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Who knows how to teach remotely?

May 25, 2020 pm31 12:35 pm

For the past nine weeks 70,000 New York City teachers have been teaching remotely. So have, I don’t know, three million more? across the US. But I know more about New York City.

So who doesn’t know how to teach remotely? Pretty much anyone who has not tried it. Mayors and Governors and Presidents, Members of Congress, State Legislators, Senators… None of them really have a clue – which, by the way, our governor has demonstrated quite adequately.

Who else doesn’t know how to teach remotely?  I’d say pretty much every school system administrator, including the vast majority of principals and assistant principals. And also 100% of central administrators, at least here in New York City. They’ve thrown all the planning on us, and then while we are figuring things out throw us curves. Not only do they lack knowledge that would be useful to us in figuring out remote teaching, they lack empathy.

And then there’s us. Teachers. Trying to teach remotely. There are teachers out there who were already doing “flipped classrooms” or lots of video lessons. They had an easier adjustment. But even they could not anticipate the variety of problems students would have with the technology at home – without the “safety net” of in-class discussions. Some teachers were already familiar with Zoom or Google Meet Ups, which was an advantage. But most of us were new.

In the “planning week” (Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, after schools shut for students) we came up with something. Actually, a lot of somethings. It seems like there were hundreds of approaches, maybe thousands of variations.

And then reality hit. Most of our plans? Nah, didn’t work. The technology wasn’t up to it. Or the kids couldn’t deal with the mandatory tech issues. Or the DoE did not make tech available as they had promised. Or the DoE changed what software we were to use. Or it was just TOO MUCH. Or we learned later that grading online can be complicated and slow and overwhelming. Or we learned that our interactions with students were very different from what we expected. Or we needed to leave more time to deal with social/emotional interactions.

Teachers have been revising, and revising, and revising again. If we were building a house, what we have today would look better than what we started with late March – but better is relative. Imagine safety pins, paper clips, nailed on boards and tar paper… glue… newspapers… This is like the famous “repair an aircraft while in flight” – except we did not start with something that flies. More like throwing supplies off a cliff, and trying to assemble something that flies before they hit bottom.

That’s why messages from politicians, other teachers, or union leaders that seem to say “we’ve got this” really piss me off. We are getting better. And maybe a few teachers “got this.” But most of us don’t. We are better than two months ago, we have some ideas for going forward, but we are not there, we are not nearly there.

In answer to “Who knows how to teach remotely?” I would answer “No one, yet. Teachers are getting there, some faster than others. The politicians and educrats need to listen to teachers.”

What next?

If we are still teaching remotely in September, we need to do it more thoughtfully.

Hmm. That sounds like we were not being thoughtful in the Spring. Nothing could be further from the truth. We tried as best we could, but Cuomo and de Blasio and Carranza did not give us a chance.

If we are still teaching remotely in September, we need to be assigned time to plan. Not rushed time. Real time.

They could have given us the time in June, but they are awfully late for that now (as a significant number of teachers have already planned their classes through mid- to late June.) Actually, they could have given us time off in June, to make up for surprise-cancelling April break (Cuomo), and then taking away the religious holidays on top of that (Cuomo and/or de Blasio).

By the way, the four days in our Cumulative Absence Reserve do not make up for the seven days, nor for the unnecessary stress. Did I mention lack of empathy?

How about designating a few days in June for contingency planning?  And then, if we are opening remote or hybrid, the first week in September for remote planning?

I’m not sure that’s enough.

What kind of planning? What parameters?

As we experience our first tastes of remote teaching, it is becoming apparent that there are huge shifts in pedagogy, and shifts in content. Many of our in-person activities don’t work. Lessons designed around whole class discussion, where we expect kids to adjust as they hear other ideas – those don’t work the same, or don’t work at all. Entire units need replanning. And the quantity of material taught has to be adjusted downward.

And assessment has to change, for almost every teacher, for almost every class. Some of us will move to no testing. Others will adopt an interesting variety of platforms. More projects. And assessment may move in directions that none of us anticipate today.

This is not just lesson replanning. This is rewriting curricula. It is not a one day task. It’s probably not a one-week task.

On top of that, those of us teaching tested grades or classes that end in a Regents Exam – we need to know how Chancellor Betty Rosa and the Regents will adjust what is being tested.

Which will mean curriculum redesign.

You know what’s worse? Not knowing. Not knowing if we will start remote. How long we will go remote. If we will transition from Remote –> Hybrid –> Live.

As we learn, we really should have time to adjust our plans. We are not looking to avoid work. But we want to be in a place where we can do our best for our students. Andrew Cuomo, bill de blasio, Richard Carranza – does that matter to you? Do you care how well our students are being served? We do.



2 Comments leave one →
  1. Jimmy permalink
    May 25, 2020 pm31 3:51 pm 3:51 pm

    Here is how you teach remotely. Wake up at 745, check emails that kids wrote at 2 am saying “I don’t get it.” Then, make your coffee, put together an assignment, nobody does the assignment, you sit through a BS meeting every now and again and when you have had enough, you go for a workout outside and go on with your life.

    Is what it is.

    • May 25, 2020 pm31 3:59 pm 3:59 pm

      My students do my assignments – so that’s not a plan for me.

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