Back to school shopping typically means taking advantage of the opportunity to buy new clothes, shoes, backpacks/bags, etc. to strut in while returning to the classroom after summer break (which let's face it, was the best part of the school year). However, it's pretty clear that almost everyone's classroom looks a bit different this year with remote (or even hybrid) learning in full effect to keep all teachers and students safe in the best way possible around the world. No matter what the learning situation looks like right now, it's an uncertain guarantee that students could be attending school full-time or even all together in-person as an entire class, just as they've done in the past. As I've been embarking on my student teaching journey, where my high school students have began to remotely learn a week ago, I've come to understand a particular and common loss amongst most of the students: having the ability to physically be sitting inside of a classroom with others, each Monday-Friday for seven (or more) hours per day. The large amount of students that have expressed the fact that they miss being in school every day truly shows how much of a newfound appreciation that we have for learning while physically being inside of the classroom, just as we realize the appreciation we have for fulfilling our education to the best of our ability.
One of the biggest losses since the start of this school year has been the live and authentic back and forth conversation, without any frozen screens or weak WiFi access, that plays a huge role in making the learning experience enjoyable for everyone. The real discussions come from the students who feel the need to bring up whatever might be on their mind, whether that'd be coming from in school or outside of school, and it seems as though remote learning acts as a barrier for this ongoing dialogue to occur. Both teaching and learning primarily involve a strong human connection, which many people can argue that we no longer have anymore. The little moments, such as a side joke/conversation or a high five/fist bump, are missed while trying to build a community where small achievements are celebrated just as much as the huge accomplishments are recognized. It can also be said that teaching remotely via a screen feels very impersonal and even more difficult for students to take on since they are required to be slightly more independent in order to complete their work. When it comes down to it, the total sum of time spent on online instruction can't restore the power and development of student-teacher relationships where the most knowledge takes place in that context. This doesn't only apply to student-teacher relationships, but student-student bonds as well. An engaging atmosphere for students to think and do meaningful work together doesn't just happen overnight, and there's no right way to plan for this growth amongst students who thrive off of participating with each other during class time. There's no doubt that the social function is beneficial for everyone, no matter student or teacher, and we'll have to adjust accordingly within the new and complex classroom dynamics. While technology has allowed us to stay connected in more ways than we could've ever dreamed, our usual daily interactions are just not the same this year. However, the approach of taking one day at a time to be patient and work towards staying on track to accomplishing goals inside and outside of academic lessons will be key to a productive 2020-21 year for all.
Even though the learning looks different, there will still be great appreciation for the classroom and every aspect of education in a student's life. Through this, we've honored the tiniest moments that have been taken for granted!