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Education Blogger: School Has Started

Alas, in addition to copywriting, I teach. School in my district is either brick and mortar (BAM) or remote. As a fluke, I teach both.

Three weeks in and it’s been rocky. For the BAM kids, there are logistics like social distancing, not going to the restrooms during passing periods, and adjusting to one-way traffic in the halls.

We don’t have enough desks because classes that used tables no longer have tables. They weren’t big enough to allow social distancing.

Seating charts are now created and enforced in every class. If a student or teacher gets the virus, the nurses work with the county health department to find out who should be quarantined, and they use the seating charts as proximity guides.

The sanitizer we are using between classes is making my eczema worse. I asked for gloves. The school isn’t providing them.

I work with a lot of freshman and learning new names and faces is complicated by the masks. I know one student by his shoes because they are more expensive than any I could ever afford. The cool thing is that he helps pay for them with a dog walking business. 

One girl wears a different mask each day. She makes them herself, and they coordinate with her clothing. After she explained about making her color coordinated masks, I remember her name too.

There are a couple of students who just “bubble” beyond a mask. They are great to have in class because they brighten the room, and it’s easy to remember them.

Unfortunately, the masks seem to enable the shy, the angry, and those who mumble. It’s funny, but if you step closer to try and hear what they are saying, they speak even softer. I regularly tell my students to yell at me. Thus far they haven’t. It’s good and bad.

Even with masks, I’m glad to see the students back.

This fall, I’m enjoying my remote class more than I did those in the spring. Part of my enjoyment springs from a scheduling error that I couldn’t get anyone to fix. I have ninth, tenth, eleventh, and twelfth grade students in the same reading class.

Some people might be shaking their heads, and I was in the beginning. But one of my strengths is creating a safe environment in my room, even if it’s virtual. Students have the right to be heard. Not everyone may agree, but I teach them to be respectful. I teach them to ask questions to understand why the other person thinks the way they think.

Many of the students are new to me. They are having to get to know me just like I’m getting to know them. The funny thing is, I get to see their faces when they open their cameras. I’m in an isolated room, so they can see mine without a mask too. It is one of the benefits of being remote.

They’ve learned they can and should give technical advice to me. They’ve learned that I understand they may be having technical difficulties too.

The mixed level students have brought different ideas to each class. We read an article about education one day, and I asked my students whether going to school until they were eighteen was a good plan. I explained that when I was in high school, students could leave at 16. I was surprised when all who spoke said 18 was still good.

There were two students who thought it should be longer based on the brain science that says a brain is not fully developed until 25 years of age. These were not my thoughts and opinions.

I learn from my students every day. I’m frequently the devil’s advocate to see how sure their opinions are.

To communicate, we use speaking, hand signals via the cameras, and the chat boxes. I’m getting better at facilitating all of these conversations, and the kids are amazing. They are participating. Sometimes it’s a one at a time thing because I want to hear every student read every day in class, but we are able to have discussions too.

These methods of communication are important, but I’m also working with my students on growing their vocabularies and using them more effectively. There are times I insist on correct grammar, but I can’t do that all of the time during a discussion. It slows things in the chat box. I don’t accept text speak, but I do let them answer in fragments. It is the way we speak.

Remote learning done well may really help all of us communicate better via the internet.

Unfortunately, good remote learning isn’t guaranteed.

When school started, we were told the students HAD to report to their remote learning classes. We were to take attendance, and the students were to be held accountable. Already, the state has changed its mind. Now touching base by email once a day is adequate.

I can create great lessons, but people who want students to learn know that participation makes a tremendous difference. It’s how we learn to listen and respect one another. I can send a group email, but it’s not the same.

If you or your student are studying remotely, show up to class. Learn, teach, and listen. It matters. 

There Is rumor about bets on what day we will be going totally remote. I don’t bet; it’s not my thing. But, if we do end up totally remote again, I hope students and parents will help make remote learning as strong as possible. Attendance matters. I teach reading. If we don’t meet, who makes sure they read, comprehend what they read, and continue to expand their vocabularies?

My lesson plans are online. The materials are online, but I teach live. I’m there to help your kids learn. I’m there to challenge them and answer their questions. Please make sure they show up. 

I update grades weekly. Don’t wait until the end of the semester to check their grades. Let them know that you care they are learning.

I read an article in the New York Times Magazine. The premise of the article was that this would be a “lost” year. I can’t speak for others, but if my remote class keeps up the work they’ve done in the last three weeks, it won’t be a lost year. They will show all of us that remote learning can be viable.

I want the pandemic to end. I want students to return to school without fear and without masks, but one of my students told me today that remote learning was working for her. She felt safer from bullying, and she felt she was learning more. 

I hope she is learning. If we find students excelling while remote, it shouldn’t go away. My remote class of 17 kids teaches me new things every day. Yeah, it shouldn’t just be the kids who are learning. 

Expectations need to stay high. 

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