Teaching in the time of Covid-19

When we initially started the planning for Distance Learning I was pretty chill.  And I have to say there was part of me that was really excited to think outside the box and try some new things.

As I had already been teaching online with Global Online Academy for 6 years, I was confident in my skills as an online educator and designer. Yet I have always been torn on how to bring some of the cool things I do online with my GOA kids  to my students in my brick and mortar classroom.

My new classroom

When teaching online, you design a course well before the students arrive at it.  That means all activities, resources, instructions, are all in place day 1.  Then as a teacher, my job is to interact, help, give feedback, and meet with students.  Once the course starts, you might have to do a few tweaks here and there on the design, but the bulk of your time is spent just interacting, and well…teaching.

The other thing about a normal semester of online teaching is that I only have one class online.  The rest of my courses are face to face.  So I might be online an hour here or an hour there, but most of the time I’m walking around the classroom interacting with my students and colleagues, or planning my lessons.

So how is it different with distance learning?

The kids arrive at the course as you are creating it.  I have tried to make sure that I have everything front loaded for kids by Sunday afternoon.  That means that they can jump in on Sunday night or Monday morning and get an overview of what they will be doing for the week.

Rather than having all the kids going at the same pace on the same assignment, I have tried to create learning journeys for students.  For example, for our unit on Ancient Greece, students are choosing subtopics to explore by interacting with a playlist of resources to gain knowledge. To show their understanding, they have a variety of ways to express their learning: video, art, act it outs, screen casts, models in Minecraft, cartoons, written text, etc.

While kids are doing their work for the week, I am doing similar things that I usually do with my online kids.  I meet with them in small groups or whole class for 15 minute discussions or instructions. I give feedback on the work they are doing. I send email reminders if they fall behind. I might even have to pull some kids into Zoom with parents to set some goals to correct their path if needed. And if I have time, I also try to design the lessons for the following week, so that I have a break on the weekend. But I haven’t quite been successful at that yet.

Oh and don’t forget, I’m still teaching an online course for GOA.  So I will also go online before and after school to respond to student messages, give them feedback on their work, and meet with them in Zoom for check-ins, once every other week.

This means I am in front of a computer from 5:45 to 5:30/6:00pm every day.

I’m not writing all this to get your sympathy, but wanted to just share the kind of time it takes to deliver good, well designed distance learning activities.

Over Spring Break, which was two weeks, I spent 4-5 hours each day catching up on feedback for my students, and designing lessons for the following weeks. Before you scold me for using my vacation for work, know that work is what kept me from going crazy in lock down.

I had hoped to get ahead so that I could spend more time interacting with kids and their work, and less time designing, so I could have weekends back.  Unfortunately, there is always more planning to do.

And know that this planning is exciting and rewarding. My students have risen to the occasion and are also creating great work and showing their knowledge in inspiring new ways. However I know this kind of workload is unsustainable.

A typical day distance learning might look like this:

5:45 Wake up, get my coffee, and check the feed.  I check Worldometer for the latest counts of new infections and deaths, because I like to start the day on a positive note.  I read a bit of news and read my emails:personal, GOA students, and my school mail. I skim through Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram for inspiration from my digital PLN. It is amazing the things people are doing with kids and then sharing online.

6:30 Begin going through student work from the day before to send out reminder emails to anyone who has fallen behind.  I try to set the emails to send at 8:00 am so they don’t think I’m available at all hours.  Depending on the day I might be able to get through all of this by 8:45 when classes start, but sometimes I have to use my prep periods for this. 

And somewhere within those times I get dressed, get the family up, and squeeze in breakfast.  A shower usually happens in the afternoon.

8:45-2:15 (one hour lunch either at 11:40 or 12:30)

Each lesson throughout the day looks something like:

Go to Zoom Room:

  • If whole group meeting, it is instructions for 10 minutes, then they go off and work, checking back in if they have questions.
  • If small group meeting, I rotate 15 minute intervals with prearranged small groups of 3-5, when kids aren’t in meeting they are to be working on activities set.
  • If no meeting, I’m just in the Zoom room for kids to come in and ask questions if needed.
  • When not with students (but Zoom is still on) I’m going through student work, giving feedback, sending email reminders to students to do work, reading and responding to emails from students/colleagues/parents, checking to see that my daughter is focussed on her lessons, planning for next week of lessons.

If it is a prep period, then I am meeting with my collaborative team, or answering emails, or giving feedback to student work, sending email reminders, or if I’m lucky, using the time to plan for the following week.

2:15-3:10 is Study Hall. We have dropped our 6th lesson each day for Office Hours and time for students to catch up.  This time looks very much like what I do every other lesson.

3:30 I go out for a run or walk.

4:00 Yoga for 20 minutes.  Thank you to Down Dog for the Freemium subscription through July for teachers.

4:30-5:30 Last check of email.  Check student work and participation for my at risk students who need more support.  Respond to parent emails of “did my child respond, do work, etc if I sent out a message previously in the day.

By 5:30 I try to shut if off.  But as my online course is still in session, I usually try to spend that moment before dinner to check in and see how they are doing.

And then the next day looks very much the same.

What about weekends?

During a normal school year, the only thing I do on weekends is hang out with family and do normal weekend stuff.  I am lucky to work in a place that allows for a good work/life balance. 

But things are no longer normal.

So in order to function in this new world of teaching, my weekend looks more like regular work days, and less like a weekend.

6:30-7:30 Normal wake up ritual.  Also check for any pressing emails that must be answered.  If there is an emergency for at-risk kids, I will respond.  If it can wait until Monday, I usually respond at that time, but set the email to send Monday at 8:00.

7:30-10:30 Check in with my GOA online student work.  Send them any pressing reminders.  Use some time to plan lessons for the following work.  Build PowerSchool pages, find resources, write instructions, make Loom video for overviews.  Watch FlipGrid reflections from Friday.  These always cheer me up.

11:00am-10:00pm Once the family is up and going, I try to be present and not think about school. We do our shopping, take a bike ride, maybe go to the garden, take a hike in the neighborhood woods, or maybe we do some arts and crafts at the kitchen table.

Sundays are a bit more about school work.  Usually most of the day is spent planning. Then by 16:00, I send out emails to my students with the overview video of the week and publish their pages in PowerSchool for the coming week’s activities.

I don’t think my schedule is much different from most of my colleagues. Team meetings and WhatsAp chats have confirmed for me that we are all working similar hours. Many of us are doing the same things with our time.  I have yet to talk to any colleague who feels like this whole situation has finally given them time to do all those things they have never had time to do. 

Recently on the world of teacher bashing on Twitter, a person complained that he was tired of seeing all the fresh baked goods teachers were flaunting. He was disturbed that they were getting paid to do a bit of baking instead of working.

Love the response he got:

My response to people like that is that we all have our ways to find balance and peace amidst it all. Some of us bake. Some of us exercise.  Some of us make.  One of my colleagues has been making masks for community members, and another has been 3D printing and delivering PPE’s to hospitals in the area.

But to those who wonder what teachers do all day now that they are home,  I hope this gives you a little taste.  

My goal for the next few weeks…spend less weekend time on work.  Maybe, just maybe things will look a bit more like normal.

If looking for inspiration on how to better design lessons for online learning, check out these blog posts from the past:

Learning Doesn’t Have to Stop When the Teacher is Out Sick

Showing Understanding Through Screencasting

 Making the Most of Your Learning Management System:

Part 1-Wayfinding

Part 2-Collaboration

Part 3-Formative Assessment

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