Is Anyone Even Remotely Listening? Teaching From A Distance

Chiara Douglas, Arts and Entertainment Editor

Rolling out of bed five minutes before class and dragging through the remote school day has had differing mental and physical effects on students and teachers alike. We know what students are put through each day, but what about teachers? What is their daily school routine like? How do they plan their lessons for the week? As teachers plan virtual lessons and talk to blank screens, they grow as restless and stressed as the rest of us.

At the beginning of the school year, there was a push for teachers to incorporate more in-person time on instructing remotely. After six hours of back to back classes, this has understandably created a lot of fatigue for students, parents, and teachers. Virtual learning has relieved the anxiety many face when going into the school building and being around other people, but it has also isolated many others who enjoy being in school with colleagues, friends, and their peers. An anonymous student at West Springfield High School explained, “not being able to be around my friends and teachers has brought down my work ethic and has overall made me a more unhappy person. Being able to see faces in some of my classes makes me feel more included and comfortable, but it will never be the same as being face to face.” 

As teachers end their weeks, planning for the next begins. Instead of presenting material in the traditional classroom, teachers are now tasked with navigating various online educational resources like InsertLearning and other Google softwares, and are under pressure to try to figure out how to make assignments virtual and interactive. A popular web-based technology used among teachers is PearDeck- it allows students to participate while being anonymous, and lets teachers quickly assess how their students are progressing with their material. Platforms like these seem to be more valuable in math and sciences classes, where there are specific questions and answers. It provides quick data for teachers and a more interactive lesson for students. Google Jamboards has been another common tool used by teachers during these times. This platform allows students to anonymously ask questions, write answers, and serves as a virtual whiteboard. Although there are many useful programs at our fingertips, technology issues and a lack of “tech savviness” remain a burden. A junior at WSHS claimed, “having to download different apps onto my computer can be a hassle. It slows my chromebook down, and I am more illiterate in technology than some of my other classmates, which makes navigating different platforms like InsertLearning even more difficult.” 

Although differing frustrations of searching for and utilizing new platforms remain constant, another common challenge arises: blank screens. Staring at a bunch of icons is tiring for teachers and students- students are identified as their account picture, and teachers are often not able to identify their students outside of their virtual classrooms. Ms. Fay, a math teacher at West Springfield High School, confided that she doesn’t require students’ cameras to be on and that, “planning virtual lessons is much harder. It is hard to do group work, and it is hard to tell if students are cheating or understanding the material.” As many continue to encounter similar issues, teachers shared that getting honest feedback from students adds immensely to the effectiveness of their lessons. Ms. Corduff, an English and Journalism teacher at WSHS, added, “A smile or muted laugh at one of my terrible jokes can go a long way. The same goes for a look of confusion, frustration or even boredom. It helps me gauge how I’m doing. I never realized how important that is until now.” Although a lack of reciprocation may make others believe that students are content and happy locked away in their homes, being able to see their teachers faces also makes a world of difference. A senior at WSHS disclosed, “it’s comforting to know that our teachers are still ready and able to teach, rather than laying in their beds like many students are. It is also refreshing to see teachers like I used to when we were in school- it makes everything feel normal again.” If teachers didn’t show their faces when instructing through remote learning, students would feel completely isolated- seeing teachers allows students to feel like they are a part of the outside world, and truly helps remind each of us that we are all in this together. 

Since breakout rooms were not available at the beginning of the pandemic, Ms. Garcia, a World Language teacher at WSHS, has been using Zoom for her classes. Since the beginning of remote learning, Ms. Garcia and her students have been able to congregate in chosen rooms where they can work collaboratively, get work done more efficiently, and allow assignments to be more social. Since some students may feel more pressure to share their thoughts and ask questions in a larger setting, like the regular meets, having the ability to converse in breakout rooms allows for a more relaxed setting where all ideas can be considered, and more private relationships can form. She explained that as a department, the expectation when remote learning began was for students to come to class with cameras and mics on. She elaborated, “it is very beneficial to see facial expressions when teaching, especially when students are learning a world language… I want to have the ability to discern if my students are doing well, both with the material and their social-emotional state.” Students are also able to express themselves through newly installed icons, like the chat and the “raise hand feature,” which further allows teachers to gather information, and allows students who are more nervous in larger group settings to participate. A senior at WSHS continued, “breakout rooms allow you to feel connected to classmates. It also helps create a small, personalized atmosphere you can safely work in- similar to how it was in in-person school.”

Separate from producing material and grading virtually, remote learning has affected the most influential aspect of learning for both students and teachers- the relationships that are built between them.  Ms. Garcia admitted, “during my almost thirty-year teaching career, the relationships I have formed with my students have by far been my greatest accomplishment.” She further explained that she often uses breakout rooms to connect individually with her students. She revealed, “it is so heartening to be told that these connections are essential to them as well this year.” Ms. Fay added, “I try to get conversations going about everyday activities.” As teachers throughout the district use their own techniques and ideas to bring joy to students and make connections over their computers and phones, one thing remains constant: the appreciation students have for their teachers. A junior at WSHS relayed, “teachers spend time after school helping out students, including myself, that are in need of extra help in a more private setting, which is very helpful. I also feel that teachers are even more accepting with technology issues than they were when we were in school, which is very relieving.”

In a survey conducted at West Springfield High School, only two out of fifty-four students who took the survey willingly use their cameras during class. As this statistic remains true throughout personal experiences shared among teachers and their classrooms, the reprimand for more engagement is solidified. It’s hard to stay motivated when you’re sitting in bed, laying in pajamas, and staring endlessly at a screen, but in order for students to have the most normal and effective learning experience we can in these times, participation is needed! If reviewing the same topic for days is boring and downloading programs is frustrating and confusing, communicate and provide feedback for your teachers. We are all in this together, and your teachers are trying to figure this out along with you. Ms. Garcia added that, if she could, “I would take away all the lonely, anxious moments and give students a normal school year with all the traditions, camaraderie, and even awkward social moments that teenagers normally face.”