—by Cheryl Leung, Golden Apple Fellow—
While remote learning certainly presents many challenges, it has offered me an unexpected gift. It is a gift of great worth that came as a complete surprise. Having done remote learning in the spring semester, I thought I knew what was coming. I could not have been more wrong.
When remote learning started in the spring, I had long-standing relationships with my students and their families. I knew them and they knew me. Remote learning was just adapting our classroom to a slightly different platform. Our relationships didn’t change all that much.
This fall, everything is fresh and new. Not the fresh and new that it would normally be, but still fresh and new. We are getting to know each other and beginning to build relationships. With remote learning, this is a whole new experience. Because of that, I am doing things differently. That bit of “different” has been an unexpected gift.
This year, in these early days, I am spending more time getting to know students and trying to help them get to know each other. I am spending more time meeting families. Doing that while children are at home has given me a glimpse of them in a whole new way. It has been a wondrous experience.
As I sent kids off on a scavenger hunt to find something they have created, I have been gifted with the opportunity to see lovely art work they have drawn, ball retrieval systems they have built out of cardboard and cups, built-in bunk beds they are making with their dad, incredible Lego structures, and so much more. As I sent them off to find something they love, I have gotten to see the foot-tall stack of books that someone is reading, the laps full of pets, and other treasures. As I sent them off to find something with which they build, I have gotten to see which kids think outside-the-box and bring back something unusual like cardboard or blankets As I asked students to tell me one thing they have cooked, I have discovered which kids are budding chefs and that all of them can at least make ramen.
As I chatted with them before class, I have been able to see new sides of them that I would not see in a normal classroom. I watched one student as he met us from inside a blanket fort he built to give himself a quiet space free from distractions – he is super-focused. I have had conversations with another student about the lovely quilt her great-grandmother made her that now hangs on the wall behind her. I teased another student about using those few minutes before class started to squeeze in a few extra minutes with her nose in a book (just like she would if we were in our actual class).
As I have done virtual home visits to make sure each student has what he or she needs to start school, I have been able to meet parents and to talk with them a little bit about their student. Elementary school teachers regularly get the opportunity to see students with their parents, but it is not as common in middle school. Seeing studnets with their families has been a really nice way to start the year.
In many ways, I feel like I know my students better than I normally would after such a short time. I would never wish for these circumstances. However, for me, the experience of remote learning has been a little bit of a gift.