Hybrid Teaching Hell: From the Trenches

 

Back in August I wrote a post about my first day back to school, “Why Teachers Think About Quitting“. It feels like it’s been years since I wrote it and it seemed like an appropriate moment to step back and take stock of how things have developed since then in this bizarre “hybrid” teaching world. Some of the issues I mentioned in my post from the first day have been resolved in practical terms- but there are other issues that deserve some attention.

Students

The school gave us a list of students who decided formally to be remote for at least the first quarter of the school year. That helped a little in planning those classes because we could count on them being online or at least having to record the class for them to view later. However, two issues have emerged:

The first: Why are students remote? Many teachers suspect that admin didn’t even ask, but simply wanted to make sure every family got what they wanted and so we are concerned that there are some students that should be in school but are home. This concern is amplified through school gossip; we have understood that there are sleepovers and other social gatherings that have taken place at the homes of remote students with multiple peers which is a no-no.

The second: there are in-person students who are suddenly absent but are supposed to participate remotely. Naturally, we assume this is for COVID testing (who knows) but you don’t know for how long they will be out and their absences change lesson plans radically.

Let me give you an example:

I have seven in-person students for French 2 so I made seven photocopies of my handouts for them and set up our activity which involved the big whiteboard, the small personal whiteboards, and markers for a game. Ten minutes before class in the morning, I got an email that three students were attending remotely. Crisis. With half the class gone, I re-wrote the plan to eliminate the game, raced to set up the appointment for the class in Microsoft Teams so the remote students could log on, found new handouts for the grammar lesson I would do instead, and downloaded them as PDFs which I printed for the in-person students and emailed them to the remote ones, plugged in the cables for the Owl camera and HDMI so we could see the students and we started a grammar lesson instead. I collapsed into my chair at my desk afterward. This happened in mid-September. (I am getting better at OneNote which will help with some of these issues, but the sudden change in plan that I needed to make wasn’t avoidable.)

And then there is the student role in all of this. After a day when just one of my students was absent, she came to the next class with a question and prefaced it with: “That was so hard. I just wandered away. I mean, the Owl is so annoying. I just…can’t…with remote learning. I’m so sorry. It’s not your fault.” and I felt like howling because I did everything I could to accommodate her, and it didn’t seem to matter; that lesson was lost to her. Moving on.

I have no doubt that it’s hard to hang on during a 60-minute lesson. The Owl cameras that were purchased by the school have proved to be tricky in classrooms. The video quality is unattractive. For remote students with a full load of 8 academic courses, they have 8 hours of these Owl-filmed classes to watch which is like watching paint dry. If I’m not sharing my screen with the camera, it just scans the classroom with masked students with their books. The sound is tough. The teachers are easier to hear because they speak loudly but the students are very hard to understand with the masks. The remote students just aren’t seamlessly integrated into the greater classroom. The students can’t talk chatter with the students on the camera. In fact, once the video is turned on, I find that the remote students are often simply looking out at the classroom quietly waiting for class to start. When we do small group work in classes where students know each other, they just use FaceTime and I turn off the Owl. It works better.

For freshmen students, this distancing effect is particularly pronounced because they never really met each other in the first place. Students that I have taught for a while tell me readily that they feel lonely and isolated. One said she missed her peers and the feeling of being at school- walking in the hallways, going to lunch, and talking with different people. I wonder if their parents understand how blue they are and again; for what reason are they being held back from school? Is their health at risk? Additionally, remote students are supposed to turn their cameras on so teachers can see them during the class but increasingly they have been turning their cameras off, a kind of retreat from the rest of the class. I should tell them to turn their camera on but honestly, I haven’t done that much. I have many other things to keep track of that I haven’t kept up with that piece. Which brings me to my last part.

Admin:

“Hybrid” means something different everywhere and you have to dig into it to see how each institution wants to define it. For several schools, remote learning was meant to be a temporary situation. The students were temporarily unable to come to class, so they watch the videos, do the classwork and the idea is that they will rejoin their classmates soon. In short, the focus should be on the in-person students and the remote students observe. My school does not seem to have any philosophy at all other than “everything for everyone” (it’s generous, I’ll give them that).

The lack of a real “hybrid” philosophy really becomes apparent when you get a class of seven where five are remote and only two are in-person and you wonder on whom you should be focused? On the remote five who are very quiet or on the in-person two? Teachers want to teach everyone, but they feel guilty and stressed when they feel they are leaving children out, especially since we know that many feel lonely already, not to mention what their parents will say to us about that. A remote class is 100x more stressful than a class of 30 in-person students.

I think that admin genuinely thought that by bringing cameras in and requiring the remote students to show themselves during class, the remote and in-person students would be united in one seamless group that the teacher would teach normally- no sweat. What they did not anticipate was the enormous tech learning curve, the student behavior, and the huge amount of work that teachers would have to do that is nearly double to prepare for a “hybrid” class resulting in teachers freely admitting they are exhausted, even burned out and going to admin to speak about it. Our tech coordinator, also a math teacher, is exhausted with all the tech troubleshooting he is dealing with singlehandedly which can’t be delegated to anyone else because…there is no one else. We desperately need some time to re-group, re-evaluate our technology training needs, and find a renewed sense of purpose in the classroom. I wonder for how many other places this is the case? And we don’t even have the schedule for the second semester yet- they haven’t even started planning it. I asked the head of school if she would consider giving us a survey so we could be entirely honest about what’s working and what we think we could tweak and she said she thought it was a good idea so we’ll see where that goes.

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  1. Goldgeller Member
    Goldgeller
    @Goldgeller

    I am happy I’m not having to teach (technically GSI) right now. The schooling issue is tough… I feel that too many people were willing to give up on in person instruction. Students need it. 

    From your post I gather that not only does this strain strategies for teaching, a lot of students (high-school?) are struggling with their lessons because of the changing environment and it is sad. It’s a really tough spot and everything you said is very thoughtful but this hybrid stuff– it isn”t a silver bullet and it has real costs.

    I don’t even know what the strategy should be, especially if it is high-school. College students we should be tough on. But high-schoolers…they probably really don’t know. 

    One cool experience I had was when a teacher assigned us to groups for the entire semester. We were simply forced to work together. I think it made in person or remote largely irrelevant, since we were always communicating. I don’t know how it translates to hybrid learning but if students know they have a working group, it seems to at least get them talking. I tried to put students in groups every section and that seemed to marginally increase the number of people who raised their hands. 

    • #1
  2. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Some of the children might be living with vulnerable relatives at home. Minimizing external contact might make sense then, though I have also heard that there is very little chance of a child infecting an adult and vice versa.

    • #2
  3. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    I was going to try hybrid for my kids to minimize their time with masks on their faces, but ultimately it wasn’t worth it.

    I wanted to homeschool but that hasn’t been a viable option without my husband’s support.

    One of the headaches of last year’s remote learning was having assignments scattered, poor organization, and ensuring all the work was properly submitted. Some assignments didn’t get done because we never found them. Homeschooling doesn’t require being responsible to a third party for assignments, which ultimately (for me, as a parent) was the biggest stressor.

    There’s nothing wrong with student led materials for older students. A great many homeschooled kids proceed quite well with reading materials, worksheets, and assignments. There’s so many online materials for extra help that a parent wouldn’t even need to be involved. The upside is that they aren’t necessarily spending 8 hours watching classroom videos, which may help with the depression part as it frees them to pursue other interests and hobbies.

    Anyway, the lack of something along those lines and the over complexity of it just turned me off. After 1 week of “hybrid”, I sent them all out the door full time and am happy I did. My oldest still has virtual assignments, but it’s less chaotic than last year. A lot of hybrid parents in our area did the same.

    • #3
  4. Giulietta Coolidge
    Giulietta
    @giuliettachicago

    Goldgeller (View Comment):

    From your post I gather that not only does this strain strategies for teaching, a lot of students (high-school?) are struggling with their lessons because of the changing environment and it is sad. It’s a really tough spot and everything you said is very thoughtful but this hybrid stuff– it isn”t a silver bullet and it has real costs.

    There is no silver bullet with hybrid, you’re right. A salient point was made by a science teacher who said she told admin that a fully online environment has a very specific setup and the buy-in from the students and teacher is different from the get-go. You don’t get that from our variety of hybrid which is shifting from day-to-day with teachers who are constantly stressed. I’ve done fully online classes before and she’s right. It can be a solitary learning environment, but you have to understand that in advance so you have the resources to deal with it and really make the most of it. I wonder to what extent other teachers notice this in their hybrid classes too.

    • #4
  5. Giulietta Coolidge
    Giulietta
    @giuliettachicago

    Percival (View Comment):

    Some of the children might be living with vulnerable relatives at home. Minimizing external contact might make sense then, though I have also heard that there is very little chance of a child infecting an adult and vice versa.

    That’s absolutely possible. While I really don’t want to tell kids what to do in their downtime, knowing that certain remote kids have been socializing is worrisome. Staying at home for health reasons makes sense, but we shouldn’t be hearing about them getting together for parties.

    • #5
  6. Giulietta Coolidge
    Giulietta
    @giuliettachicago

    Stina (View Comment):

    One of the headaches of last year’s remote learning was having assignments scattered, poor organization, and ensuring all the work was properly submitted. Some assignments didn’t get done because we never found them. Homeschooling doesn’t require being responsible to a third party for assignments, which ultimately (for me, as a parent) was the biggest stressor.

    There’s nothing wrong with student led materials for older students. A great many homeschooled kids proceed quite well with reading materials, worksheets, and assignments. There’s so many online materials for extra help that a parent wouldn’t even need to be involved. The upside is that they aren’t necessarily spending 8 hours watching classroom videos, which may help with the depression part as it frees them to pursue other interests and hobbies.

    Anyway, the lack of something along those lines and the over complexity of it just turned me off. After 1 week of “hybrid”, I sent them all out the door full time and am happy I did. My oldest still has virtual assignments, but it’s less chaotic than last year. A lot of hybrid parents in our area did the same.

    Finding assignments is a headache for everyone this year. Every single teacher seems to use a different technology to assign work (OneNote, PowerSchool, GoogleDocs, turnitin, FlipGrid, etc) and students are looking everywhere to find their assignments. The special ed teachers were telling me that they are trying to figure out 1)how to use all the programs teachers are adopting to help the students and 2)how to find all the assignments because they have to record all of them for their parents in a recap email at the end of the week. Turning in work has been equally tricky because of file formatting, etc.

    You’re absolutely right that the depression comes with watching all those sketchily-filmed classroom videos for 8 hours. Your kids are lucky you sent them out the door! how old are your children? Homeschooling sounds better and better…

     

    • #6
  7. Pony Convertible Member
    Pony Convertible
    @PonyConvertible

    When you consider that this virus has had nearly no impact on young healthy kids, all the things you are doing seems insane.

    • #7
  8. Stina Member
    Stina
    @CM

    Giulietta (View Comment):
    You’re absolutely right that the depression comes with watching all those sketchily-filmed classroom videos for 8 hours. Your kids are lucky you sent them out the door! how old are your children? Homeschooling sounds better and better…

    Eleven, 8, and 5. My oldest started middle school this year.

    • #8
  9. Giulietta Coolidge
    Giulietta
    @giuliettachicago

    Pony Convertible (View Comment):

    When you consider that this virus has had nearly no impact on young healthy kids, all the things you are doing seems insane.

    You bring up something else- room cleanings between classes. Between classes we have to disinfect every chair and desk used in addition to getting ready for the next class. There are 20 min passing periods to do it but it’s tough with kids who want extra help after class, plus loose ends to tie up with the remote kids online. Teachers who share rooms don’t have their own cleaning kit so the four maintenance workers race around the building and do it. And yes, to loop back to your point, this virus has had nearly no impact on healthy kids. 

    • #9
  10. Full Size Tabby Member
    Full Size Tabby
    @FullSizeTabby

    In a school district about 25 miles from us (a town smaller than ours) so many students who had opted for “distance learning” are currently failing and/or completely unengaged that the district has ordered those students to come in for in-person learning unless there is a specific medical reason they shouldn’t. 

    • #10
  11. Giulietta Coolidge
    Giulietta
    @giuliettachicago

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    In a school district about 25 miles from us (a town smaller than ours) so many students who had opted for “distance learning” are currently failing and/or completely unengaged that the district has ordered those students to come in for in-person learning unless there is a specific medical reason they shouldn’t.

    That’s interesting and courageous. The complete disengagement is something many students freely admit to. 

    • #11
  12. Goldgeller Member
    Goldgeller
    @Goldgeller

    Giulietta (View Comment):

    Goldgeller (View Comment):

    From your post I gather that not only does this strain strategies for teaching, a lot of students (high-school?) are struggling with their lessons because of the changing environment and it is sad. It’s a really tough spot and everything you said is very thoughtful but this hybrid stuff– it isn”t a silver bullet and it has real costs.

    There is no silver bullet with hybrid, you’re right. A salient point was made by a science teacher who said she told admin that a fully online environment has a very specific setup and the buy-in from the students and teacher is different from the get-go. You don’t get that from our variety of hybrid which is shifting from day-to-day with teachers who are constantly stressed. I’ve done fully online classes before and she’s right. It can be a solitary learning environment, but you have to understand that in advance so you have the resources to deal with it and really make the most of it. I wonder to what extent other teachers notice this in their hybrid classes too.

    I did a hybrid class where it was run mainly out of UNC and we had an instructor in our room and even my attention wained. Also I realized I didn’t care that much about census data. I do think students probably need a way to rely on or lean on each other.

     

    • #12
  13. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    I posted this in my former suburb’s COVID Freakout group after someone posted as article that was horrified that some rich Chicago suburb allowed their kids to go to school 1 day a week.

    “FWIW, I’m thankful my son is back in school five days a week. Remote learning is big on remote and low on learning. We are going to have an entire generation of kids that lost of year of learning and we will continue to promote them through as if they learned what they were supposed to and pretend it doesn’t matter.”

    You can imagine the warm reception is received from a group dedicated to freaking out over COVID, but my wife did call me to let me that it made the day of one of our friends trapped behind enemy lines.

     

    • #13
  14. A-Squared Inactive
    A-Squared
    @ASquared

    Full Size Tabby (View Comment):

    In a school district about 25 miles from us (a town smaller than ours) so many students who had opted for “distance learning” are currently failing and/or completely unengaged that the district has ordered those students to come in for in-person learning unless there is a specific medical reason they shouldn’t. 

    Prior to going back five days a week last week, my son was on a hybrid model where on home days they would watch the live lectures given to the other half of the class on his computer. He admitted to not knowing when key quizzes were scheduled because he would fall asleep at his desk watching the lectures.

    • #14
  15. cirby Inactive
    cirby
    @cirby

    Some educator ought to experiment by putting lectures up on a website with a player that lets the students choose the playback speed – anywhere from half speed up to as fast as they can understand the lecture. While keeping track of which speeds the students choose. Then, cross-index their grade for each test with how fast they ran the videos.

    If they all do better with faster content, then teach the course faster. I keep seeing comments like “a lot of the students fall asleep,” and that’s either an indication of a deadly-boring teacher, or a good teacher who’s taking it too easy.

     

    • #15
  16. danys Thatcher
    danys
    @danys

    We’re still remote and my best guess is we’ll go hybrid in January for semester 2. More & more of my students have their cameras off. Students I taught last year are participating less. When I email them to ask how they’re doing the general answer involves having a hard time finding the energy to get up, stay interested, or even care about school. These are seniors. 

    My sophomores appear to be handling things better. I have 16 students in that section vs 22 in my senior class. I’m still having trouble balancing lecture, reading, and discussion.

    Fortunately my school is considering cutting 5 minutes from each of the periods to give more break time. The students need to get up and walk away from their work areas. Of course, how do we know they’ll do that?

    My own middle school child is suffering from lockdown enhanced anxiety. Her brain right now keeps her from doing her classwork (I really do not think she’s shirking). Her school is being so very helpful. We just need her to get through this year. I don’t care if she has to repeat Algebra. 

    I’m so frustrated. I have colleagues who have co-morbidities & I know my school will let them teach from home. Keeping our youngsters locked down is just cruel. I’ve offered to supervise classes for those teachers so students can come back. I doubt the county health cowards will let us do that. 

    • #16
  17. Giulietta Coolidge
    Giulietta
    @giuliettachicago

    danys (View Comment):

    We’re still remote and my best guess is we’ll go hybrid in January for semester 2. More & more of my students have their cameras off. Students I taught last year are participating less. When I email them to ask how they’re doing the general answer involves having a hard time finding the energy to get up, stay interested, or even care about school. These are seniors.

    My sophomores appear to be handling things better. I have 16 students in that section vs 22 in my senior class. I’m still having trouble balancing lecture, reading, and discussion.

    Fortunately my school is considering cutting 5 minutes from each of the periods to give more break time. The students need to get up and walk away from their work areas. Of course, how do we know they’ll do that?

    My own middle school child is suffering from lockdown enhanced anxiety. Her brain right now keeps her from doing her classwork (I really do not think she’s shirking). Her school is being so very helpful. We just need her to get through this year. I don’t care if she has to repeat Algebra.

    I’m so frustrated. I have colleagues who have co-morbidities & I know my school will let them teach from home. Keeping our youngsters locked down is just cruel. I’ve offered to supervise classes for those teachers so students can come back. I doubt the county health cowards will let us do that.

    So you think you’ll be remote? I’m so so curious about what my school will do for the second semester. We have a whole separate schedule for remote courses- from 10am to 3pm, 60min classes with 15 min breaks and a generous lunch period. It’s really tough to find ways to get the students to get up and stretch, go get fresh air and also keep them generally motivated. Even at school when they have free time, a lot of them just stay on their phone in a corner. 

    In my experience, the seniors fared better at the start than the underclassmen. The ones I taught had better study habits from years of training and while they too had a hard time concentrating for a long time, I didn’t hear them fiddling with Snapchat constantly. They also opted to keep cameras on. The freshmen (this year’s sophomores) fared much worse- cameras off, distracted sounds, cellphones on all the time, lack of organization, etc. 

    The situation is so hard on everyone. It’s a very kind offer you made to step in to help your colleagues at home so their students can come back. Keep me updated, will you? 

    • #17
  18. Giulietta Coolidge
    Giulietta
    @giuliettachicago

    A-Squared (View Comment):

    I posted this in my former suburb’s COVID Freakout group after someone posted as article that was horrified that some rich Chicago suburb allowed their kids to go to school 1 day a week.

    “FWIW, I’m thankful my son is back in school five days a week. Remote learning is big on remote and low on learning. We are going to have an entire generation of kids that lost of year of learning and we will continue to promote them through as if they learned what they were supposed to and pretend it doesn’t matter.”

    You can imagine the warm reception is received from a group dedicated to freaking out over COVID, but my wife did call me to let me that it made the day of one of our friends trapped behind enemy lines.

    I can’t imagine that a COVID freak-out group would receive this very warmly but we all know there is another side to what these decisions look like. I’m sure there are schools that are handling this period better and others worse. For me personally it helps enormously to hear what is going on for other teachers, even in my own building. Sometimes you can feel like you’re the only one having a hard time and it helps so much to realize that the issues are shared.

     

    • #18
  19. Giulietta Coolidge
    Giulietta
    @giuliettachicago

    cirby (View Comment):

    Some educator ought to experiment by putting lectures up on a website with a player that lets the students choose the playback speed – anywhere from half speed up to as fast as they can understand the lecture. While keeping track of which speeds the students choose. Then, cross-index their grade for each test with how fast they ran the videos.

    If they all do better with faster content, then teach the course faster. I keep seeing comments like “a lot of the students fall asleep,” and that’s either an indication of a deadly-boring teacher, or a good teacher who’s taking it too easy.

     

    Maybe someone’s tried it? Something to consider is that teachers often have mixed-level groups. I have students who are very quick to understand material and others who are very slow. It’s particularly hard to figure out how not to lose the slow kids in a remote class, especially if they are not very good at asking questions and they’ve turned off their camera.

    • #19
  20. cirby Inactive
    cirby
    @cirby

    Giulietta (View Comment):

    cirby (View Comment):

    Some educator ought to experiment by putting lectures up on a website with a player that lets the students choose the playback speed – anywhere from half speed up to as fast as they can understand the lecture. While keeping track of which speeds the students choose. Then, cross-index their grade for each test with how fast they ran the videos.

    If they all do better with faster content, then teach the course faster. I keep seeing comments like “a lot of the students fall asleep,” and that’s either an indication of a deadly-boring teacher, or a good teacher who’s taking it too easy.

    Maybe someone’s tried it?

    If they did, they’re keeping the results awful quiet.

     

    • #20
  21. danys Thatcher
    danys
    @danys

    Giulietta (View Comment):

    danys (View Comment):

    We’re still remote and my best guess is we’ll go hybrid in January for semester 2. More & more of my students have their cameras off. Students I taught last year are participating less. When I email them to ask how they’re doing the general answer involves having a hard time finding the energy to get up, stay interested, or even care about school. These are seniors.

    My sophomores appear to be handling things better. I have 16 students in that section vs 22 in my senior class. I’m still having trouble balancing lecture, reading, and discussion.

    Fortunately my school is considering cutting 5 minutes from each of the periods to give more break time. The students need to get up and walk away from their work areas. Of course, how do we know they’ll do that?

    My own middle school child is suffering from lockdown enhanced anxiety. Her brain right now keeps her from doing her classwork (I really do not think she’s shirking). Her school is being so very helpful. We just need her to get through this year. I don’t care if she has to repeat Algebra.

    I’m so frustrated. I have colleagues who have co-morbidities & I know my school will let them teach from home. Keeping our youngsters locked down is just cruel. I’ve offered to supervise classes for those teachers so students can come back. I doubt the county health cowards will let us do that.

    So you think you’ll be remote? I’m so so curious about what my school will do for the second semester. We have a whole separate schedule for remote courses- from 10am to 3pm, 60min classes with 15 min breaks and a generous lunch period. It’s really tough to find ways to get the students to get up and stretch, go get fresh air and also keep them generally motivated. Even at school when they have free time, a lot of them just stay on their phone in a corner.

    In my experience, the seniors fared better at the start than the underclassmen. The ones I taught had better study habits from years of training and while they too had a hard time concentrating for a long time, I didn’t hear them fiddling with Snapchat constantly. They also opted to keep cameras on. The freshmen (this year’s sophomores) fared much worse- cameras off, distracted sounds, cellphones on all the time, lack of organization, etc.

    The situation is so hard on everyone. It’s a very kind offer you made to step in to help your colleagues at home so their students can come back. Keep me updated, will you?

    I will keep you updated.

    We’re running 75-minute blocks; 4 blocks/day. It’s grueling on the students as they have 3 or 4 blocks/day (each student has 7 classes). We’re considering 70 minute blocks to give them more time to be off the computer. I’m moving very slowly through the curriculum but trying to engage the students & have them think. Just trying to do the best work I can under the circumstances.

    I’m in LA County & they’ve just posted waiver information for TK-2 at low income schools. They’ll let 30 schools return/week. There are over 1000 elementary schools in this county. I don’t see how they let private high schools return before December. Semester 1 ends in December. 

    • #21
  22. Giulietta Coolidge
    Giulietta
    @giuliettachicago

    danys (View Comment):

    Giulietta (View Comment):

    danys (View Comment):

    The situation is so hard on everyone. It’s a very kind offer you made to step in to help your colleagues at home so their students can come back. Keep me updated, will you?

    I will keep you updated.

    We’re running 75-minute blocks; 4 blocks/day. It’s grueling on the students as they have 3 or 4 blocks/day (each student has 7 classes). We’re considering 70 minute blocks to give them more time to be off the computer. I’m moving very slowly through the curriculum but trying to engage the students & have them think. Just trying to do the best work I can under the circumstances.

    I’m in LA County & they’ve just posted waiver information for TK-2 at low income schools. They’ll let 30 schools return/week. There are over 1000 elementary schools in this county. I don’t see how they let private high schools return before December. Semester 1 ends in December.

    In a non-covid year, we start at 8am and have 80 minute classes in 4 blocks per day, 15 minute passing periods with a 60 minute lunch period. Remote changed all that to the schedule I mentioned before because the screen time was intense for everyone. This year we start at 9am and the period from 7:45-9 is supposed to be office hours to meet with remote students, but I think those students are so tired they agree to meet only if the teachers make appointments. The teachers appreciate the office hours, but from what I gather, the lost instructional time is particularly hard on the AP teachers.

    We have the same December Sem1 end. You’re in CA so it is more likely you will get a remote second semester but here in Illinois, I have no idea what will happen. I’m bracing myself either way. It’ll get worse no matter what because the flu will look exactly like covid so there will be even more kids popping in and out of class constantly.

    • #22