I have a classroom of 37 high school students staring at me. My breath is coming faster, making my mask humid and hot. My current lesson is tanking and out of the corner of my eye, I can see my unread email count growing higher and higher. Emails from my online students, most likely about an activity that isn’t working or an assignment they can’t access.
Lessons going wrong is no big deal. It happens all the time, even for experienced teachers. I’m good on my feet, and usually, my students have no idea I’m working on the fly.
However, this year is different.
I am paid a bit extra to teach the online World History class, composed of approximately 80 students from eight different high schools across our spread-out district, including urban, suburban, and rural areas. Each of them has their own reasons for choosing online classes over in-person classes. In addition, I teach World History and U.S. History to 150 in-person students. I pride myself on my engaging lessons and ability to make history relevant for students … but my style is hard to apply to my online students. I don’t know them as well as I do my in-person students. It’s not the same, no matter how hard I try.
Some students engage. Some don’t.
Throughout the day, as I’m teaching in person, I’ll receive upwards of 50 emails from my online students. These emails come from 20 to 30 very driven and active students. Where are the other 50 to 60 students? I ask myself this question. All. Day. Long.
The emails received from active students are usually in regards to their lack of understanding about an assignment or some technical glitch. Despite having been trained in both online teaching and blended learning, I’m not always able to work out all of the kinks. Luckily for me, the active students are quick to let me know. I then scramble to fix things so they can stay on top of their work. All this, while making sure my in-person students are on task and engaged.
Frequently, I look at the list of students who haven’t engaged at all. At the same time, I notice the number of students who have engaged in our online learning management system drops week by week. When we see these negative patterns, we have been instructed to reach out to their parents. But that takes time, and rarely do they respond.
Prep time is now tech time.
Yesterday, I came to school early because yet again, our copy machine malfunctioned the day before. I set up my lessons for the day. While I do have prep periods, I know I’ll spend that time fixing glitches in my online lessons and striving to find fun, interesting, engaging, and educational activities to ensure these students are receiving a quality education. All of this is on top of worrying about students who aren’t logging in and completing assignments while trying to contact their parents to solicit help nudging their students along.
The bell rings and we begin in-person class. A new element of my professional instruction to students is a constant reminder to put masks back on. They usually don’t complain as they comply. Meanwhile, I am switching between masks to find the most breathable one. I find it suffocating when trying to talk loud enough for students to hear and understand. (Note: I have found that masks made out of swimsuit material are the most breathable!)
After students are engaged in our daily activity (sans group work because of social distancing), I stop for a quick glance at my email. I normally wouldn’t do this, but I can’t risk letting emails from my online students go unanswered for too long. Once I fix, tweak and/or explain better how to do each assignment and activity, the online class might roll smoothly. Or it might not? As the day rolls on, assignments from the online classes are rolling in. Some of them are current assignments and some were due a month ago. I try to grade quickly and get feedback to the students, but it’s not always easy.
Most of the time, I feel like I’m quite literally building the airplane as I am flying.
How are you handling teaching online and in person at the same time? Share in our WeAreTeachers HELPLINE group.