An Open Letter to Teachers Starting Distance Learning
To teachers about to start term two,
The word unprecedented has emerged as a fairly common descriptor for the events we all find ourselves in. Teachers, used to a physical classroom, are now teaching remotely. Parents, with a radically different homelife than before, are supporting their children through an ever-changing global crisis. And on Wednesday, term two begins.
I’ve been chatting with many of you over the past few weeks and I have been inspired by the care you all have for getting this new distance learning/home learning/remote learning/whatever you want to call it – right. I’ve seen you, teachers, spending hours (days) of your official break organising activities, upskilling in technology, asking questions, seeking support, and getting prepared.
So from me to you, here are three quick pieces of advice.
Everything is not going to go to plan…it’s that simple. This new situation is going to get messy. And you know what? That is completely okay. Take a look around. We are in the middle of a global pandemic. I am typing this on a beanbag in my kitchen because it is the one place I can get some quiet right now. The normal rules have gone out the window and all we can do is our best. You may find that some families choose to do their own home learning and you don’t hear from them for weeks. You might be all ready for a planned Zoom or Google Meet virtual chat and then the Internet craps out. You could be halfway through recording a story and your toddler yanks out your power cord or turns off the light.
Expect things to be messy and then cut yourself some slack when they are.
Keep it simple and lower your expectations
As teachers, we pride ourselves on having high expectations. Well, that’s all well and good, but the context of teaching has changed. For many students and families, the amount of work that is achievable in their new learning environments is a fraction of what they could achieve in the classroom. Instructions should be clear and expectations of work quality and quantity must be lowered. I am not suggesting we suddenly expect little from our students, but it is important to remember that this is not a normal situation. If little Jimmy types three sentences when he would normally write half a page, perhaps:
- he was only able to get 15 minutes on the computer because he had to share it with his siblings.
- the family choose to focus on fitness that day and went on a big walk.
- he is new to typing his thoughts and it takes him a lot longer than writing in his book.
Be realistic in the work that you set and keep it simple.
Be kind (to yourself)
This last point is key. When you trained as a teacher, there was not a class or textbook titled “How to quickly pivot at a moments notice during a global pandemic to successfully teach your students in their homes (while also looking after your own bubble that may include your own children).” I would also be surprised if this was covered in your staff PD sessions on a Tuesday afternoon. With that in mind, be kind to yourself. This is new, it is out of your control, and it is natural to feel anxious, confused, worried, or a combination of all of the above.
This isn’t going to last forever. This is temporary. Do your best, look to find time for yourself, and view it all as one big learning opportunity. And if any school leaders are reading this, please, be kind to your teachers. No further explanation is necessary.
So, take a deep breath, look after yourself, and try to have some fun! It’s going to be a wild ride.
Onwards and upwards,