their camera screens – but these have always been friends trying to get a laugh. A comment from me and it stops.
If worse comes to worse, I can still remove them from the Zoom meeting and alert the principal or dean of students for disciplinary action.
3) It’s Easier to Communicate with Parents and Students Individually
There are many reasons for this.
In the physical classroom, the most common form of communication is verbal. But digital spaces allow for several other methods.
You can email individual students messages, work, assignments, grades, etc. You can utilize the chat feature to send a private message. You can simply talk to them in the Zoom meeting. You can set up an individual Zoom meeting like office hours to answer questions. You can ask or answer questions about assignments in the stream function of Google Classroom.
All these options allow for students to talk with their teacher one-on-one more easily than in the physical classroom.
Consider this: let’s say a student has a question about the homework after class. In the physical classroom environment, there may be little they can do but wait until the next day. Before last March, I’d had students send me emails, but I never checked them as regularly as I need to now.
In the digital world, students can easily send a message through email or stream at any time. This certainly puts a strain on educators but most questions I receive are during school hours and easily answerable in a timely fashion.
I find that in the virtual classroom, I have the time to communicate with every parent at least once a week – or at least I try. Even in the digital world, some parents are incommunicado.
4) It’s Easier to Read a Text Together
As a language arts teacher, this is really important to me.
For more than 15 years, I’ve read texts aloud with my students and asked them to follow along. I tell them to take their index fingers, put them in the text and move along with where we are in the passage.
Few actually do it, and there’s really nothing I can do to make them. Except beg.
In the virtual classroom, I can easily put the text on all their screens, place the cursor under the words and follow with the reader or the audio recording.
Students can try to ignore it, but that’s harder than just following along. It also allows me to point to specific parts of the text.
If a student is reading and struggling with a word, I can point to prefixes, suffixes, roots, etc. to help them. And I’ve honestly seen improvements in some struggling readers fluency.
5) It’s Easier for Students to Work at Their Own Pace
This isn’t really a core value of the physical classroom.
Teachers give assignments, set due dates and students have to get things done in the time frame.
Online it isn’t such a straight line.
Teachers instruct in a Zoom meeting, but students are not required to attend. They can catch up with a video of the meeting if they need or prefer.
And since we all anticipate students may have issues throughout the day with connectivity, the technology, home responsibilities, distractions, etc. teachers haven’t been so firm on those due dates.
I freely give extensions and tell my students that assignments can still be made up for full credit well past the deadline. It’s about getting the work done, not so much about when.
I find myself explaining assignments more often than usual, but it’s somehow not as annoying as it sometimes is in the physical classroom.
No matter how you look at it, there are an alarming number of students absent throughout the day.
For my own classes, this was much worse in the spring when we first went online. Starting in September, more students have been attending regularly.
However, there are two important points to be made.
First, there are some students who do not attend the live Zoom meetings but instead watch the videos and do the assignments. Their work is not worse than those who attend – in fact, it is sometimes much better.
I suppose it’s possible students in the Zoom meetings could feed information to those not attending, but with the videos and the ability to communicate with me at will, it’s almost more work to cheat.
In my classes, about 20% are regularly absent. Of those, 10-15% are not participating much at all.
That’s about the same as I would expect to see in the physical classroom.
We need to identify these students and provide them with the resources necessary to succeed. But that’s always been true.
2) The Camera Conundrum
To turn your camera off or not? That is the question.
Zoom meetings can be an awfully lonely place for teachers when every student has their camera off.
The general consensus is that we should allow them this freedom. It encourages them to attend the Zoom meetings on their own terms and avoid the stress of seeing themselves constantly on their own screens. It allows them to avoid the fear of being judged for their surroundings.
Allowing them this latitude certainly does increase attendance and create a more positive attitude. But the teacher is in a worse position to monitor student engagement.
Most days I feel like a medium at a seance asking if so-and-so is here. Give me a sign.
I try to pose questions to get students involved – even more than I would in the physical classroom – and sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.
There are times when I yearn just to be able to look at my students again and see what they’re doing. Because I know some of them are not paying attention.
Some are texting on their cell phones. Some are playing video games on another screen. Some are talking with brothers, sisters, friends or parents in their house.
There’s not much I can do except try to keep my classes as engaging as possible. Most of the time, I think it works.
But not always.
3) It’s Harder to Monitor/Push Students with Special Needs
This is nearly impossible for a student with his or her camera off. I can try verbal queues, but students don’t always answer. I can ask them to turn on their cameras if that has been added to their IEPs, but they rarely comply. And if they do, they just point the camera at the ceiling or otherwise away from their faces.
The human contact of actually being present in a physical space has many advantages – especially for students with special needs.
I try my hardest and do everything I can to help them. But I feel that some of them are falling through the cracks – at least more than they would be in a physical classroom.
4) Technological Issues
Even under the best of circumstances, there are always technological issues.
Students do their assignments and their devices don’t save the work. Their batteries run low. They haven’t downloaded the proper apps. They’re using the wrong emails to access a google form.
The list is endless.
Thankfully, my district has a help desk students can access. But teachers need to be aware and permissive about technology issues. We have to air on the side of letting them get away with something rather than being too strict.
And the technology issues aren’t limited to the students.
One Friday I found the wi/fi in my home was down. I had class in 30 minutes and had to find someway to connect online to teach.
It really comes down to who controls the environment.
In a classroom, the teacher decides most everything about the physical space and what possibilities there will be. She places the books, hangs the posters, sets the lighting, displays student work, etc.
For instance, in my physical classroom, if I wanted to see what a student was doing, all I had to do is walk up to him and look.
I controlled what I see, and hiding things from me was difficult.
Online, if I want to see what a student is doing (let’s say on a video communications platform like ZOOM), I have little control over what I see. The student is in control of the camera. If it is pointing at the student or placed so as to hide certain behavior or even if the camera is currently on or not is not in my control. Students are empowered to hide anything they want, and there’s not much I can do about it.
You can’t give them too much time to get something done because many will procrastinate through the deadline.
In my physical classroom, I would often give an assignment and then provide at least some time for them to start it. The idea was that even if they don’t finish it with me, they are more likely to complete something they already began.
As a result, most students don’t get these assignments done on time – if at all.
Even when they do the work, I’m bombarded by a slew of submissions around midnight or the early hours of the AM.
HOW TO ASK A QUESTION YOU DON’T KNOW YOU HAVE
Then there’s the question of… well… questions.
In my brick and mortar classroom, if a child was unsure of something, all she had to do was raise her hand and ask. Online, there are multiple ways to communicate with me – kids can send me an email, message me or verbally ask me something during a video chat.
The problem is that sometimes they don’t know they’re confused.
Online, I’m mostly limited to commenting on the final project. If a student didn’t understand the directions – and didn’t even understand that he didn’t understand the directions – I don’t know until the work is done.
I know every district is different in this regard, but my school provides every student with devices and even WiFi if necessary. Even in the physical classroom, using devices always came with a chorus of whines about them not being charged.
However, this brave new world even makes an issue out of bathroom breaks.
In the brick and mortar classroom, kids would ask to go to the restroom and then be sent one at a time. Online some kids just turn off their camera or leave it idling on an empty seat or the ceiling. It is next to impossible to tell whether these breaks are genuine or even to estimate their duration.
These platforms require students to know a dedicated Web address and sometimes a password to get in.
Yet these are children. They sometimes share these security measures with people who were not invited.
Even in my physical classroom, sometimes students not on my roster would try to get in to talk with a friend or even just sit in on my amazing lessons. I could stop them at the door and send them on their way.
Online, some sites like ZOOM give me similar power, and others like Kahoot (a game based learning platform) do not. Even when every person entering has to be approved by me, all I see is the name they’ve given their device. If an enterprising stranger wanted to rename their device to that of one of my students, I probably wouldn’t catch it until they were in.
There have been several times when someone with one of my students’ names got into a ZOOM meeting, but either refused or couldn’t turn on their camera. I had no choice but to boot them out.
On some sites like Kahoot, there is no video. I had no idea who was signing in – I just saw the name they input.
So sometimes I had two students with the same name. Or I had let’s say 8 kids in the class but 9 kids were signing on to Kahoot.