Once of the reasons I became a teacher was so that I didn’t have to sit behind a desk and stare at a screen from 9-5 and honestly, over the last two months, me and my back have struggled! Virtual teaching has been interesting but not exactly what I expected.
I remember when I sat at the whole staff briefing before the Head announced we were to close earlier than the official lockdown, I had mixed emotions about what was to come. Part of me felt confident that we would get the lessons and learning out to the students – we are quite a “tech-y” school, part of me was worried about the students from disadvantaged backgrounds and how their families would cope and part of me was excited to explore a new way of teaching.
After two months of being online, this seems like the new normal and here are a few things I have learnt/reflected on.
- Hegarty Maths is a blessing.
I cannot recommend this platform enough. It is like having a teacher at home with you – videos to explain content, a quiz per video that marks itself for the students and lots of extras that improve students’ long term memory with ‘Memri’ and ‘Fix-up 5’s’. Hegarty generates a spreadsheet with the marks for the students and allows us to see very quickly those logging on or not which I have found super useful. This has been the main platform of Maths for our students over the course of this lockdown and it has been absolutely amazing.
- Teachers will be talking to themselves a lot of the time.
The number of times I have put out a message on Google Classroom and feel like I’m answering my own question is quite sad. I mean, I don’t blame the students – talking to your teacher who is asking how your weekend was when you have Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and so many other social platforms may seem a little lame. The social interaction and dare I say it, ‘banter’, with the students is definitely one of the things I miss most about being in school!
- The attainment gap between the most advantaged and most disadvantaged students is growing rapidly.
This upsets me, a lot. There are students that are blessed with great home lives, supportive parents, good access to the internet, food on their plates even during these challenging times. But a lot of students do not have this. Many schools, including my own, have set up things like getting laptops/ipads out to these students, arranging internet access, providing weekly delivery of food, phone check ins every week that is working to support these students and their families but the attainment gap continues to grow day by day.
- Assessments look very different online.
Honesty, if I was asked today by my line manager or even SLT, on what the students have learnt over the last 2 months, I would be stumped to answer. I do not know for sure who knows what and how much. I can show them, without a problem, what work I have been setting, what topics have been ‘covered’ but with no level of certainty can I say they ‘know it’. This is the thing with online assessing – we just do not know.
Two things I have used that have worked well are:
1. Creating quizzes on Google classroom – although not too regularly
2. Asking multiple choice questions for the ‘do now’s’ almost every lesson – the responses to these seem far better sometime than the main task itself!
I have heard some crazy things from some colleagues in other schools about how they are still planning to do remote assessments as they would at the end of the year and so on – this really confuses me. Who are these assessments for and what are they really going to show us?
It seems like the logical thing to do with assessing online is to keep it simple when understanding needs to be checked. Students are already having to independently navigate a fair chunk their way through the learning and we can do them a service by keeping it simple and easy.
- Well-being wins over everything and communication is key.
As schools, we have a duty of care towards the young people as well as to our colleagues. Some of the best days I’ve had during this time is when I’ve contacted parents and spoken with them and the students – this human element is the best bit of the job for me. Over the past few weeks, switching the conversation from ‘so and so has missed a few Maths assignments’ to a well-being catch up has improved my own mental health and hearing students tell me ‘Miss it is lovely to hear your voice’ has actually been quite emotional! This period has definitely helped me see another big picture within education and the role that we play in young peoples lives.
Not only communication with parents, but communication between staff is vital too. After speaking with some teacher friends, I feel lucky that as a staff body in my school, we are all well connected. Meetings in the morning are still being held, CPD sessions are running, sharing of student work, films and TV shows are being recommended, sharing recipes and communication within department is keeping spirits up.
Finally, with all this said, the reality is that some students, despite having all the online resources and support, will just not turn up and we have to accept it – as long as they are well and safe. I need to remember this too, but there is only so much we can do.