Teaching online during isolation | The positives and challenges
Things started to shift at school around Week Eight of Term One. Student numbers started dropping significantly and all the kids wanted to know "Are the schools gonna close?" and "When are the schools gonna close?". Up till this point, I naively thought that the Corona Virus was someone else's problem. It was happening in China, surely it wouldn't affect Australia? that was my first mistake. The chaos and buzz of the students started to get to me and really fuelled my anxiety. I wanted to know the answers to those questions also.
Tuesday of Week Nine came around and the official statement was "schools are open, but if you can keep your kids at home, do so". The numbers plummeted, our 1200 strong student base dwindled to 150, by Wednesday it was at around 50 and Thursday dropped even more. By the end of Thursday an at-school supervision roster had been created and on Friday I spent my first day working from home.
The move to teaching online was ENORMOUS. For many teachers, none of their lessons were online and technology was a foreign concept as they were so used to 'chalk and talk'. Thank goodness for me, all my lessons and resources were already online and because I'm a super proactive person my content for Years 7 and 9 was organised for the entire year. I also had an additional Terms worth of work up my sleeve for Year 11. Year 12 would need new content created, but with this year being my first year of teaching the new syllabus, that was bound to happen anyway.
So...on the one hand I was insanely prepared and on the other hand I was way out of my depth and over my head. So here is what I've learnt from the experience...
SUCK IT UP PRINCESS
When the call got made to go to online learning and the marching orders were issued to use this, do that, work like this, teach like that, it didn't matter whether you wanted to or not, knew how to or not...you just had to do it. I'm not good with change and so this massive change really jolted me, but it also showed me that when I have to change, even if it's sudden and hard and awkward, I can still do it. And rock it!
WHAT ARE WE EVEN DOING?
One of the biggest challenges of this experience is all the mixed messages and conflicting instructions. I realise that when you first give instructions to teachers about protocols and procedures they are likely not going to be in their final version. But the constant alterations in information and expectations for me as a teacher has been highly frustrating and has made it difficult for me to do the thing that matters most...teach!
WE ARE ACTUALLY LEARNING!
One of the biggest time-wasters that impede teaching and learning in a regular classroom environment is the need for me to constantly be addressing behaviour management. Noise, in particular, disrupts students and makes it difficult for them to properly focus on the work. This is not an issue in the online learning environment. While it is true that students who want to misbehave will find ways to do so in any environment, much more work is taking place online. The students show up, we go over instructions, they communicate via chat features and can collaborate online and also just knuckle down on individual tasks. When planning content for the end of Term One, I underestimated the amount of content students would be able to get through when we are working together without distractions. I feel like we are on a roll and hopefully this will give us a lot of time to work, draft, edit and refine Assessment tasks prior to submission.
HELLO, ARE YOU THERE?
Another one of the challenges has been actually getting the students to interact. While majority of students in my senior classes are actively attending and participating in my online lessons, this has not been the case for my juniors (particularly Year 7). In a school environment you can weasel students into doing at least some work if they are physically present in front of you. But what happens to the student who is not going to check in online? Not going to attend the class conference? Can't be bothered reading the weekly announcements from the teacher or getting in touch via email? They just hang out at home ignoring the fact that school is taking place at all. "Work, what work? I'm here playing my PS4". I'm hoping that as time goes on and students realise that this is not going to be a little two-week detour then back to normal, that they will start getting their butts into gear and actually engage with the lessons and the content.
HELLO DARKNESS, MY OLD FRIEND
Yes I'm an Introvert. Yes, being physically at school REALLY zaps the energy from me. But I also have depressive tendencies and being home, alone all day, not being able to go anywhere, not being able to see the emotions of the kids when they 'get' something or sit and have a cuppa and debrief with my co-workers, has been super hard. I also feel that when I have a free period at school, I really knuckle down and cross a heap of jobs off my lift, but at home I'm not being AS productive in terms of school work. Sitting down all day, staring at the computer screen is also really draining and takes away from the joy of completing creative tasks online, such as writing this blog post or editing a YouTube video.
And after a long day of teaching online, this is all I can manage for this post. If you want to check out more of my isolation and online teaching journey, then head over to my YouTube channel.