Not the same.

“Can you read me the page you’re working on?” I ask student after student, in breakout room after breakout room. Getting a look at student writing during distance learning is tricky-especially in the primary grades. Parents (semi) regularly email me pictures and this week I’m teaching my first graders how to use the camera in Google Slides to take selfies of their work…

But, I miss peeking over a child’s shoulder during writing workshop, walking among students, reinforcing and reminding, complimenting and admiring. I miss pulling up beside a child for a conference, both of our eyes on their paper, talking about specific parts, pointing to places where they tried different strategies. I think that maybe, I took these things for granted.

Last week, one of my first grade told me that distance learning felt lonely. He had stayed after our Zoom session and my heart broke for him. Despite all of our best efforts, distance learning is at times, cold and lonely. It’s hard to have side conversations, to speak to someone quietly instead of broadcasting private feelings and thoughts to an entire screen full of Zoomers. I’ve always prided myself on being the kind of teacher that sees kids, and while I see them on Zoom, it’s not the same. I like to give a sly thumbs up to kids, crouch down beside their table for a chat, or whisper to them out of earshot of their friends.

I know kids are feeling this too. We always take a break midday and it’s often my favorite time of the day. I sometimes sit at my desk, muted and video off, listening to kids who have hurried back from grabbing a snack to chat with their friends. This has been the most spontaneous and real the social interactions have been. I suppose, I didn’t really notice that only the loudest voices were being heard during this time. Some kids were just observers, others didn’t rush back.

Today, I tried something different. I created a few breakout rooms during the break, for kids to join…if they wanted. I was happy to see a few of the quieter kids there together today, kind of awkwardly, trying to chat-trying to connect.

Our district’s distance learning model has really evolved over the course of this school year and I’ve even found myself celebrating the communities we have formed and some of the successes we have found. However, this week, I’m keenly aware to all of the ways that this reality we have found ourselves in, will never ever ever replace face to face instruction.

That is all.

8 thoughts on “Not the same.

  1. Truth. There is one word that stood out for me – spontaneous. You know responsive teaching and learning has a layer of spontaneity in it. You observed your kids and saw it. You also saw those that needed a more private space to be spontaneous and you gave it to them. You are a gift to them. (on a side note, one of the three drafts I wrote yesterday started with “I miss Spontaneity.”)

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    1. Soul teachers. I miss it too. Thank goodness we still have spontaneous hallway conversations… which are also tricky. It’s hard to whisper in a mask. I’ve also realized how much I rely on lip reading!

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  2. “I’m keenly aware to all of the ways that this reality we have found ourselves in, will never ever ever replace face to face instruction.”
    Yep — I think this just about every day we are in Remote (back in distance this week, but maybe back to school next week )
    Kevin

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  3. It does sound like you’ve found ways (and continue to find ways) to build a beautiful community, but I would agree that it’s just not as good as what we can do in person. I’m glad the idea of putting kids in breakout rooms during snack went well. I haven’t tried that.

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  4. So hard! It is great that your district has continued to evolve in their planning and it sounds like you are doing everything possible. So much is lost in these opportunities that cannot happen. .

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  5. Well done, thoughtful reflection on this dilemma. I think we need to do more sharing of good practices during this time of change, as your breakout chat rooms are an example. Thanks for a sensitive piece.

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  6. Thank you so much for sharing this. Distance learning will just never take the place of being in person with these small people. I am sure your students can feel your love through the screen though, and they are growing in all kinds of ways.

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  7. Good for your student for being able to express his loneliness! Yes, it’s different and magnified. So many things are more obvious and extreme in all I’m doing and experiencing. Your students are all so lucky to have someone like you studying them and their interactions and figuring out ways to make it better, even if not great.

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