After 3 generous weeks of pre-planning and a whole summer of research and figuring out how I was going to make it work, I was able to put all of my skills to the test last week as my students returned to class both in-person and remotely. I currently have 6 classes with a combination of students in person and remote learning in each class. Having to teach both methods at the same time has been incredibly challenging, but I am happy to say each day has been getting better and I have been beyond blessed with amazing students and families that support them. Some of you reading this may have already started back already and have learned how to adapt to the challenges of blended learning, others may be about to start. Every person will have a different experience and set of challenges to overcome, below is just a summary of my first week. I hope it is helpful to you and please know that we are all in this thing together and if we work together to continue supporting each other and our students we will all rise above the chaos together!
I am not going to lie, I have never been more nervous for the first day of school. There were so many unknown components, but I have to say it was overall a great day. Seeing students back on campus was so terrific! I have missed that part of my job so much. Before the 1st bell rang I walked around campus and said hi to all of my prior students. Even with the masks, you could see that they were happy to see their teachers and friends again.
Meeting my new students is always one of my favorite parts of this year and this year they were amazing too! Kuddos to my administrators, colleagues, and the parents that worked to prepare students for a great first day back.
Students did not seem to mind the masks (very little reminders were needed). Everybody was for the most part, following the distancing and new rules/procedures with few reminders.
Having fewer students on campus was remarkable. In a public school, our class sizes are normally pushed to the brink, but last week was a nice reminder of what reasonable class sizes should look like. I know that the student enrollment numbers will continue to increase until we are at max capacity again, but I am enjoying my classes of 16-20 while I can.
A huge pro was that all of my classroom technology worked (well mostly). TEAMS worked like a champ and the students logging in remotely were responding well to it too. All teachers at my school decided to use the same platform (TEAM's) so there was consistency for our students and that made it a lot easier for all parties involved.
Some of the technology tools are simply amazing for distributing information to students. I used Nearpod twice my first week so that my virtual students could do the same assignments that my in-person students were doing. It took a while to set up, but it was worth every second making and setting up my Bitmoji Virtual classroom as my class website. I have my daily agenda posted there each day and my virtual and in-person students saw it everyday last week. My students are now all using it to access things like Nearpods or activities each day. They responded well to my virtual classroom and I even had students that were absent from physical school on Friday still doing the work they missed because they logged in and saw the agenda. As I keep using it consistently I believe this will prove to be my most valuable resource of the year! I love the fact that it is embedded into Canvas and added as a teams tab and no matter where they go they get the same information!
Anytime something did not go as planned or took longer than expected, IT WAS OKAY. In my first two classes on 2 days last week, my timing was off and tech issues popped up and I did not finish all that I wanted. Guess what? My students didn't know or care and it was okay! It wasn't my perfect plan, but it was still a great class and it all worked out.
I am going to have my pre-COVID-19 body back in no time with all the steps I am taking now that school has started again!
EVERYBODY is working so hard to make this work! I love seeing administrators, teachers, parents, and students work together to make the best of things. Yes, there are hiccups, no it's not perfect but we are doing our best each class and day. I am so impressed by everybody. Keeping giving others and yourself grace and spreading positivity.
Having to teach students in class and remotely at the same time is INCREDIBLY hard to do. Having to work, monitor, and respond to students each platform is exhausting. When there is a tech glitch or knock at the door its hard to keep your rhythm going and not mess up your instructional flow. It is getting easier each day, but it is really mentally and physically exhausting balancing both.
Attendance takes wayyyy longer than it should. It is easy to make a seating chart and look for and verify gaps, but with students logging in remotely too, that isn't possible. If you have the remote students say here or present with the in-person students it takes a while for them to turn on their mics, and if they haven't logged in yet you wait and lose even more time before you realize they are absent. If you look for their faces or names their location and order changes from day to day. Logging in late or getting kicked out causes problems too. Again, this all is getting easier day by day, but I dread taking attendance more than usual right now.
Keeping a mask on for 7.5 hours is hard. If you wash a mask that is double layered and it doesn't dry flat, the inner layer will bulge out and irritate you. I may have to start ironing my Target masks to avoid that nonsense again. Also, masks significantly muffle your voice so I find myself having to speak louder than my normal loud volume which my vocal cords have not yet gotten used to. ouch!
Things I have learned - AKA Cons with solutions
The first day I was using my provided headset to hear and communicate with my virtual students. Having 1 earpiece in my ear all day hurt so much by the middle of the day and I got a significant headache for my last 2 classes. Having only half of my hearing and feeling like I was swimming was not ideal. The next day I decided to try to use my built-in system audio and I could hear my students just fine. They could also hear me (I am loud and have an obnoxious teacher voice) as I moved throughout my classroom. If we were doing a louder lab activity in the future I would probably use the headset so I wouldn't miss a question from my virtual students but for everyday class, I will not use it again.
I wanted to keep my TEAM's chat enabled for my students so that they could type in questions for me and have their classmates help, and 97% of my students were using that feature exactly that way. A few students were going back and forth with hi, hello, hi, gifs and pictures, etc, and that was not only clogging up the feed but making it one more thing I had to strictly monitor. I tried for 2 days and then disabled the chat as a feature in TEAMS. SO WORTH IT! Once it was disabled students used the hand-raising feature and actually asked me their questions at appropriate times when I asked them to unmute. It was so nice and their questions went well with the instructional flow and made it feel like they were more included in the classroom. Not having to scroll through and monitor the chat feed saved me so much time.
Spend time teaching tech! This is hard since we have such tight instructional schedules, but you absolutely have to spend time teaching the students how to use the technology. This generation of students are great at picking things up, but if you assume that they know how to work something or quickly tell them how to use it, you will spend 10x that much time troubleshooting "tech" issues and answering "it's not working" pleas than if you just take your time showing them all step by step the first time. Also, a video is not a substitute for live step by step directions for students, tutorial videos are great supplemental resources, but you are now a content and technology teacher. Slow down with your technology expectations this first week, even if your students are upper-level students, they are also all new to this so take the time to set them up for success and save yourself the headache.
We have to end class early to wipe down tables and any surfaces used including computers. I have found that setting a reoccurring timer on my phone for 3 munites before the bell allows me enough time to do all of the sanitizing. If I am using computers I set it 5 minutes early so I have time to wipe those down too. It is less than ideal losing that class time, but needed for health reasons so I am making it work. I will ask my virtual students if they need any help or have any questions before I close the class meeting so that I can get the disinfecting done. They all appreciate the goodbye wave I have time to give them too!
The share screen feature in TEAMS is your best friend. I have 3 screens to use from 1 computer (see my teacher tech set up). I am using my main laptop monitor for my email and attendance programs, my projector screen is being used to display my slides, videos, Nearpods, etc to both my in-person and virtual students. I just have to share that screen and anything I show my in-person student my virtual students will also see at the same time saving me a lot of time and stress. This is also how I can show ALL of my students a step by step tutorial on how to use a new technology program. My 3rd monitor is used solely for TEAMS and seeing my virtual students. It is extremely hard to navigate 3 screens with 1 mouse, and I will need a shirt saying "Where is my mouse?" made soon, but I am getting better at this too.
Treat your virtual students as a student. You do not need to be by their side the entire time. If I am not direct teaching or providing directions I will do my usual walk around the classroom to monitor work and help students. When I do this I just ask my virtual students if they have any questions, address any that they do have, then say I will be back in about 3 minutes, I walk around the room helping my in-person students, and then after my lap return to my virtual students and ask again if there are any questions. This has worked out great and allowed me to better balance both and set expectations.
Running so many programs all from one laptop/computer will overload the system at times and cause some lag or technology issues. If it is happening do not panic. Your students understand that you cannot control it. Just wait patiently for the program to catch up (don't keep pressing buttons like I did the first time) or just close and restart the program. If you have to restart a program just try to let your virtual students know what you are doing. They will be waiting for you to come back and it will be okay. I learned this after a slight panic.
Again, these are just things I have learned in my first 5 days back with students. I know your experience may have been very different. I hope that you all can find a person or people to vent to when needed and who will also support you through this novel time in education. It is harder to be a teacher than ever before, but if I look through the lens of positivity I see these difficult times paving the way for long-needed improvements in education. I wish you all the best and please do not forget that you are enough, you are trying your best, it may not be perfect, but it will be okay.