Teachers have never been fans of remote learning. We want our students in school. We miss them. We want things to return to normal.
Although many in the general public thought we had a lengthy vacation beginning last March, it was anything but. We worked hard, if not harder, and often into the wee hours of the evening to keep students engaged. We hoped for a return to normal after summer.
Fast forward. School begins in August, all remote. Teachers scurried around, set up our classrooms for remote learning, made sure we watched tutorials on things like Jamboard, Screencastify, Loom, Flipgrid and other programs. We propped up books and built impromptu recording areas so we could video lessons. We set up desk cameras also so we could record ourselves checking over work and guiding students through skill pages, quizzes and tests.
We tried to think of fun things we could offer so kids wouldn’t feel chained to a computer all day.
On a normal remote learning day, many of us come early to school. I counted 7-10 cars in the parking lot one morning. It was 6:30 a.m. By 7:15 a.m., most teachers were at the starting gate. I’ve seen teachers at school as early as 6 a.m. and have seen cars still in the parking lot at 10 p.m. Teachers sometimes come back to school after dashing home to care for their own families.
The remote learning day starts with double checking. Do all links work? Are assignments posted for today clear? Lists are made so we can make announcements and inform kids of the day’s activities and assignments. Woe to the teacher who has tech problems before they are scheduled to meet with students – live and online.
Students appear at 7:55 a.m. for an optional morning meeting. Classroom management is still a thing as teachers have to ask students to make sure they are paying attention and not typing side comments or making goofy faces or leaving their mics on or interrupting.
These poor kids. They want so much to engage with teachers and with one another, but business still has to be taken care of.
After meetings, teachers stay online so kids can pop on or off and ask for help. At times, teachers must “screen share” and guide individual students through lessons and directions. In between online appearances, teachers are answering emails, contacting students and their families, tracking down incomplete assignments. Time must also be found to collaborate with teaching teams to make sure all students are getting the same educational experience from all their homeroom teachers.
Speaking of planning, did you know all kids are not as tech savvy as you’d think? If teachers want a document to be inserted and turned in for grading, they have to show a student how to perform this task either through a live lesson or recorded lesson.
So, a regular assignment that would take a little bit of “going over” in a normal classroom setting, often takes multiple steps. Directions must include every little detail. A video has to accompany many lessons to show students where to search, what to read, how to hand in work, how to type into a document and various other tasks.
So, morning hours are spent being proactive, putting out “fires” and helping keep students on track. On most days, after being “live” and present from 8-10 a.m., the 10 a.m. to noon time is spent on the above mentioned individual needs, tracking down work, contacting parents, answering emails and trying to squeeze in some next day planning time.
Noon brings another live meeting, followed by a little over an hour of offline time (where morning tasks are repeated) and other live meetings between 1 and 2 p.m. From 2-3 p.m., vital time is spent planning with teaching teams. Then, most teachers stay “after school” and do more of the same morning and afternoon tasks. When I left the other night at 4:30 p.m., I saw 6-10 cars still parked around the school and also saw a few people leaving, loaded down with chromebooks and materials.
“I’ve got more work to do after I eat dinner,” yelled one teacher as we waved to one another.
Did you notice I didn’t mention lunch in the paragraph above? We scarf down food on most days, in between reading something or typing while trying to keep crumbs out of our keyboards. I saw a teacher running to the bathroom the other morning, laughing a little, saying she’d been trying to go for about three hours and hadn’t had time.
You may know Fridays have been publicized as asynchronous for all students. During these days, teachers report as usual. There is no early morning live meeting, but teachers still plan assignments and post a somewhat “lighter load” for students on Fridays. Curriculum and team meetings are held on Friday mornings so we can still address state mandates and standards; the normal school stuff we’d do on a normal school institute or planning day.
These are the types of things we do on those teacher institute days that ignorant people have questioned all these years. Yes, on those days, we work too.
After Friday morning meetings, K-5 teachers meet with kids live for a “late” morning meeting. We try to wrap up the week with students and get ready for the following week. We grade work, which again takes many more steps than just collecting work and sitting down with an answer key. We record grades, answer emails, fix tech problems and do the same things we do Monday through Thursday.
Did I mention how monumental a task it is to grade online work? Oh yes, I did.
But wait, weren’t Fridays designated as “planning days”? Oh yes. So, after the live meeting and other things we usually do Monday through Thursday, we get together as teams and hash out plans, divide up work to make videos, share tech suggestions, address mutual student needs and at least get headed in a solid direction for Monday morning.
Even after team meetings, we still have enough work to do that it can’t all be accomplished before 3 p.m. So again, we stay late or take work home. I know several teachers who worked from Friday to Monday night on Labor Day weekend.
I’d like to know who started all those “let’s make sure the teachers are actually working” jazz? I’d defy any of these people to follow us around for even half a day. Many of the negative people and the naysayers are the uninformed people who are making the decisions.
Isn’t that discouraging? Rarely, if ever, do these naysayers and decision makers darken our door.
I’m not going to mention our own families and the neglect that has taken place. You have only to mention our families to us and we get teary eyed. It’s rough. And the real frustration comes when no one seems to be listening to us.
I also should say I sympathize with and applaud families. Parents who have sacrificed, changed job scenarios and who are struggling to make things work for their kids. Teachers really do get it and we are trying to help families, too.
Let me make some closing comments before I take up the entire page in this newspaper. The above “schedule” applies to just one grade level; but all grade levels have their own challenges. I can’t imagine teaching younger kiddos who don’t have the tech skills my older kids have.
And what about the teachers of older kids who have to be online live most of the day? My hat is especially off to the special needs teachers who have to keep track of multiple classroom plans and keep kids who have difficulties on task and engaged; kids who struggle even in a normal classroom setting.
However, we are most undoubtedly going to be teaching children in-person soon and at the same time, we will still be teaching remotely as some parents don’t want their students returning to school. Therefore, our workload will be doubled and we will be learning a whole new skill set.
As long as we are teaching both remotely and in-person, teachers need some amount of extra planning time to adequately prepare and address the needs of all these students.
We still need that Friday “planning” day. We still need that day the public thinks is a “day off.” It’s not the complete answer to our workload, but it’s certainly a vital need and a time that helps keep our heads above water.
I don’t know how to make you all understand this. I am a 30-year educator and I care about kids. I’m telling you the honest-to-God truth about all this and I am not embellishing or exaggerating. Please. No one seems to be listening to us.
If the Corona Fairy comes down tomorrow and erases all this, teachers will be the first to celebrate. We will be joyful as kids return to school and we resume normal routines. I thought about my kids coming back through those doors the other day, sitting in desks, and I picture myself sitting down and placing my face in my hands and crying my head off with relief.
We desperately want kids back in the classrooms, folks.
Forgive us, though, if we look battle worn when the kids come back – especially if we don’t get our extra planning time.
Above all, rest assured, we are still here to do the best job we can for these kids. No matter what happens.
Mark is a 30-year veteran teacher in Columbia and has written his “slice of life” column for the Republic-Times since 2007.