COVID and the classroom: Remote learning evolves

As the school year marches on, teachers and staff continue to adapt to the challenges of supporting their students and families through shared anxiety and uncertainty.

We spoke with public and private school educators who live and/or work in our community about their experiences since the start of the school year. They are hopeful, concerned, and working harder than ever.

Editor’s note: Emily Karlichek’s conversations with Farmington area educators continues with a look at how remote learning has evolved. In some cases, we have agreed to withhold identifying information at the teachers’ requests. Read part one: COVID AND THE CLASSROOM: TEACHERS ON REMOTE, IN-PERSON LEARNING.

One Farmington Public Schools (FPS) kindergarten teacher said remote learning is very different from what students experienced in the spring, when schools abruptly closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The current system, she said, “requires that teachers consistently find ways to deliver content and curriculum in ways that will increase student engagement.”

Teachers spend three to five more hours per week planning for remote learning, as they work on daily learning experiences for students on- and off-line, she said. As FPS officials plan for a return to in-person learning, she’s worried about their ability to keep everyone safe.

“I’m excited that I’ll get to see my students,” she said. “I am hopeful that my district will do what’s in the best interest for everyone’s safety.”

In the meantime, she encourages parents to stay in contact with their children’s teachers.

“We know that some families are having difficulties managing work, remote learning, and other family obligations,” she said. “Teachers are invested in their student’s success and want to assist our families in any way possible. My advice for students is to stay organized and to keep putting forth their best efforts.”

Delivering remote therapy

Katie M., a speech-language pathologist delivering therapy to K-8 students in a local public school district, said the demands of remote learning has led to missed sessions.

“I’m finding that families and students are having difficulties juggling where and when they need to be in different online sessions. Unfortunately, therapy can get left to the wayside,” she said.

While her students are doing well, responsive and interactive, and making progress, Katie said, “This is hard. This is so so hard.”

“Students do not have these time management demands while in the physical school  – they’re taken to their different classes, they get physical homework and hands-on help. Now, they have to flex their independence, which can be tough.”

Students with Autism and severe impairments, in particular, have an uphill battle.

“Most of these students are nonverbal and utilize alternative augmentative devices for communication,” Katie said. “It has been a challenge to feel like I’m actually making an impact. Ultimately across my caseload, some students are thriving, but for others, this is almost completely impossible.”

As her district plans a return to face-to-face learning in November, Katie admits that safety is a huge concern. “But I also miss my students, my coworkers, and doing what I love. I have to have faith that our district will do everything they can to keep us safe.”

Her advice to families?

“It’s all about perspective – it’s often hard to ‘put yourself in someone’s shoes,’ but really, really try. If you’re finding yourself frustrated with an educator, or administrator, or other student, really try to take their perspective. No one has done this before, no one has lived this life we are all living. Take a breath and give each other a break.”

Hybrid learning challenges

Ronald R. Weiler II teaches vocal music to 6th-12th graders at an area private school, and has faced unique hurdles in his subject area. He has been teaching hybrid this fall, with students learning in the classroom and remotely.

“Unlike in other subjects, the milliseconds of delay between the teacher, the remote learners, and the students in the classroom plays a significant role in how and what can happen,” he said. “It is difficult for my music students to feel fully connected to what’s happening in the classroom.”

Through the challenges, though, he feels supported.

“Our school has been absolutely incredible in supporting the faculty. We have had to rethink everything about learning, eating, walking down the hallway, as well as how to broadcast our classes to students learning from home. It’s a herculean task that really isn’t possible, but I’ve felt supported from day one.”

Weiler hopes that families will remain flexible, because at this point, so many things are out of teachers’ control. A recent Michigan Supreme Court decision that struck down existing health mandates, for instance, makes envisioning the future difficult, he said.

“Understand that every teacher you have feels like a first year teacher right now, and that every routine that your child has learned over the years in school has been turned on its head and they have to start over. Patience, which is the very thing that is taxed by all of this, is ironically of the utmost importance to be able to navigate the challenges we face.”

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