Tips for Teachers New to Remote Teaching
Are You New to Remote Teaching? You're Not Alone!
As a high school teacher, my job has changed overnight. The advent of COVID-19 and the resulting pandemic have forced my school to shut its doors, and has forced me to begin remote teaching. This means that instead of getting up and going to school to teach as I have done for twenty years straight, I now get up and go to our home office—a corner by the kitchen—and connect with my students via ZOOM, one of several remote learning apps. It's a whole new world, whether I like it or not!
You Don't Have to Be Tech-Savvy to Teach From Home
This truth was something I realized right away: the interfaces and programs are very user-friendly, and are in fact designed for people of a certain generation that did not necessarily grow up plugged into the internet. I am neither an internet genius nor a total idiot, so my learning curve is, I imagine, just about average. I do know that my students, city kids with computers and iPhones, could figure all of this out in about two seconds. For me, it took a bit longer. But I did it!
Here are some of the things I have learned in my first few days of remote teaching, using the Zoom app on my MacBook Air.
Starting the Class
I have a pretty good routine, or approach, when it comes to starting up a class period under normal circumstances. I immediately found that I need to have a slightly different approach for remote learning. It revolves around the need for connection when the kids are so far away physically, which means making sure each one feels "seen," figuratively and literally, right at the very start of class.
Here are some ideas:
- Begin by asking each one how they're doing, just in a general way, right at the beginning of class
- One site recommends having them represent as an emoji -- that's great if it works for you and your kids!
- Ask each one how their work is, or how they feel about their class load overall
- I have found that you can ask them if they need any support from you, but the first-thing check-in isn't really the best time to discuss or try to solve. I just remember to circle back with them by the end of class, one-on-one if necessary.
However, be very careful to record any and all individual student remote learning interactions! You never know when you may need to defend—or even just remember—the things you said in that encounter.
Start With Good Habits
As teachers, we know that the habits you begin with are the ones you are often stuck with. If you start out letting a class by a little wild, they will never ever be less than a little wild! The opposite holds true as well—begin calm and respectful, and it will set the tone for the entire year.
I immediately realized that creating a respectful and equitable classroom environment was just as important for the virtual room -- even more so, since the kids are disrupted from the usual classroom routine. I realized I had to basically start over with strong and clear rules and norms. Here are some rules for the entire community that really apply to remote learning environments:
- Listen to whomever is speaking in the virtual room.
- Try not to interrupt, and if you do, say sorry and try to listen
- Be open to learning.
- We are punctual! We start on time and end on time.
- No multitasking! It can be hard to tell, but some kids may be on their phones
- Be ready to be engaged
- Be ready to use a lot of energy! Teaching a remote learning class can be strangely exhausting.
- Limit your time on camera to a half hour or so if you can; ask the students to work on their own, then check back in at the end of the hour.
These are a few of the best practices that I have found are crucial to getting a good start with your online, remote learning class.
Be Ready for Your Remote Learning Class
This is a pretty basic concept for all teachers—we all know that being unprepared is the surest way to stress, confusion, and even trouble with classroom management. Remote learning classrooms, or virtual classrooms, are no different. Here are some of the techniques I have been using to make things go as well as they can:
Know what you'll be saying right off the bat. It's a strange new environment, but if you have a script, it will really really help
Run through in your mind all of the students you have that day. This helps me be prepared when they ask me a specific question about their work—I can be ready to answer if I think ahead a little.
Have an agenda in mind and share it with the class right at the start. "Today we'll be doing three things..." etc. Even if you're not 100% sure of what those things will ultimately be, it will make you sound strong and organized.
Plan, but don't over-plan! Virtual classrooms are draining, and remote teaching can be hard on your energy reserves. I suggest having a good 30 minutes or so of talk and interaction at most, followed by work time, followed by a re-convening of your students.
Good Times—Don't Forget Them
I had to be conscious about having an upbeat and fun approach to class once I started remote learning. Because we had to go to remote learning due to the coronavirus pandemic, the mood was a little tense. I addition, I was trying to cope with not only the new challenges of remote teaching, but my own family's stress and strain over the threat of getting sick.
I made it a point to invite students to share good things that were gong on with them—birthdays, awards, good grades, etc.—to help offset the feeling of being under siege. And it really helped!
I also made it a requirement to have their cameras on for at least part of the virtual class, to maintain at least some human connection at a time when human connection was increasingly viewed with fear and mistrust.
If you don't already have a virtual tool like Classroom to communicate with your students, I strongly suggest arranging one—for remote learning, it's basically essential. I use Classroom every day to share assignments and return graded work, but also to communicate easily. For example, I begin each remote teaching class by sending my students the class log-in code over Classroom. I can make sure that they see if even if I don't require that they respond to it.
Various Tip and Thoughts
Here are a few things that I realize I may have left out or skipped over. They come from my own experience, as well as advice that can be found online.
- Remember that not all kids have equal tech access or abilities.
- Beware of "screen exhaustion"—some kids get "zombified" after awhile.
- Let your kids see you on screen—it matters to them!
- Have fun, if you're that kind of teacher! I wore a Hawaiian shirt the other day and declared it "Beach Day."
- Your students know that you care about them; seeing you on screen confirms that.
- If you have a one-on-one chat or break out, be sure to record it using the easy recording feature (in ZOOM).
- Above all: prepare, relax, and enjoy the vibe of everyone chilling on their couches and learning at the same time!
Are You a Teacher Who Uses Remote Learning?
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The following sources were used for this article: