The Secret Teacher: My students’ capacity to socially distance is worryingly low

10 important lockdown lessons I’ve learned

Students clearly associate the need to adhere to Covid regulations with teacher authority rather than with safety and public health. Photograpgh: iStock

Students clearly associate the need to adhere to Covid regulations with teacher authority rather than with safety and public health. Photograpgh: iStock

 

A workplace is the best place for work: Like so many others, my workplace and home became one and the same for the first time ever. I didn’t anticipate the blurring of roles that came with it. I was sometimes in spouse/parent mode while simultaneously fielding questions about an assignment. During online learning if the students had had to wait until I could become exclusively their teacher again, they’d have been left waiting.

Students like working on computers, and aspects of this way of working must be maintained: Many students who would never have completed work on paper were among the first to submit the same task via an online tool or quiz. Those students are sending us a clear message: in 2020 we need to do more to accommodate the tech learner.

Students need to be introduced to the concept of transferable skills: They may have perfected selfies, but they have a long way to go when it comes to taking a photo of a piece of written work. Their mastery of filters means they themselves can look so perfect that they are unrecognisable (often literally), and yet the homework comes sideways or slanted, and almost certainly not fully legible.

Some students have emerged from the shadows: While the more socially oriented struggled online, a whole new regiment of dominant students appeared who were prepared to type contributions in the chat box that they would never, ever, have dared say aloud in class. Similarly, shy students participated with the camera off in a whole new way, and for the first time they were the ones thriving. I’m hoping we don’t lose all of that now that we are back in the classroom.

In school, despite us all donning masks, I know exactly who is there, even if they aren’t all actually listening!

What it takes a teacher hours to prepare takes a student minutes to submit: There isn’t a teacher in the country who has actively engaged with online learning who will tell you otherwise. We research, check, proofread and then go over the work from a student’s perspective to anticipate how it will read for them. And the students? Well, they have many years of speedy clicking behind them so that’s what they do. But until now their clicks have been for trivial matters, and even if this is now an academic assessment their old speed-clicking habits die hard. Little by little students are learning to slow down, due to a run of unusually poor results directly connected to not figuring out what was required before launching in.

The importance of knowing my audience: All I knew for certain back in spring was that an individual had logged on. Online classes in our school tended to be without cameras. When they were in front of their devices for a “live” online class with their mics and cameras off they could have been anyone, or have been with anyone, or indeed any number of people. There was a different wariness in me about the giving out and the banter, both of which I’m prone to. In the online classroom I just didn’t feel as comfortable with either. In school, despite us all donning masks, I know exactly who is there, even if they aren’t all actually listening!

Teaching online is an isolated existence and brought positives and negatives: A huge positive is that school politics and dramas can be both out of sight and out of mind. During that term I did my job, kept out of trouble and maintained only the positive side of school adult relationships: courteous professional engagement towards those who are merely colleagues, and frequent and uplifting contact with those who are first and foremost my friends.

They clearly associate the need to adhere to Covid regulations with teacher authority rather than with safety and public health

The same became true of students: the cream rose to the top. What wasn’t handed in, simply wasn’t handed in. I always wrote a message to follow up and remind, which usually generated a cheery reply promising the work soon. Sometimes it did arrive and sometimes it didn’t but there was no aggro, no tension and much less emotional energy spent in vain. No doubt the students felt precisely the same.

For students, wearing a mask is easy; social distancing is hard: Now that we are back in the real world, the learning continues: mask compliance among students in classrooms is phenomenally high. Once “free, ie outside the learning environment, their capacity to social distance is worryingly low. They clearly associate the need to adhere to Covid regulations with teacher authority rather than with safety and public health.

We need to keep an eye on those who wear glasses: Students being reluctant to wear their glasses in school has always been a concern, but it’s a problem on a whole new level now. Wearers need to be minded, and reminded not to compromise their eye health because of how genuinely hard it is to manage glasses and a mask. Staircases are dangerous in whole new ways because of the masks, which needs to be pointed out to youngsters who dash everywhere, often while carrying heavy bags!

Students may care more than we realise: Am I glad to be back? Of course I am. Just yesterday I checked in with my fifth years to see how things were going for them with all the changes. When I had heard and noted a few ways they felt things could be made a little easier, two students started to speak at the same time. Turned out they both just wanted to check if there was anything they as a class could do to make things easier for me. What’s not to love about being back?