Teachers’ Reflections On Virtual Learning

Teachers Reflections On Virtual Learning

Caleb Painter


With millions of COVID cases nationwide, schools across the country are figuring out how best to operate. It’s by no means easy. The difficulty is in trying to balance two chief concerns, safety and pedagogy, which in some ways seem to be polar opposites. The highest quality of education will likely be the least safe, as it would involve going back to business as usual.The Buzzer talked with a number of teachers about how they felt these past months had gone, touching on topics from online teaching, to safety concerns, to Zoom bombings. 


Fully Virtual


For the very first two weeks of this year and the occasional few days of shut-down when a student got sick with COVID-19, learning was entirely virtual. Fortunately, most teachers felt these weeks had gone by fine. Mr. Ralston, who teaches 9th and 10th grade history, thought that “the way it had gone in the first two weeks was much better than what we were doing in the spring.” Indeed, a lot has changed since March and April. During fully virtual days, classes are now live-streamed, homework and assignments are being given out more consistently, and students’ schedules mirrored a typical school day much more. Teachers are appreciating this closer resemblance to regular school. Mr. Ralston said, “being in my classroom is a much more appealing setup than teaching from home. I didn’t like the feeling that my private life and professional life had to coexist in the same space.” Ms. Paz also felt “much more confident” about full online teaching than she felt in the spring. 

That isn’t to say that distance teaching during all virtual weeks was without problems. “There’s the obvious challenge of glitches in technology,” noted Ms. Paz. “Even just connection occasionally is an issue,” making any learning almost entirely dependent on the strength of one’s wifi. Even more importantly though, it has become much more difficult to gauge online student engagement. There are fewer connections between teachers and students, as well as much less interaction between students themselves. For Ms. Paz and many other teachers, breakout rooms have been key in trying to solve this problem. “Especially as a language teacher, being able to have kids work collaboratively in an environment that allows me to jump in and be a part of it has been extremely helpful.” 

For Ms. Rudd, one of the biggest challenges has been that everything takes “four times as long to do.” Whether it’s assigning work, posting documents on Google Classroom, or making sure each student has access to a certain text, many teachers are frustrated by how time-consuming it all is. “It just took me over an hour, for example, to find, copy and paste, readjust for a Google doc and then post to 2 different classes — 6 or 7 short poems that in the “real world” I could print out and hand out so students could mark them up” recounts Ms. Rudd. She wants to stress that teaching virtually is the hardest thing teachers have ever done, and how much more effort it takes than teaching in the “brick and mortar world.” Teachers are working longer days, over weekends, and before school hours to make sure everything runs as smoothly as possible. Mr. Rosner also wants to drive home how challenging this new form of teaching is and how hard teachers are trying to make it work. “We are working 10-12 hours a day, reworking all our traditional lessons, learning new software and services as quickly as possible.” In no way should students or parents think that teachers find virtual school easier. It’s much, much harder.

 Despite the challenges, there are plenty of things teachers are happy with and continue to look forward to. Like every year, Ms. Rudd is excited to get to know her students, and to build “relationships with them through lively and engaging activities and class discussions.” Ms. Paz enjoys and feeds off of “the energy of [her] students and classrooms, as well as the energy and ideas of [her] colleagues.” While she knows that energy will be different this year, she’s confident it will still be there. 




As for how well the hybrid model is working, teachers’ reactions were mixed.

Mr. Rosner, for one, is optimistic. When I spoke with him a few weeks ago, he said, “Everything is working a lot better than I thought it would,” he said. “I’m glad we’re doing it. I suspect it won’t last very long, and we will be ducking out for a week or two at a time, but so long as people have a reason to get up in the morning and get out, it’s motivating. I think being cooped up at home is conducive to depression, and it’s more healthy to get out there.”

On the other side, Ms. Bassani was at first concerned about student engagement and accountability during remote days. “It’s one thing when everyone is remote and I can focus on the computer, the students working, etc. But with students being present in the classroom, now my attention is split. It’s too easy to disengage at home if you’re not being directly interacted with during a Google Meet.” However, she’s found that they took on the challenge better than expected. “The students, for the most part, have been exceptional – participating, asking questions, everything.” Still, that doesn’t mean hybrid is easy, and she’s finding it difficult to “strike a balance” when trying to incorporate both virtual and in person students. She’s not alone in this, with many teachers finding it hard to interact with both halves of their class simultaneously.  She’s also noticed another side effect of hybrid learning: “I find that I have to spend a lot of time recapping what we worked on during the prior class meeting.  There’s less memory retention from one class to the next because of the hybrid schedule.” 

While Ms. Rudd feels that we are still playing “Russian Roulette” with this system, she understands the “desire to be back in the building and to see people face to face.” Like Ms. Bassani, she wants to give her students credit for making Hybrid manageable. She says she’s lucky to be teaching  “two smallish classes of really motivated seniors who seem to want to be there,” and that “everyone shows up, everyone’s behaving, everyone’s engaged.” However, she wants to make it clear that she thinks we should return to an all virtual model after Thanksgiving. “I think it’s safer and pedagogically better than hybrid, and I’m doing fine when we’re virtual. I’ve gotten used to it.”