Thank you to everyone who sent me a question about my experience teaching remotely for the first two weeks of the school year. I hope that my experience back in the classroom, remotely teaching, will help you get a good start for the school year. I received so many questions that I am breaking this post up. This post is the first round of remote teaching Q&As.
My first two weeks of remote teaching were definitely interesting. From my first day of school, which was absolutely awful and isolating, to my first full week of instruction, it’s been nothing short of a roller coaster ride. Alas, it is getting better. However, it would be utterly naive of me to think that I’ve mastered the art of distance teaching. I am in no way an expert in remote teaching, but here is a look at my experience.
Please note that when I say “week 2,” that means one-half week and one full week of remote instruction. Our half week was one half-day and two full days (but block schedule, so just one meeting per class period).
What is the most important thing you’ve learned with remote teaching so far?
Everything changes so quickly, and by everything, I mean everything. I’m finding that policies and procedures for student engagement shift quite a bit. It is best to try to just roll with it as districts and administration work through all of the loose ends. Also, I am learning to have patience. I am learning a new LMS, Canvas, and it is frustrating not to know how to intuitively do everything I want to do as quickly as I want to do it. I’m trying to be patient with myself.
What is the most unexpected challenge?
I did not anticipate how lonely and isolating remote teaching from an empty classroom would be. My district has us teach remotely from our classrooms, so I am not used to the quiet. For a significant portion of the day, after I show up on campus to get my temperature checked, I am in my classroom, by myself, working all alone, staring at my computer. A few days a week, I’ll eat lunch in a classroom with my friends, and we are completely spread out -each of us sitting at a separate table on opposite ends of the room. Lunchtime goes by incredibly fast.
Do you have any tips for preventing your eyes/body from hurting after staring at the screen for so long?
I have a pair of blue light glasses that I keep at work always to have them there. I wear them in all of my meetings and when I am grading work. During the independent work time in my class periods, I walk around my classroom a bit between sessions. I also found that I like Zooming from my laptop and standing up in front of my classroom to teach. I project the slides on the screen, students follow along on their screens, and I try to deliver direct instruction as best as possible.
What do you wish you had done the first week that you didn’t do?
I wish that I would have taken another week for SEL and getting-to-know-you activities. However, since I started with content, I am making sure I include some of that at the beginning of each class period.
How did you structure your first few days of remote teaching?
My site usually experienced A LOT of schedule changes the first few days of school during a traditional back-to-school season. The start of remote learning was very similar because of the complex scheduling issues. Because of that, I only focused on introductory type activities in class. My students completed an All About Me Slides presentation, and we also reviewed some essential elements in Canvas.
I experimented with Zoom also, and I used the Zoom breakout rooms during an ice breaker. We played two truths and a lie. I introduced the activity and went first. Students either held up fingers in the camera or utilized the chat feature to answer to encourage participation. After I introduced myself, I separated my students into breakout rooms, and I visited each room. In each room, I spoke to every student. I asked how they were and how their first day was. It was a great moment to talk to every student. Plus, many students felt more comfortable in a smaller setting and turned their camera on in the small groups.
Another assignment I gave my students was a video introduction, which was very easy to assign in Canvas. I provided an example video, and then students uploaded their videos. In the video, I had them state their names slowly, provide their pronouns, and then tell me about one of their hobbies. This activity was one of my favorites from the start of the year because I saw my students. Also, and they were able to experiment with some of the Canvas features. We also completed these Back-to-School Welcome Stations and a Digital Personal Statement.
What tips would I give to newer teachers?
I cannot even begin to imagine how incredibly isolating this experience must be for new teachers. My best advice is to reach out to a department chair or principal and find a mentor. Find people at your site to plan (virtually) with. If at all possible, you should not be going at this alone.
Are you comfortable using a public bathroom?
Yes, and no. Being required to teach remotely at school is definitely not as safe as teaching from my own home. There is increased exposure, and I’ve seen people use the restroom without wearing their masks. As unhealthy as it is, I try to hold my pee after lunch until I get home because it is one less trip to the public restroom during a day. So, that’s about my comfort level.
How long are your Zoom sessions? How do you structure each period?
My class periods are 90 minutes long, and so far, I am finishing it extremely beneficial to Zoom for 80 of those 90 minutes.
I give the students the first 10 minutes of class to check the agenda, gather their supplies, review their work for the class, and, if I posted an introductory video, they can watch the video.
I start our Zoom 10 minutes into our class period, and I ask that all students are in the waiting room at the 5-minute mark. I’ve found that this buffer time helps the stragglers. I usually open the class, do a quick question ice-breaker, ask how the students are doing. If there was an introductory video, I ask them to share, either aloud or publicly in the chat, something they learned from the video. This video or starter question usually serves as an intro. Then, I go over my instruction for the day. I do this by either sharing my screen or by teaching in front of my classroom. I’ll pause a few times and ask for feedback and do a quick check for understanding.
So far, my live instruction is anywhere between 30-45 minutes. I won’t lecture for 45 minutes, but we might be on live Zoom for 45 minutes.
After the day’s live instruction comes to a close, I announce that it is not independent work time. During this time, I have all of my students turn their cameras off and mute their mics. I do the same, but my classroom speaker volume is still on. Students work on the assignment during this time, and if they have any questions, they just need to call out my name in the Zoom. They can also send me a private chat message if they have questions too.
During this independent work time, I usually keep students together in the main Zoom, but I’ve also experimented with breakout rooms. I’ve sent every kid to their own breakout room, which is an excellent option for private student conferencing and help. I should have my SPED collaborative teacher assigned soon. Once I do, I’ll have my SPED students go into a breakout room with my SPED collaborator for one-on-one assistance during this time.
When we begin our independent work time, I give the students a check-back time. This is the time that we all come back together at the end of class. It is usually for the last 10-15 minutes of class. I unmute myself with one minute to go and inform the kids that we are coming back together as a class.
During the final wrap-up of our class, I review what we did, review essential deadlines, and the students ask questions about the work.
So far, this structure is working for me. I am providing my students with live instruction for a good portion of the class, and I am also available for one-on-one help if students need it. I am usually a dot your I’s and cross your T’s type of person, so being in Zoom covers me the entire time. Plus, during the independent work time, I can work on grading and planning.
What are some of your best tips for building relationships virtually?
So far, I am finding that I am sharing more about myself than I usually do to reach out and start building that bridge for my students. I’m seeing that if I open up about some of my struggles, obstacles, and victories, my students are pretty forthcoming as well. That, or they miss human communication. Also, I am as gracious as I can. Students are stressed, especially with learning a new platform virtually, so I cannot hold them to deadlines just yet. They can also resubmit work if they need to.
How do you take attendance?
I am still trying to figure out attendance, but I think I have a working system for me at the moment. I am using a Google Form, and I share it with my students in the Zoom call. I use the same Google Form for an entire week, and I change it each day to reflect the current day. I only have a few questions on the form: first name, last name, class period, date (I use the multiple-choice option for this and only give students the option of that day’s date), and a quick question.
As my students are waiting in the Zoom waiting room, I share the form link them there first and have them sign-in for attendance before we begin. A couple of minutes into the Zoom call, I then share the attendance form with them again. During my students’ independent work time, I go through the form and start putting in attendance. Then, during the final moments of class, I call the student names that I don’t have when we come back together. I have them unmute and say here. If I don’t hear a response immediately, I check the Zoom participants to see if they are on.
It’s a pretty cumbersome process, but I want to make sure that I don’t miss any students. Plus, this is the easiest so far that I’ve found that works for me. I am not keeping track of tardies at all.
That’s all of the questions for now! However, there will be a part 2 to this post!