Today I read and responded to thirty-two emails. It was a light day. Even after several weeks of e-learning, I’m still adjusting. Most days I’m certain I will never stop adjusting. I can still remember hearing random conversations in the halls about a pandemic. I didn’t take it seriously; I may have even made a joke about getting an early spring break. If I knew then, where we’d be now, I wouldn’t have found any humor in this situation. When the principal called a meeting to let us know what our e-learning policy would be if we, by some extremely unlikely chance, had to close our doors, I never expected to have to follow through with the plans. Maybe I was in denial or maybe I was just incapable of comprehending the magnitude of the situation. The truth Is that we were as prepared as we could have been for unchartered waters. Sometimes the challenges of distance learning feel unsurmountable. As a middle school teacher, I know I am not alone in the struggle. Perhaps by sharing what I feel to be the most challenging parts of this new way of life (and some solutions too), others will realize that we’re all in this together.
I’m forever trying to balance my internal optimist and my external realist. In other words, I’m always looking to find solutions to the very real problems I am faced with. The first step is identifying the problems, the solutions come later.
The social-emotional needs of our students are top priority at Indiana Math and Science Academy North, not just during the pandemic, but always. How do you comfort the child with a rough home-life that considers school to be their safe-haven? When you have been teaching children for a while you can pick up on their behaviors and you try to make their day go as smoothly as possible. How do you iron out the wrinkles in their day when you can’t even see their faces? I’d like to tell you I have great solution to this dilemma, but I do not. The best advice I can offer is to try your hardest to keep in constant contact with your students. These open lines of communication could be in the form of a phone call, Zoom, Google Hangout, Facetime, email, or the good old-fashioned postal service. I use Google Meet for live classroom questions but sometimes it’s fun to use it for a quick game (my kiddos love rap battles). Basically, any way you can let them know how much you care, gets you one step closer to meeting their social-emotional needs.
Lack of Resources
When you work for a Title I school, many of the students don’t come from families with the financial means to provide electronics and internet access. Clearly, the lack of resources puts a real damper on the process of creating work for students to do at home and their ability to complete it. My suggestion for those of you facing this issue would be to loan out laptops from the school supply to your students (they can be controlled from a remote location and traced if necessary). If your school doesn’t have enough laptops, I have found Donor’s Choose to be a great resource for funding projects. It works best if several teachers create a page and ask for the computers in smaller quantities. As far as the internet goes, if you reach out to your local provider, they might be willing to offer a promotional package to parents of students. Our local provider is offering FREE internet to families for distance learning. It never hurts to ask; you might be surprised at the lengths some companies will go to help during this time.
ELL and Special Education
Creating assignments with accommodations for English Language Learners is so much easier when you can print out resources and speak to the students in person. Distance learning makes it feel impossible at times. Even with the assistance of a strong ELL and SPED team (and our team really is superb), reaching special populations is a struggle. Think how frustrated you feel as an educator when you can’t offer the support your student needs to succeed and then multiply it by twenty and you’ll understand how the parents and the students must be feeling. It’s important that we acknowledge the frustrations that others are experiencing so that we can speak in a softer manner and not let our frustrations overwhelm us. The most helpful resources/methods we have found are, but not limited to; IXL translate, extending time, offering videos for visual learners, modified work, links to graphic organizers, the option to have novels read to them via YouTube, and Google Translate.
It’s so incredibly easy to get distracted when you’re at home. With a five-year-old, an eight-year-old, and a new puppy in my household, it is difficult for me to get motivated at times. I would imagine it is so much harder for kiddos to get motivated. The truth is that it’s a lot to expect of children, but it can be done. It requires frequent check-ins (make them aware that you’re watching!) It’s like crickets in my Google Classroom…until I post grades. Consistency is the key. Your consistency will keep them consistent. Remember, even if it’s online, it’s still your room to run. If the students don’t see that you’re checking their assignments, they’ll be a lot less likely to do them. Hold them accountable for their work. Don’t forget that some students still have parents working, so they might be telling their parents they have done their work when they haven’t. Parents are a great resource. Send them emails or make phone calls to let them know that you’re invested in continuing to educate their child. Let us not forget how important positive reinforcement is for children as well. At our school we have a points system where we reward students for behavior and academics. We are determined to keep this system in place, even during this trying time.
The best advice I can offer you is to be kind. Be kind to yourself when you’re struggling to reach your kiddos. Be kind to your students when they’re struggling to get work in on time. Be kind to parents when they are struggling to take on new roles in the household. Never forget that we are alone together.
By Lacey Rose Lawson