Well, if anyone told me I would be teaching from my kitchen in the year 2020 on Zoom using a platform called Schoology where we upload lessons, assignments, and grades, I would have absolutely looked at you like you were a crazy person. However, you would have been 100% correct. Also, any time I am asked this question, ‘how is virtual school going?’ I honestly have no idea how to answer it, but I will try my best in this post to share my experiences so far.
These are definitely times no one could have predicted, and although there are many sad and quite lonely times, there have also been many learning and growing opportunities during all of this. I have never been someone who is very tech savvy. I actually have always avoided technology whenever possible. However, as time goes by (and this year more than ever before) it is absolutely becoming something I can no longer avoid. Take this school year for example. I would have never predicted almost an entire school year in my career would take place virtually. I am communicating with my colleagues, students, and families through only the use of technology. To say it has been a challenging experience is an understatement, but I have also learned so many things I may have never learned before.
A large part of my job is developing paperwork for my students and having families review and sign that paperwork in order to provide the students with what they need to be successful. I am aware people have been using software to sign documents electronically for many years, but for myself and majority of my families, this is a very new experience. Overall, I am very pleased with my ability to use HelloSign and my parents and guardians who have been adapting quite smoothly to using HelloSign. I can see many pros for using this system for years to come in person and/or in the virtual setting.
Another aspect of virtual learning is the classroom. It was definitely never my plan or hope to teach students from a Zoom setting. I terribly miss the interactions, the noise, and the person-to-person support I was able to offer in the school setting. Some things that even drove me crazy in the building, I am really missing now, 7 months into virtual schooling. Everyone is trying their best, and students are coming to zoom classes when they are supposed to, but it does not feel remotely to close to ‘normal’ [no pun intended there but it happened]. One pro has been all of us becoming more comfortable with technology through these virtual times, but a con for me has been my high school students being very reluctant to keep on their screens, and when they are on I will often hear or see something I wish I had not heard or seen. I am grateful for the technology and learning new ways to stay connected, but I long for the days when we can (safely) be in person again.
*Since this post was started I have been able to increase students with their screens on by stating they do not have to have their screen pointed directly at their face. We will see if this continues*
Additionally, another important aspect of my job is providing students with support in and out of their classes. This may be one of the most difficult aspects of virtual learning so far. I mostly support students in 8th Grade and this is a difficult year. Students are at an age where they want to be able to do everything themselves and have not developed a lot of self-advocacy skills yet. However, this is also an important year where teachers’ expectations for students greatly increase from those expectations in Grades K-7.
Everyone is trying their best and with family challenges and navigating at-home learning, I am very proud of my students. It is also very challenging to provide support and stay positive when things are so different and challenging. I try to remain positive, but this year has definitely made that challenging. I know we will make it through and students will persevere as students and children typically do. I also recognize the immense weight this has added to families and there is so little I am able to do about it. I very much look forward to the day we are back together, and in the mean time I hope my students, their families, and my co-workers continue to stay safe, give themselves grace, and recognize how we are all doing our best to handle a very challenging time.