Remote Learning: A Teacher’s Perspective

The Oxford Dictionary defines the word “remote” in several ways. The most traditional definition of the word, which gives rise to the phrase “remote learning” that every teacher, administrator, student and parent has become intimately familiar with over the past few months is:

  1. (of a place) situated far from the main centers of population; distant.

The connotation of this definition is somewhat neutral. It suggests that we are simply physically separated from one another during this learning process. The other definition of the word “remote” offer a more realistic and honest definition:

2. Having very little connection with or relationship to.

And there we have it, folks.

This last definition unfortunately summarizes the remote learning experience.

I have to utter a disclaimer, as well. I am not trying to be overly critical of the system. It certainly beats the alternative, which is little to no guidance or interaction with students. I am grateful that the technology exists which allows us to see and hear each other. I am merely stating the perspective from the inside looking out. This article is mainly aimed at those who have not been involved with remote learning, and are curious about its success and the effect it has had on those who have been relying on it during the Covid-19 home quarantine. There are some who feel that remote learning is a viable option for continued learning as we head into the coming school year. My contention is that remote learning is not an adequate long term solution, and we must do everything in our power to reunite teachers and students back in the classrooms.

I realize this is scary for many people. It’s a scary thought to send our children back into an unknown building with unknown people. It’s scary and stressful to constantly wonder “what if?”

I get it. It’s also scary for all the teachers, faculty, and staff. Many of us have families, little ones, pregnant spouses, and elderly parents and grandparents. As long as this virus is active and we don’t have a vaccine, there will always be doubts. The same doubts a police officer has when she approaches a vehicle on a solo traffic stop. The same doubts a fireman has as he enters a 5-alarm fire.

And yet, they keep stepping forward, despite their fears and reservations. They step forward because it needs to be done, and it’s the right thing to do.

We need to keep stepping forward as well. We are also waging a war. Education is a war, and it needs to be constant, unwavering and consistent to hold our ground and make progress. For the sake of our children, we must find a way to reintegrate into schools, or we will start losing ground rapidly.

If you think I’m being melodramatic or simply trying to argue my case for returning to “regular” teaching, let me explain my observations over the last few months of teaching in a remote learning environment. These are merely my experiences and observations. I’m sure there are many different experiences based on multiple factors.

A typical class was 30 minutes long. This is a reduction in time over a physical classroom for several reasons. The most important reason being is that it is unreasonable and irresponsible to expect someone to stare at a screen for 7+ hours a day. For those who believe that the schedule should remain the same as the standard classroom, I would simply say that you can’t compare apples and oranges. The two formats are completely different, and therefore it is unreasonable to assume that the same structure should remain. I can tell you that in many days of remote teaching, I ended the day laying in a dark room with my eyes closed due to headaches (which I never had before.) I can only imagine what it was like for students who attend the classes, and then spend additional hours completing assignments. This screen time is a critical factor, and it cannot be taken lightly.

In any given class, at least 15-20% of that time is allocated to “housekeeping.” I’m being very conservative with these percentages, as well. On some days, this number spikes much higher depending on any IT issues that arise. There are always a few in every class, particularly when there is an online textbook being used. In order to maintain standards and expectations, attendance must also be taken in each class. In a remote learning setting, proper security must also be ensured, which means monitoring each entry into a call in order to ensure that only those cleared to be in each class are present. Every student and teacher has different access to internet service and technology, not to mention a quiet and conducive space in which to work. All these variables need to be taken into consideration. In the classroom, at least from a physical standpoint, everyone shares equality, which is the goal. It is immediately apparent who is present, and security and safety is much easier to maintain. Remote learning requires significantly more time and effort to control, which detracts from instructional time.

There is also a very clear and present shift in engagement and interaction. In my experience, student feedback and interaction with the teacher and classmates is at a minimum during remote learning. I like to get my students talking. I want them to be engaged and challenge themselves to think creatively and critically. There’s an old saying that says, “those doing the talking are doing the learning.” In a traditional classroom setting, I feed off that give and take that exists throughout my classroom. I can see each student, and observe their body language and facial expressions. In many cases, I can gauge a student’s comprehension and engagement based on those two factors. In remote learning, most of this is removed. I had A and B students I barely heard from over the 3 months we spent in remote learning. These same students were fully engaged in the classroom setting, and interacted with me as well as their classmates. The remote learning environment unfortunately chokes and hinders these creative expressions. My classroom became more of a “chalk and talk” approach, which I didn’t intend, nor have I ever subscribed.

I could write out my thoughts and concerns for five pages here. Again, I must express my intentions in writing this article. My goal is not to criticize what schools and educators accomplished over the last few months of school. In my opinion, what I have seen teachers, students, parents and administrators accomplish under duress over the past few months is nothing short of heroic, and proves the level of commitment to the educational process. My goal today is to share one teacher’s experience so that others who may not have dealt with it from the inside can understand the critical importance of getting back into the classroom, despite our fears and reservations.

Remote learning is not a viable long term solution, and it should not be relied upon for the majority of a students education. In my own experience, it was a temporary solution to a sudden and serious pandemic. It served its purpose, but to suggest that it could take the place of a traditional classroom and school experience would be to rob those involved of the most important elements of the educational process.

And as F Scott Fitzgerald suggested 95 years ago, “So we beat on, boats against the current…”

We will persevere. We will not back down. We will come through this together.

Our future depends upon it.

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