In this story from the front lines of remote learning, middle school math teacher Kimiko Cavanaugh shares the challenges of moving her classes online and supporting students who are struggling.
Today is Saturday, April 18, 2020, and we have just finished the third week of distance learning. We were given one week prior to distance learning to lesson plan, but even with an uninterrupted week to plan, it didn’t seem like enough time. Teachers from my PLC teams and I shared the stress and frustration we felt regarding where to start, what programs to use, how to engage our students, and how to collect work. Now, almost a month later, we have different struggles.
Our district has made it mandatory that we take attendance daily, but what does that even mean? Who cares if a student has checked into my class everyday, what if they aren’t turning in any work? And what about students who only check in on Monday, but turn in all of their assignments? Then there is the question about accountability. While all of my classes are advanced math classes, I still have students with single parents who are still working, and they are left to watch their younger siblings. Do I hold them to the same standard to complete their work on time and accurately as students who have two involved and supportive parents at home?
It is difficult enough not seeing my kids, joking around with them, and giving hugs at the beginning of a class period. Now with distance learning, I feel helpless to truly assist them when they have a question, and it breaks my heart when they come into my conference and share how lonely they feel. I cannot at this point count how many times students have messaged me to say they miss school and are surprised to say they wish we could go back. Most students vent about boredom, but many also express fear—fear of the unknown, fear of getting sick, fear of family members getting sick, fear of not returning to school. For many students, school is a place they feel safe and loved. While I can let my kids know from a distance that I love and miss them, I can’t keep them safe or ease their anxiety.
I’ve always allowed students to email me after contract hours, and I have a personal policy of responding within 12 hours despite the district’s policy of 48 hours. Over these past three weeks, I’ve done my best to respond within 3-5 hours because I appreciate that my kids are trying to keep up with the course work. I often send emails, Remind messages, and Google phone messages as early as 7 a.m. and as late as 11 p.m. I’ve spent countless hours learning how to make educational and engaging math videos, putting together Nearpod lessons, sending emails regarding missing assignments to parents, grading assignments, and conferencing with students just seeing how they’re feeling that day. Distance learning takes an emotional toll and is an entirely new territory, but I’m also so fortunate to have a wonderful support system, supportive parents of my students, and two amazing PLC teams. I have leaned a lot on my team members while lesson planning...and most definitely for humor during this difficult time.
Though it has been a tough month of distance learning, at this point there are a few lessons I’ve learned. There are things that I cannot control and should not be consumed by. I have written down a schedule for myself so that I know when it is time to work and when it is time to be with my husband. Although I still answer emails during family time, it only takes a few minutes. It is tempting to work outside of the hours I’ve scheduled, but it’s so important to maintain some semblance of a personal life. Also on my schedule is a 30-minute window to meditate, time to exercise, and an hour for lunch (no work allowed). I have challenged myself to drink more water and have downloaded an app that tracks my water intake. In the afternoon I have carved out an hour for down time, which can be reading a book, drawing, or just watching Netflix. Finally, I talk to my parents nearly every day, and we reach out to other family and friends every couple of days. Staying connected to people outside of our home has helped us maintain sanity while staying safe.
6th Grade Math Teacher
Gotha Middle School
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