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Crisis Schooling: More Thoughts from the Teachers

Teachers take us behind the scenes of e-learning and share what they've learned.

This article is part 2 of “Crisis Schooling: Ask the Parents and Teachers.” The teachers had a lot of insights to share! Too much to fit in the original article. You can read more of their reflections below: 

On challenges:
“[One of the] challenges has been deciphering the contrasting and sometimes competing messages we’re given from above,” says a high school English teacher. “The ministry will announce something, the board will interpret it, administrators will chime in, then the union will tell us something different, and we all shrug our shoulders and do our best to institute a messy, poorly streamlined set of directions.”

“As a kindergarten teacher, it’s hard to maintain inclusive practices with so many diverse learning styles,” says a teacher who recently began teaching in B.C. after moving from Ontario. “They also aren’t getting the full experience of what school is. Especially for older kids, they lose a sense of belonging and contributing when things are only online.”

“A big challenge for us is administering the lessons,” says a high school math and geography teacher. “We're not allowed to do live lessons so all I've been able to do is post my Powerpoint lessons and assign work. It's hard for those students who need the face to face contact with the teacher and personal assistance.” 

“Using technology was an enormous learning curve for me to begin with, and I still run into daily challenges trying to figure out permissions and navigating our online profile,” says a Grade 1 teacher. “The challenge with younger students is finding a way to make activities independent. For the most part students rely on their parents – navigating the site, reading the activities, finding materials, logging into their accounts. Parents really do need to become the teacher and cheerleader for this type of learning.  

“Many [students] are working as essential employees right now in grocery stores, and school work comes second, so we need to be keeping in mind mental health,” says a special ed high school teacher. “Some already have underlying conditions such as anxiety and this situation is worsening it, therefore, school work is not at the forefront. Also remembering that all students learn at different paces and at different times, so one lesson does not fit all. Also, teachers have had no training in how to teach online – it was thrown together and we’re doing the best we can.”  

On grades:
“In the distance-learning model, we’re assessing final products almost exclusively and so students are losing the opportunity to demonstrate skills in a variety of ways,” says our high school English teacher. “For elementary students, the learning process is even more important. Assessing younger students, grade 2s, 3s, etc., should be almost entirely based on the process of creating a product; not just the final product itself. That’s why we hear elementary teachers stress ‘growth mindset’ so often. So I can’t imagine the difficulty of assessing elementary students during the lockdown.”

“Assessment at the end of the year is ‘optional,’ so if students don't do it, we can’t say anything,” says our high school math teacher. “But we as teachers have to spend the time to come up with new assessments. Frustrating.” 

On e-learning: 
“As far as the technology goes it’s shown the potential, but moreso shown us the limitations,” says our English teacher. “It’s great for self-motivated, self-directed students — students who have already mastered the skill of learning. But the majority of students … have huge difficulties articulating the reason or reasons for their difficulty. It takes sitting with them for an extended period to decode that and come up with a strategy to help them understand.”

“I teach reluctant learners so motivating them to ‘meet’ online and to complete the work is very challenging,” says a high school teacher who teaches math to students with learning challenges. “Many of them struggle with executive functioning skills such as organization, time-management, self-control, prioritizing activities, focus and sustaining focus on difficult tasks, shifting attention, to name a few. In class we build on these skills continuously. We would use a host of skills, tricks, and strategies to motivate and encourage them to complete their work. This cannot similarly be achieved in an online environment. 

“Undeniably, there is a time and place for tech,” she continues. “I use it all the time in my math classroom to support my instruction. That said, I do still believe there are courses that are more compatible with online learning for the right student. It cannot be a one-size-fits-all approach to learning and it cannot be mandatory.” 

“On the flip side if you are studious, then there are great one-on-one benefits to online learning,” says our teacher in B.C. “There are fewer interruptions because the ones that want to be there are there. As tech needs increase (whether we like it or not) our children and generations to come will not have the same classroom environments. I think Covid impacted the process of the rollout, but e-learning is inevitable.” 

“Technology is a tool for some components of learning, offering limited opportunities to practice reading or early math may be beneficial to build on specific skills,” says a Grade One teacher.  “Using technology as the only opportunity for learning would be detrimental for young children, as it would not replace all the learning that occurs in the early years through human interactions.”

On what adults can learn from all of this: 
“Teachers are taught to deliver curriculum in person; we are making this up and trying new things as we go,” says a special ed teacher. “Technology does not replace face-to-face, in-person interactions. Students need connection and to feel safe and secure; these are things that are done in school in person. We need to understand that mental health is most important; learning will come but staying hopeful and reaching out to one another is most important. I think it shows that this system does not work on mass as it demonstrates privilege and shows what parts of society, in a way don't matter.” 

“I’ve learned, or had reinforced anyway, the huge gap between privileged students and those who are not fortunate enough to have parents or other adults who have the time and resources to help them learn,” says the high school English teacher. 

Our Grade 1 teacher has some more practical tips for parents teaching young children: “Spend a few minutes reading over assignments, and try to introduce in engaging ways, i.e. discuss measurements or fractions when baking or cooking, discuss story ideas when out for a walk as a family, try skip counting, addition, subtraction when playing in the yard, and write cards or letters to family members or neighbours.”

  • Amy is CC’s Features Editor and a freelance writer and communicator with a degree in Journalism and 13 years’ experience at the Presbyterian Record. Amy highlights stories about community-building, families and personal faith, along with bigger, in-the-news issues that challenge, teach and inspire. She lives west of Toronto with her two daughters and three guinea pigs.

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