The Other Side of Remote Learning

This Isn’t Exactly an Ideal Situation

“There are too many equity concerns to grade remote work fairly.”

“Remote learning just doesn’t work. Kids need to be in school.”

“My kids don’t show up or turn in their work.”

“I miss my kids too much, I want to see them again.”

For the past two months, many of my colleagues and friends in the teaching world are expressing their frustration with the new remote learning mandates that are the result of mandatory social distancing and school closures. Major cities such as NYC, Los Angeles, and others are suffering especially because their budgets don’t allow for equitable learning on a regular basis. Kids are falling through the cracks and missing out on work because they don’t have phone or internet access in order to do their schoolwork.

But here’s the thing- even before COVID, this was a problem. Children in poverty or lower socioeconomic status have been cheated of a quality education time and time again. So why is remote learning getting some of the blame now?

The core of the problem is the lack of funding, and the fact that many leaders don’t understand how remote learning truly works. School budgets are consistently cut, teachers work more hours than they are paid and then receive the blame when someone’s precious angel doesn’t get a perfect passing grade. Too many school leaders are asking teachers to take their in school curriculum and magically changing it to fit the online world- but it’s a square peg in a round hole. What works in a physical classroom can and should be assessed differently and changed in order to meet online needs. And yes, it can be done well.

The time for training teachers how to teach online was before a crisis, not during one. The time for funding and flexibility was then, too, not just now.

The Other Side of Equity

I myself have had experience not only as a remote student, but also as a remote teacher. I’ve seen students fail spectacularly in the brick and mortar classroom, to the point of being asked to leave the school rather than tarnish their graduation statistics. When I taught in the Bronx, many of my seniors transferred (only some voluntarily) to different schools in the area and take online classes for credit so that they could graduate on time. Some of my students needed to work to support their families, and they found that the online environment was more conducive to their needs and their schedules. I’ve also had students in my remote classes with chronic illnesses and mental health differences, which made attendance at their school almost impossible. The online learning environment gave them the opportunity to work with me and curate their own schedules and due dates for assignments rather than facing the Sisyphean inflexibility of their schools (Illnesses often don’t adhere to state mandates!)

So then, why did these students fall to the wayside? Why did they come to close to slipping through the cracks? Why is it that my Bronx seniors didn’t have the option of taking online classes until it was very nearly too late?

Yes, school is and should be a safe space for children who need a structure, who need a meal or a counselor when they are receiving none at home. Many students are losing necessary Special Education services during this time of crisis. However, there are students whose diagnoses don’t fit the cookie cutter mold of brick and mortar schools and would thrive in a remote learning setting.

What ARE The Benefits?

Edutopia recently released an article on the positive effects that teachers and students are noticing with their recent remote learning experiences since the pandemic started. These are the benefits that they have noticed thus far:

  • Self Pacing:
    1. Students are deciding how and when they do their work, giving them the opportunity to critically examine how well they are completing the assignment, rather than rushing to meet a deadline.
    2. Students are giving themselves breaks and exercise, allowing them to come to class refreshed and ready to work.
    3. Students are learning to take responsibility for their own daily schedule and their schoolwork, rather than having someone micromanaging them daily.
  • Time Management and Prioritizing Their Needs
    1. An inflexible schedule during the day made it impossible for many students to squeeze in homework.
    2. Mandatory extracurricular activities and the pressure to impress colleges with sports and clubs have been almost eliminated, giving students a chance to focus on their schoolwork.
    3. Teachers and schools are also reconsidering how the daily school schedule (7-8 classes per day, minimal time for socialization) gave kids too many tasks to do with no time to complete them.
    4. Kids (and teachers!) are getting more sleep!
  • Lowering the Stakes
    1. Schoolwork and tasks are changed in order to fit the online structure, which is relieving the intense pressure that comes with ordinary schooling.
    2. Some students are excelling more so now because they no longer feel the pressure that comes with academic failure.
    3. The focus is now on learning instead of testing.
  • The Shy, Anxious, and Bullied Students
    1. Anxiety due to the peer pressure and social relationships is lessened.
    2. The shy student has the opportunity to be heard through other avenues besides hand raising and cold calling.
    3. The anxious student doesn’t have to worry about saying the wrong thing or being bullied for wearing the wrong clothes.
      1. This is not to say that online and cyber bullying does not occur. Rather, this is to say that the pressure that comes with being bullied at school, physically or verbally, on the bus or in the lunchroom, is eliminated.

So, Now What?

Now is the time to consider the future. Now is the time to consider the forgotten student who doesn’t fit the brick and mortar mold. Now is the time to reconsider the pressure that schools have been putting on students for far too long. Now is certainly the time to consider funding for students in poverty, students with disabilities, and for schools (and teachers!) who are pushing themselves to meet students’ needs every single day and failing because of circumstances out of their control. Let’s think about all of the students. All of them.

Remote learning and education does work. We’re just doing it wrong right now. But we can do better. And we will.