Four takeaways from teaching remotely face-to face

For over a year now, I have been teaching remotely. My students and I have had to get used to talking to each other through a screen. Headphones have become crucial accessories along with a strong Internet signal. Like many teachers, I had to transition quickly as did my students and we found ways to make teaching and learning work. One of the most difficult things was talking to blank screens. By law students were not required to turn their screens on, so in the beginning it took time getting used to students who were pictureless or silhouettes. Oh, how I thanked the students who weekly appeared in person on sofas, beds, chairs, in bathrooms, I didn’t care where they were, it was often where they could get the best reception. Wonderful newly formed internet programs promised us much, and some did deliver well. Putting students into groups, giving work, and having periods of time when they would talk back and share their experiences is one of the ways that many including myself found worked well with students whether face-to-face or remotely.

What did I learn from this experience?

Here are four takeaways from teaching online

1. Moving from one side of the desk to the other side is always difficult and some find it easier than others to transition. This year they had the added issue of their own mentor teachers having to transition to new ways of teaching and having to mentor student teachers at the same time.  Therefore, it was crucial to have a point of connection at the start of a lesson. By that I mean we needed to have a short time before the class began when we would just talk about the week or the day or what had happened in classrooms that they were teaching in whether face to face or remotely. They needed a time to unwind and to share the ups and downs of the pandemic and how they felt as new students taking on the role of teachers.

2. The importance of planning. Knowing where we want to be at the end of the class and planning accordingly. I like to think of my classes as  journeys I share with my students where we are going and what they may see on the way, then starting the journey together, getting their input at each stop along the way and then finally getting to our destination and recalling all the ‘sights and sounds’ we have experienced. Of course, sometimes there are unforeseen incidents where we must stop and postpone our destination arrival, but teachable moments are just that and so we take in the scenery and carry on the next time we meet. As time progressed, we got better at arriving at our destination. We learned the pitfalls of online teaching and began to use the ‘chat’ system to upload websites or things of interest, which gave us more time on the road.  

My student teachers were inventive; they were Innovative and funny. They reflected on their teaching and were quick to offer solutions to peers on things that had worked for them in similar situations.

3. We have come to realize the limits of technology as well as its advantages. The biggest issue we had was hearing each other when internet connections were spotty, and, of course, learning remote meeting etiquette. There is much to be said about the need for human contact, making eye contact on a computer is not the same as making eye contact face to face. Yes, I got to see the pets of my students often cats who would interrupt their owners giving a nudge here and there, walking across computer keys craving attention. Students also got to see the necessity of not just relying on ‘spellcheck’ but proof reading work they were going to show others on a screen.

4. Above all I got to better understand just how much these student teachers wanted their students to succeed. Often more computer savvy than the teachers with whom they were assigned, they worked at putting forms and written exercises onto computers. They used their knowledge of computer games to devise ways to make learning both effective and fun.  My student teachers were inventive; they were Innovative and funny. They reflected on their teaching and were quick to offer solutions to peers on things that had worked for them in similar situations. By the end of the year, they had moved from the student side of the desk to standing at the front of the room, and I am proud of what they have done and overcome in these extraordinary times.

As the new semester looms, I for one am looking forward to seeing a new batch of students and never taking for granted the by chance meeting on a staircase, the wave across a crowded hallway, the nod of acknowledgement in a packed elevator. I have missed these ordinary moments.

Author’s bio: Dr. Kay Traille is Associate Professor of History and History Education and also the author of “Hearing Their Voices.

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