Monday, March 23

Online School Day One

working from home
It's not even noon in my house, and it's nearly complete insanity. Day 1 of online school. Both kids are currently in school-sponsored group discussions, so I am hearing them and all of their friends all at once. My wife, who teaches at the school, is trying to troubleshoot problems in communication with her own students. And either it will all work out eventually or else devolve into something of a scheduled daily chaos session as the world deteriorates around us. 

Let's just start with the obvious: schools built to be buildings filled with students and teachers accustomed to being in the building are not meant to be entirely online and remote. The teachers, in this particular case, were not trained. The mandated apps to be used were not tested over a summer. Assignments were not created to be easily done online. The school felt the need, understandably so, to get back to work. 

It started fairly early here, with students not being able to get the email with the link to the video that would take attendance. So the link had to be sent via email. And the video app didn't take actual attendance, only saying how many views happened. Google's own solutions, which are mostly abandoned, aren't any better. There's a will, but the way is complicated. My wife ended up with dozens of emails before noon, just to get a version of attendance taken. 

Wealthier school districts might have something more robust than Google Suite and a bunch of free tools 75% of the nation is trying to use for free. Microsoft Teams, maybe, which is still trash, but fancier trash. And textbook student access pages. And online test prep tools. I tried Teams when I was teaching with it, and it's really more of a business tool that no one really uses in business. So now it's just another business tool not made for education that gets adopted by schools to do things it can't do all that well. But it's as good or better than Google Classroom, anyhow. 

By 11:40, my wife had made the decree that our kids needed to head into their rooms rather than disturb the general peace of the house with their online chat. I figure the group meetings will calm down, especially as the teachers get used to using the mute button on the kids. And my daughter will eventually also get sick of trying to work on assignments with other kids who seem to have more technical difficulties than actual answers to questions. 

Then again, these are kids. They might figure out that it's fun to annoy each other and the teacher at all times during group discussion time, holding up props if muted to get others to laugh. I am not sure where it might go from here, especially if the kids are in need of social interaction and attention, cooped up in houses with scared and tired parents. 

I am sorry to say that I don't have any perfect suggestions to teachers or parents with students about to go completely online. I suggested to my wife that the attendance be taken in a single shared Google Document each day. Write your name and an answer to an open-ended question. I also helped her with some resources, and she's adept at using Google Drive to collect assignments, so that should be fine. In fact, she created a Google Doc with links to assignments that works a lot like Google Classroom. 

Probably the worst thing any teacher to do in a suddenly-online situation is to think he or she knows everything. You're going to have to adjust. Students will adjust with you. Some tools will fail you, while others might emerge as useful. It might be individual to the class you are teaching. The main point is that you need to keep on trying to teach, since you are one of the few segments of life that is mostly immune to layoffs at this second. If parents and schools realize online tools can replace you, then that might change for next school year, but for now, embrace your opportunity to be employed, even if the job is full of new stresses.

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