I’ve been a classroom teacher for 14 years and a distance learning teacher for 5 weeks. Like almost everyone in the education field, I found myself tossed into distance learning unexpectedly, like a kid being tossed into the swimming pool and being told to swim. I floundered and splashed, choking on the water, and at times I was certain that I was going to drown. But, after the panic of that first plunge was over, I remembered that at least I knew how to tread water, and began to move my arms and legs just enough to keep myself afloat.
I was content with just keeping my head above the water and I was resistant to taking any strokes. The participation of my students in the first couple of weeks was a fraction of those I had in my classes. My classroom held anywhere from 25-35 students and 95% of them participated in my lessons. In this new distance learning world, I had only 10% participation, and in some classes less than that. I railed against learning to swim. Why should I learn more about distance learning and put all this effort into my lessons when there was such a low participation rate? The students aren’t even receiving a grade on their work. The time involved didn’t seem as though it was worth the effort on my part.
I grieved the loss of my physical classroom and missed my students terribly, never realizing that the daily interaction with my students was one of the components of my job that made it worth while to go to work. I was resistant to this pedagogical change and did bare minimum in my virtual classroom on Google, mourning the loss of face-to-face instruction. I knew many strategies on how to manage a physical classroom of 30 students but I knew next to nothing about managing a Google Classroom. I clung to what I knew.
During a department meeting, using Zoom, something I never heard of two months ago, one of my fellow teachers said something that resonated with me. “This is an exciting time, I’m not frustrated. This is a time I can try new things out, the kids aren’t being graded on it.” It was a breath of optimistic fresh air. He was right, the kids aren’t being graded on anything, now is the perfect time to try out new things and maybe learn something myself. We won’t be using this distance learning model forever, and even if we continue to use some aspect of it, now’s the best time to learn about it.
I took my own advice that I give to my students: learn by doing. Another colleague shared that Google has an online learning platform for teachers to learn how to use their apps to teach. I found it and learned more about what Google Classroom, Google Docs, Google Forms, and Google Slides can do. I saw our teacher’s union recommended various webinars that the state department of education was putting on. I found one about how to record video of yourself giving a lesson and watched it. An Amazon search produced a book “Teaching Math with Google Apps: 50 G Suite Activities,” I read it and learned about Google Drawings, how to insert math equations into slides and forms, and how to record my voice using a free website. I even learned about Bitmoji and created an avatar of myself to insert in emails to my students.
I am finally taking strokes in the pool and not just treading water. They aren’t powerful strokes, but I have an idea of where I’m going. I’m trying some of the various activities I read about in “Teaching Math with Google Apps” and I’m learning what works well and what doesn’t. I’m recording myself teach using Zoom and ordered an XP-Pen to make it easier to write digitally. I’m holding virtual office hours, rigging my own document camera using my cellphone and a stack of books as a stand with one heavy book on top of the cellphone to keep it in place as it looks down on the pad of paper. My teacher’s heart is happy when some of my students pop in and I get to see them and help them with math.