Friday, September 25, 2020

Into the Great Wide Open

I'm in the second week of teaching remotely, and I'm flabbergasted by the challenges. I've been teaching over 30 years and there aren't a lot of situations that surprise me. Nonetheless, these are odd times. 
Most of my students are from Asia, and learning their names is a challenge for me every year. This year, though, it's even more challenging. I have one class with 36 students, and while that won't last forever, it's really hard to keep track of everyone. Today I started taking notes on my class list, but that only makes me recall people at one extreme or another. It's the Great Middle I'm worried about.

As if that's not enough, I'm experimenting with the technology. I've figured out how to use Zoom breakout rooms. They work fairly well when I put students in pairs, but when I tried groupwork today they were a total failure in not one, but two classes. Sometimes I come into a room and see all avatars, with absolutely no one talking to each other. Other times I come in and hear really animated conversation, but in Chinese. 

Now I can't really blame my students. If I were sitting in China and the teacher grouped me with native English speakers, I'd probably lapse into conversation in my native language. In a classroom, if there were a teacher jumping around, I might be more careful. In Zoom, though, you don't actually see the teacher. In fact, you don't even get a warning he's coming. You're just there, having a grand old time, and he appears out of nowhere. That's not really fair, is it?

Last year was quite different. I'd been with the same classes over six months. I knew everyone's names. They all knew just how crazy I was. Now I'm with a bunch of kids who have no idea who I am, and what's more I have no idea who they are either. Will I be able to find out? I'm not sure. For example, I have one student who's heavily into cosplay. You could tell who she was every time she walked into a room. On the computer screen, she looks like you or me. If I hadn't known her previously, I'd be missing out on a huge part of her character.

Today, two students told me they hadn't been in Google classroom. This explained a lot. Now I know why they hadn't done any homework, and now I know why they haven't been participating. What I don't know is how they found my Zoom classroom, because I informed all the students where it was on Google Classroom. The thing is, when you have a class of 36, things like that tend to slip through the cracks. In fact, with a class of 36, a lot of students slip through the cracks, likely more than in an ordinary classroom. 

From everything I hear, conventional live classrooms will be no walk in the park either. Now that the chancellor has backed up on insisting magical teachers would appear out of nowhere, no one knows where the blended hybrid teachers, the ones who will teach those other kids missing from your classes, are going to come from. I'm happy to be a remote teacher and not worry about that, in addition to everything else.

The mayor, of course, is absolutely confident that everything will work out. He was absolutely confident school would open on the 10th, and absolutely confident school would open on the 21st. Now he's confident school will open next week. I wonder what exactly he'll be saying in October. I was at a meeting this morning in which multiple chapter leaders commented their schools didn't have enough teachers. I'm very happy that our school came up with our own plan, one in which actual teachers teach their actual students and we don't have to worry about who teaches them when we happen to be elsewhere.
This is going to be a very interesting year. I don't know about you, but I can't wait for things to get dull once again.
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