Coronavirus, and teaching

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Me & my Computer

We are all officially online, and it has come with many challenges; mostly for parents who are now not only the providers, caregivers, cooks, and maids to their families but also their teachers!

Yah, I said it!

Parents are now the teachers, incharge of educating their children and themselves on all the online applications and platforms, and must then in turn teach their children how to handle them, organize their online work autonomously, organize their home environment like a classroom with easy access to books and to explain the material that is being sent at mach speed to their children via: email, Google Classroom, back office school platforms, chat, messenger, Skype, Zoom… The children need Internet 24/7, know how to handle their LapTop or Ipad as in opening and closing windows, finding those emails from teachers, and fellow students, learn how to correct problems while online like crashing, or applications that are not compatible all the while keeping their books open at the same time, listening to the ‘live’ clases, and after doing homework; it sounds like a fricken juggling act.

Sometimes I wonder if teachers are simply sending their lesson plans to the parents! The neighbors who live on our street are absolutely exhausted, waking up early and going to bed late just trying to fit it all into one day. Some are supposed to be working from home too. Fat chance, with children running around the house playing or worse fighting in often small quarters. Do not even get me started on trying to get outside once a day for a walk. There is absolutely no time left, especially with the weekly revised schedules. Parents finally get a rhythm going, and someone up high comes up with a better idea to get teachers working harder, and we all must start from square one again.

Happily, our school introduced a new platform which is fabulous, GoToMeeting. The first week I spent 12 hours per day getting my own applications in place, timetables, forms of communications and individual education plans. Once I got going with the system in place, then they decided to add in mandatory lunch hours, which is quite lovely in reality because we can now spend 12:00-13:00 together around the table. However, now I had to change all my days around again to accommodate the classes I usually teach from 12:00-13:00, my kids schedules and my private students. Every change has a ripple effect, and my kids are juggling, I am juggling and honestly we could start a fricken circus act! The Hamori jugglers!

Even the little ones in Grade 1-4 are feeling the stress. I cannot believe that some teachers think they will actually miss out on something so vital in their development during quarantine. I mean what would happen if they miss out on the letter ‘p’, will the world stop functioning or will they ‘p’erhaps figure it out as they go along. Also, these poor students and parents are filming and then sending videos while hiking to their teachers to insure they get their sport time graded; another interference with the little family time actually left over! Or worse, the sports teacher is now teaching them the history of sports, because they obviously do not get enough academic learning from the very traditional school systems in Europe! Right!? My solution is a watered down curriculum.

Some of these teachers are so set on their government set curriculum guidelines that they are super determined to fit it all in at whatever cost without even thinking about how hard it is on the students. Autonomy in learning is actually harder than we think, even for those who are somewhat computer savvy. Further, kids have a hard time learning from their own parents. I imagine in some houses there are mini world wars going on right now as I type trying to get these kids to learn! And do not get me started on both parents being home working under the same roof; not always the easiest, am I right? I read that divorce is on the rise since all this started!

Why don’t the principles of the school call it quits for grading for elementary school? I mean come on, this is already hard enough for the younger students. Give fewer lessons, let the parents have a break, or a solution is to have all lessons ‘live’ online without any homework after! Imagine work done during class time! Now that would be idea! 30-minute lessons, open your books, and do exercise #4. Then go play outside, garden with mom and dad, or help in the kitchen with they cooking. This would ease off the parents, I mean we could be doing a better job transitioning, am I right?

The Open University, a fully online university where I attend, has cancelled all the last EMA exams and tutorials and is giving us students an average of the first four grades and calling it a day! This is beneficial for me, but there are some students who would put all their efforts into the last big test and only skim past the rest. Those students can defer the year and redo their class in September anew. They will lose the year, but it will be free. This makes those professors who are taking care of elderly parents a chance to breathe, because even working online is exhausting for us teachers. There are piles of more work downloading, uploading to complete, giving the lessons, teaching them, marking each task individually, and sending them back. Not ot mention the hundreds of email per day from parents, students, our bosses and colleagues that we must sort through and answer back. But after three weeks, it is getting a little better.

My kids, Daniel and Angelina, also lucked out with their finals. Daniel is graduating from his langauge specialties and those he is dropping this year. Normally he would have to write a difficult test at year’s end to graduate, but they are doing the same thing as my university, giving an average grade on work completed. Angelina has her junior high graduation test, the Brevet, and they are also grading work completed in place of the final. The students are very happy with this as the pressure of hours of testing and weeks of studying is gone. Now they can focus on learning the material for each class and working their understanding through doing the exercises.

Teachers, well we have it rough. My 8 hours of classes per week are more like a full time job. Live lessons are the most rewarding, however, it does take away from the students time to actually do the work. They must be independant and that is not always the case. Some can only do the IT and computing lessons while I guide them through it. Now we are expected to give regular book lessons, teach those lessons and teach them how to use these online applications. Not so easy. Eventually, the end result will be a society that is commutating, learning digital languages and learning computer science in every single class around the world! It will be pretty spectacular. Just the transition has been a bumpy, stressful one.

Parents can help teachers by showing their kids where to find the information. I have found Google Classroom to be the easiest platform to use. I can add links and downloads, share tests, text and keep all the results in one spot. Messenger Chat and Viber are great for the older students as they seem to be working together nicely and sharing their subject knowledge. No man gets left behind! Love this attitude. Those parents that think it is the school’s job and the school’s job alone to educate their children, well sadly their kids will have a very hard time with distance learning. It takes a village to make the move online, and we have to all take our part seriously, especially in the very beginning while we set our children up for success.

Internet is key, and functioning computers, iPads, mobile phones, and access to other students so they can work together and learn from each other in place of classroom environments. Teachers as well, need to share information about what works and what doesn’t. For example, I find that my students have no opportunities to present their finished projects to each other which normally takes up alot of class time; time that we do not have right now. Even if we did, so many Internet connections are breaking up, or kids pretending to be there by posting a picture of themselves trying to be funny. SO much time is wasted. I even saw a student chatting on her mobile during class and another playing video games. Of course they try to get away with it if they can. Maybe a combination of live lessons and simply sending them the lesson is a solution. Teachers have no way of kicking those difficult students out of class for misbehaving, and because we have no control, we must change our approach to trusting the students to be doing their best.

The more negative side is that truly these kids are constantly plugged in. It is very tiring to be in front of a computer screen all day long, and then to have to do homework after as well. Their once online hobby of watching videos or posting on Insta has been replaced with endless hours of learning. Maybe it is high time to find an outdoor and physical hobby to counteract this? Just food for thought.

It really does feel that we are entering a new ira where computation is the norm; digital literacy, computer science and information technology. I can foresee young students learning to code just as they learn English as an alternative langauge. I can see ICT in every classroom used as tools to help develop children in many different ways. But for now, the transition is a little messy.

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