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Yesterday was the first day of school and I thought about quitting for most of it. Mostly I’m just relieved it’s Saturday today.
I work at a small independent Catholic school. Our admin decided that we would reopen for in-person instruction (which is clearly preferable to remote for all the obvious reasons), but offer a remote option to students who preferred to stay home — “hybrid” instruction. Leave it to admin to give it a name that makes it sound like it’s a perfected model. Herein lies the problem. Our school’s remote experience last spring worked pretty well mostly because everyone was remote at the same time so there was no balancing act required, at least for school.
Admin has now promised too much. There are parents who apparently threatened to withdraw their children from the school if they did not get remote instruction, and there were parents that threatened to withdraw if they did not get in-person instruction. So the school guaranteed both and promised that the teachers could handle it without asking our input (I get that teachers don’t make policy but we do offer constructive advice).
We were switched to Microsoft Teams for our video format, and on Wednesday there was a rushed 15-minute presentation on how to use the OWL cameras, $1,000 devices that were installed in certain classrooms that plug into our laptops with huge, hoselike cords that allow the remote students to see the class. The first day of school was Friday and there were still frantic discussions among teachers about whether we needed to plug in the HDMI cable with the USB cable for the OWLs to work properly, frequent audio problems, whether we needed to call the remote students on Teams to start the class or whether they would dial in first…In short, for a first day none of us felt competent and focused on the actual work of teaching because of the technology weighing on us.
On Friday I had 3 different classes and in each class, I had different numbers of remote students. In my first class, a student installed the Teams app on her phone so we were able to escape the suffocating heat of my un-air-conditioned classroom and go sit outside in the shade. In my second class, I wasn’t sure if the student from Saudi Arabia (there are also many students from China at the school- none of the internationals could get visas to come back this fall) was joining us or not and then there were another two students who were joining, but at any rate we had to stay in the room. To make the room bearable, I turned on two fans. Apparently, the students couldn’t hear much of what was being said on the OWL because the fan creates evident background noise. Also, the OWL is like a walkie-talkie with the speakers sharing a channel so the students who are remote cannot interact seamlessly with everyone else. I had to keep darting over to my computer to see if they had questions and sometimes they would talk but there wouldn’t be audio so everyone would have to be silent to see what was happening which wasted a lot of time. It was like running two entirely separate classes. Then I discovered that the OWL cannot read my handwriting on the whiteboard. I tried in darker markers — no deal. I finished the class dead-tired and nearly in tears from angry stress and it was only 11:20.
I tried to talk to my principal. I told him that I needed advice on what to do because my room was extremely hot, but with the remote students needing the OWL I couldn’t go outside (or use another classroom as we would have done in the past because of COVID cleaning restrictions) but to stay in the room, we needed the fans on which created impossible noise and the students couldn’t read the board. My principle replied, “You’re going to have to learn how to use One Note and run your class that way then,” and shrugged. I felt like scratching his face off. There was one more class in the afternoon with one more missing student (same deal- noisy fans, I really couldn’t hear her at all, it was depressing)- and then I got on the bus for the train back to the city. I have never felt so exhausted, depleted, and worn out on a first day of school.
The teachers were required to come back to work again on Aug 10. When they told us they invested in these OWL cameras for our classes, they didn’t mention that they couldn’t focus on the whiteboards. If they had, I would have been prepared for this. When One Note was brought up, it was just a useful tool for remote learning, but I am now envisioning my in-person class on their laptops, me on my laptop typing stuff into “One Note”, and not using my whiteboard at all. How does that represent in-person instruction? I am in favor of real in-person instruction. Otherwise, I’d rather go all remote now. And I haven’t even mentioned trying to teach French to French 1 students while wearing a mask. I’ll leave that to you.
No idea what the other teachers/relatives of teachers might make of all this … or the people with children going back to school. I’m curious … despite being so evidently frazzled.Published in