As a high school teacher, the recent school closures and mandated quarantine has been hard. Not necessarily because of the switch to online teaching, but because of the lack of interaction I have with my students. The transition from in-person to online instruction is jarring because I miss interacting with my kids. As much as they can get on my nerves occasionally - and they can - I miss their antics, their giggling at inappropriate moments, their unsolicited photos of pets.
While this transition has not been easy for a lot of reasons, I find myself noticing a shift in participation for certain students. Those who have often had issues maintaining focus, staying on task, and keeping organized are thriving in an online environment. The ability to move at an individual pace and avoid other students who may serve as distractions is allowing struggling learners to improve their grades and take charge of their education in a way they have never shown in the classroom. So, this has me thinking, is this something that we can continue when school buildings open again?
Generally, I think that it is, at least at the high school level. Is this working for middle and elementary school students? Absolutely not. I've heard from other teacher friends who teach the little ones, and they are having a miserable time wrangling their students to sit for Zoom meetings or watch instructional videos. This information, accompanied by tweets from parents, makes me think that this is not sustainable for students still navigating the concept of school.
Regardless, implementing online instruction as an option for high school students is something we should keep in mind. Students who have severe ADHD, issues with anxiety, or prolonged health problems would benefit from having the option to take their classes online or organize their schedule like college courses, taking certain classes online and others that demand in-person instruction in the traditional manner.
Schools, however, will always exist. Online instruction will never be able to become a complete replacement for what is accomplished in the classroom. Students need socialization, and if this quarantine has taught us anything, it's that people will seek out other people, even when they are advised against it. It is human nature to desire contact with others, and schools provide that outlet for many, many teenagers. For those that view school as a haven, we will continue to sit in a circle, hold Socratic seminars, write math problems on the board, and dissect owl pellets. We will continue to talk about our weekends, write journal entries, and bake brownies for the fundraiser. We will always make time to sit and talk with a student who needs an extra ear to listen. For the students who embrace school, we will be there with open arms.
However, for those that view school as a source of emotional stress, why not give them what they need to succeed? Should we force students who are bullied or uncomfortable or anxious to come to a place that provides them only with negative emotions? If the school building is not conducive to an individual's learning process, the online option could be a game changer for how we as a society provide education. Not all students learn the same way, and with the shift in the classroom from paper copies to online assignments, students are generally equipped with the tools needed to navigate an online curriculum. With any new process, there is bound to be some troubleshooting, but the option is what matters. And providing students with as many alternatives that could help them succeed is what teachers do. It's why we come to work every day, even if that work is happening on the couch in the spare room over the garage.