Being a teacher is in my blood: most of my grandparents were teachers, some of my extended family taught, and my dad is currently finishing up his 30th year of teaching. My dad teaches middle school social studies in a public school in upstate New York. He’s seen a thing or two in his day, so when the whole distance learning idea started to solidify into a reality, he was ready for anything.
I was SUPER curious as to what his school would choose to do, and I thought you’d be, too, so I interviewed him for this blog:
Julia: In what ways was your school prepared for distance learning?
Dad: We were totally caught off-guard. We received some Google Classroom training in January by chance, but I was dismissed from the meeting because I’m retiring this year, and was told, “You will never have to use it.”
Julia: In what ways was your school unprepared for distance learning?
Dad: Kids didn’t have Chromebooks and there was no reach into homes – we didn’t know who had what.
Julia: What does your typical school day and week look like now?
Dad: So I work 5 days a week: 3 days are grading and prep, and 2 days are full days of Google Meet classes. I enjoy the Google Meet classes a lot, because I miss interacting with the kids and I can use a lot of my previous materials.
Julia: Do you enjoy using Google Classroom and Meet? Do you wish you could use Zoom?
Dad: I enjoy the Google suite because you can do a little bit of everything. Google Classroom lets me keep track of all of my assignments and I can release them when I want to. I’ve prepped next Tuesday’s assignment but I will release it the day-of. It’s a one-stop shop. Google has also been giving schools access to their premium features. It’s great for everybody. The kids can contact me through the single page they have to go to – they can message me and it goes to my email. My kids don’t have their own emails. They’re middle schoolers, so this also helps prevent bullying on a school-provided platform.
Julia: Our schools and subjects are pretty different: small, private, California high school math/science, vs. larger, public, upstate New York middle school social studies. Which of these differences do you think contributes most to the difference in our distance learning experience?
Dad: Oh I think it’s because New York State has very strict parameters on how we can contact students and gather student information. We have very strict guidelines on how to provide instruction. Our district has to interpret NYS’s recommendations.
Julia: What’s the funniest thing that has happened so far during distance learning?
Dad: Two things: 1) a kid putting up KFC spam on the Google Classroom and Google contacting the district to say they couldn’t use Google Classroom for promotional purposes. And 2) seeing the kids’ pets, siblings, and parents – many of whom I’ve taught!
Julia: How do you think kids are handling this time, emotionally? What should other teachers and schools prioritize?
Dad: Distance learning is very boring and socially isolating, and the mental health of the kids has to be considered. Realize that home is difficult for the kids. The difference in home life and equity for our kids is amazing. We had to go into neighborhoods and hang up mobile hotspots for students because parents had to drive their kids to parking lots to get them wifi.
Julia: You’ve sometimes mused with me that all education will eventually happen remotely through screens, as classroom sizes get larger and classroom management gets harder. Do you think the COVID-19 distance learning will set the stage for this?
Dad: Not just classroom management, but the management of public spaces is getting more difficult – so it’s more that the building can be unsafe. Education is going to change. Schools will not be like they were – not just because of sickness. Within two weeks, my school was able to transfer to distance learning without any prep, so it’s done! If we think about it and give it more time, it will be even easier. I think this is the way of the future. Schools will never be the same. There will come a point when it’s all distance learning.
Dad and I are having pretty different distance learning experiences, but it’s clear we both miss the same thing: the energy of being in the classroom with the kids. Our schools will both be closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 academic year. Who knows what fall 2020 will look like!
Fun Fact! I actually got to teach with Dad for a short time two years ago, when I was helping cover a maternity leave for someone at his school. We even switched off teaching in the same classroom! While I absolutely love the school I’m working at now, I definitely miss those days with Dad!
Wishing you health, safety, and happiness,