Finding the Little Joys in Teaching During Remote Learning

We are in a hybrid model this year – one day a week we are all online. The whole month of December we were fully remote, and it seems like our one day a week online is miserable to them now that we are back to some in-person learning. I think there is a dread of sitting in front of the computer all day long without being able to socialize with peers hanging over their heads. There has been a lack of joys in teaching this year.

Little Joys Exisit

Today, in one of my classes we got on the topic of weird food combos. (I have no idea how we got here- it’s middle school.) So, I asked my students: What’s the weirdest food combo you have tried or seen?

Here are their responses:

We can choose to bring joy into our remote classes. Our students need it, and so do we. Find the little joys in a crummy situation.
  • – Ketchup and Eggs
  • – Cornchips and Nutella
  • – Chips and Chocolate
  • – French Fries and Ice Cream
  • – Pizza and Ketchup
  • – Pineapple and cottage cheese
  • – Pretzels with ketchup
  • – Mac and cheese with ketchup (I am noticing a theme here.)
  • – Steak and Ketchup
  • – Yogurt and chips
  • – Cookies and salsa 

And the best one?

A student said their dad likes syrup on noodles 

I had to ask, “Is your dad Buddy the Elf?!”

This is just one of the little joys that made my day. 

However, I am hoping that these small moments of off-topic conversation and laughter bring a smile to their face throughout our virtual day attached to the computer. I know the moments where we go off-topic to see everyone’s pets or talk about random things makes my day go a little smoother and feel a little lighter. 

Finding the Little Joy in Online Learning

There are other teachers who will send their kids on a scavenger hunt to find something so the students can get up and out of their chairs for just a minute. Our student council is running a food drive, and one teacher had their students turn off their cameras to grab a can and bring it back to encourage helping out a good cause. 

Our students need some of these little joys, conversations or connections, and games during this time. It is encouraging to me to see teachers trying to make the best of it regardless of hybrid, remote, in-person, or completely virtual. We should be building relationships with our students during this and it is one way to keep getting to know our students and have fun with them even when they aren’t in the room with us physically. 

While we head into the second semester, I want to encourage all of us to keep building those relationships with our students. Keep reaching out and making interactions fun. It can mean the world to one student to be able to have a little joy-filled moment to hold onto for the rest of the day.  Keep finding the little joys in teaching this year.

Remote Learning Well-Being

We have been remote learning for a few weeks now and I gotta say, I am definitely over it. The students are too. 

Although there have been some positives coming out of remote learning and I am grateful for any tiny sliver of hope. As we wrap up the semester, my students have come up with innovative ways to share their genius hour presentations and they are learning podcasting with grace. For my other students, I am just glad they decided to sign onto the google meet. 

Something happened last week that really struck a chord with me. One of my top students snapped at me about his book group. He knows I am willing to discuss and hear them out on just about everything if they disagree. So when he copped an attitude with me I was stunned. 

The next day I received an apology email from him, unprompted. I wrote him back and accepted his apology, but I asked him if he was ok since this was uncharacteristic of him. He told me, “It was just ‘a wrong side of the bed type of day,’ and I think not having anyone around while I am home is hard. Everyone else seems to have siblings or parents that work from home. It’s getting old.” 

Gosh, that struck me about our (teacher and students) wellbeing during this remote learning. 

After having to quarantine twice this year, I recognized when I started to slip into a funk I needed to pause and check in with myself on how I was really feeling: Had I gone outside for a walk? Did I eat junk all day? How’s my water intake? Have I  talked to someone on the phone/facetime? Have I done something that I enjoy? 

Majority of the time I had answered negatively to those questions, meaning I hadn’t been really taking care of myself mentally and physically. I strongly encourage you to check in with yourself using the above checklist. 

Run through it in times of high anxiety or sadness. This isn’t easy for any of us. We are built as social creatures and while a computer screen with people on a call is ok, it’s not the same. 

These next three weeks are going to be a challenge for us as teachers and our students. Let’s do our best to keep an eye out for each other. 

Teacher Parents

Today I’m struggling. Today I’m trying to manage my kindergartner while teaching my middle school classes. I’m trying to be the best teacher I can be while also trying to be a parent. I’m almost in tears as I write this because while I’m teaching online, my daughter is sitting there frustrated because she’s trying to figure out what to do next for her meeting. But I also need my job. 

So today, I struggle with:  A. Do I be a parent and help my daughter learn and be successful? Or B. Do I tell her to wait while she cries in frustration while I teach my students to the best of my ability? This isn’t an easy job, it’s impossible. A lot is being asked of us and I will gladly do it for my students and I’ll gladly do it for my own daughter. I’ll do it for the safety of the rest of the school, my staff, but please understand that when a school goes fully remote we don’t get free time. Especially parents who are teachers. We get the additional worry of making sure our own students at home are learning plus attempting to understand what’s being asked of them regardless of their age. 

This year has been a challenge for all of us educators, parents, and students alike. This year is especially different given that all of the expectations have changed, and consistently continue to change since March when we attempted remote learning the first time.  

While we have been fighting hard to keep our students in school and keep them among their peers and learning at a rigorous rate; when you’re thrown into quarantine twice in a matter of weeks and then your daughter (children) are quarantine on top of going fully remote for a week before a long holiday break, you start to lose your patience. You lose your patience with parents who demand that we keep kids in school regardless of the numbers, risk, safety. You lose your patience with the students who are coming to school sick. You lose your patience when kids are being tested for this virus over and over and over again and still, being sent to school only to quarantine a whole group of their peers and teachers. 

My question is how is this fair? How is this fair to our teachers or parents? I don’t know that there’s a right answer for any of it and the frustrating part is that I wish I had a solution and I don’t. 

I’m coming to you today as a parent who has been in quarantine twice. 

I’ve missed out on family time with members outside my immediate household since September, my girls haven’t seen their grandparents since then, and shortly after I was put in quarantine my daughter was put in quarantine. She’s a kindergartner. She’s now having to do her learning at home on a tablet. Thank God she has an amazing teacher who is patient and willing to explain all of the steps and tools and expectations that she needs to do at home while managing 14 other kindergartners on a screen. This quarantine threatens our Thanksgiving, our traditions, our needs. Next, quarantine will threaten our Christmas. 

I’ve been told by several parents that it’s important that we keep our kids in school, it’s important for their mental health. Yes, I 100% agree. However, you have to also consider the fact that the teachers are human too and we need to be able to spend time with our families. When a sick child is sent to school or waiting on a Covid test, you’re risking taking away time for that teacher to spend with their family. I’ve been looked at as essential personnel this year. I have now gotten a glimpse at how essential personnel are currently being treated.  We’re treated as if we’re not doing enough. As if we aren’t taking any risk every day when all we really do is go to work and come home to our families. I was even told that I have more free time now that I’m at home, teaching online, not only by a student but also a parent. It’s frustrating to see that we are still thought of so little as educators even though in the spring we were more than needed and maybe finally feeling appreciated. 

It’s also frustrating when at the beginning of the year so many parents wanted us to be in school and thought that we weren’t doing enough even when we started school. I don’t know if there’s a happy middle ground. I don’t know that there’s a solution, but I do know that this week alone has taught me how undervalued and under appreciated I feel as a teacher who is also a parent of a student having to deal with quarantine over and over again. 

This by far has been the hardest year of my teaching career. I feel like a first year teacher when it comes to online learning in all my attempts at keeping my students engaged. Trying to keep students willing to participate for 40 minutes at a time, while we’re expecting the students to have enough motivation to last online all day is extremely hard. It’s also wearing, on me and on them. I’m exhausted at the end of the day, even though it may seem like I’ve done nothing but sit all day. My muscles ache from the lack of movement. My heart hurts from not being able to see my students in person. I am proud to say that the majority of my students have adapted well to hybrid learning and moving to remote education. But there are others who don’t have the support at home. There are others who refuse to get online for a 40 minute class. There are a lot of kids that have already checked out. I’m not sure how to bring them back in. I’m uncertain how to get them to care, because I honestly understand, it’s hard to care about something when your teachers are on a screen. It’s hard to care about something when you’re required to stare at a computer all day.