Survival Tips for Teachers During Remote Learning
Overwhelmed: That’s the word running through almost every teacher’s mind in light of the pandemic sweeping our world and the transition to remote learning. No matter what you believe about the issue, we are all in the same boat.
Posts, images, memes, and videos also show that parents are feeling the same way about the situation. They are trying to figure out what to do about jobs, bills, and “homeschooling”.
If teachers and parents are feeling this way, what must our students be feeling? Watching the world around them change so drastically, they have a keen eye on us: their role models.
As role models, we need to be such for our students. We need to take a step back and breathe. Almost every school has a different expectation for their teachers. We can complain about it, but we can’t control much of it, so we need to move on from it.
Education is not going to look like we want it to right now. It’s going to be a little ugly. Maybe even a lot ugly. We can control some of that, but mostly, we can control how we respond. Of course, those little eyes are watching those responses.
For some of us, our anxiety is even higher because we know some of our students are in really tough situations at home. No access, no supervision, no food, neglect, abuse. We know our students are not all safe or loved at home.
Some of our students are going to need additional support during this time. Students also are going to need to see others are struggling as well to feel like they are not alone. In addition, some of our students are going to need their teachers to push to advocate for them. Even though we are overwhelmed, we have to breathe through our frustrations, fears, and failures to champion our students. Consider the following 8 survival tips for teachers during remote learning to help your students who need additional support without overwhelming yourself (any more than we already do).
1. Prepare virtual spaces.
First, there are many virtual platforms, but a key is to make sure your students have access. My favorite is Zoom (because my students use it regularly), but Google also provides a wealth of tools! Through GSuite for Education, you also have access to Google Meet. If your students already have these accounts, it’s easy to set these programs up. I record quick how-to videos to help my students navigate the platform and important components (like private messages). Be consistent and have checklists so students (and parents) know what to expect! Consider which platform works best for you and your students.
2. Prepare physical spaces.
Some of us have a nice, comfy home office, which is great! However, if you are working from your bedroom, kitchen, or other home areas, you need to make sure it is student-friendly. Dogs barking and kids crying are difficult to control, so control what you can. Piles of clothes and dishes may show your students that you’re human, but they also might lead your students to think they are distracting you from tending to your home, so they cut conversations short. It’s never appropriate to show your collection of wine or bottles of liquor. A plain space with minimal background distractions works best. Consider what a stranger might be comfortable seeing.
3. Create virtual routines.
Some of us have remote learning hours during our set block of time, so consider setting up times outside of those classroom environments. Perhaps, set up a coffee-shop hour, homeroom, or office hours where you are online and any students can hop on to chat. Students might want to join with their friends who they are likely missing right about now. Consider several, shorter blocks of time and come prepared to do other work that can be put aside easily if students show up. Because of privacy and safety concerns, do not facilitate private chats with kids or small group chats without you being present.
Flipgrid is another powerful virtual tool where students can post video questions without you having to be “live”. Consider using this for virtual office hours if you have other tasks to manage at home or find your students may have questions they may want to ask outside a “live” room.
4. Create questions.
Be mindful of social-emotional well-being. Some of our students are going to struggle to articulate how they are feeling right now, so we need to be prepared with questions. If a student hops on a remote learning space, that student may not be able to express how he or she is feeling. Ask specific questions. “What did you do after your homework last night?” “How do you feel right now?” “What did you eat for breakfast today?”
If you have younger groups of students, consider using emojis or images to help them articulate how they feel. Also, if you’re using a program like Zoom, you can ask these questions during the virtual meeting. If you are using Google, you can set these questions up in a Google Form. These platforms also help you track student interactions. Consider writing them down and talking through them with students.
Post the form in Google Classroom where it’s easily accessible for all students.
5. Create goals.
It’s normal for students (and adults) to feel lost right now. They can complete their homework, but they need something to look forward to; they need direction. Set up a list of goals from basic to advanced for your students to use in response to their responses to the questions you ask. If a student responds that he or she watched television for 5 hours straight after homework the night before, set a goal for him or her to take a half-hour or hour break every half hour or an hour watching television. During that time, challenge him or her to do something away from a screen (chores, play with dogs, talk to siblings).
Maybe a student doesn’t feel stimulated enough with homework. Challenge him or her to find an alternative assignment or resource. Science teachers can have students find a resource from Discovery Education or National Science Foundation and create a video or lesson. PE teachers can have students access GoNoodle or OPEN and create a how-to video lesson. Try to center around SMART goals, so students can recognize the value in setting goals that are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant/Realistic and Time-bound. Consider asking them to set goals for themselves.
6. Prepare resources.
Some of our students are going to be without resources that they would normally find at school, but many of their parents are going to struggle with as well. Parents may struggle with resources to help their child through math, science, or reading, but their greater struggle will likely be in life resources: loss of income, rent or mortgage concerns, medical needs. Gather resources as you find them or use district or state-based resources. Keep them in a single space, so you can send them to families as needed. Consider asking your friends and colleagues to contribute to a resource list.
7. Be mindful.
We are all struggling right now. We have to wear more hats than ever before. You are a teacher, counselor, role model, and leader. Believe it or not, you are a link to the regularity of life. You are now serving the entire family as much as you are serving the student.
However, be mindful of your own needs. Eat at normal times. Take bathroom breaks like you did before you started teaching. Cuddle your own children and pets. Breathe. As much as we are overwhelmed, we are not alone. Connect with your colleagues. Meet with them virtually. Reach out to your administrators. Be prepared to make mistakes and to be more patient than ever. Consider using mindfulness techniques in your virtual spaces and in your physical spaces.
Right now, you are the champion for your students and their families as well as for yourself and your family. You have the power to rise up to the challenge of remote learning set before you as an educator and the ability to help so many through our current situation. Those of us in the service industry are being hailed as heroes. We are, but we’ve always been. We miss the smiles, the shoulder squeeze, the hugs from our students, but we’re going to make it.
You’ve got this, my friends. When you feel like you don’t, go to your nearest mirror and look at yourself. Think: Overwhelmed? Then: Breathe. Say: Champion.
Go out and be the champion the world knows we can be. Survive.
Martha Warner is a freelance writer, editor, and designer as well as an adjunct instructor of communications and English at Indiana University Kokomo. Martha writes at marthawarner.org
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