Teaching from home: Distant learning a challenge to reach students

Photo of Robert Walsh
Middle school teacher Robert Walsh works from his home this week.

Middle school teacher Robert Walsh works from his home this week.

Contributed photo

Editor’s note: Robert Walsh is a middle school teacher in Fairfield County who has been writing a daily account about virtual learning that launched last week in Connecticut schools, which have all been closed due to the coronavirus outbreak. Here’s a recap of his week:

When I decided to leave my management job in a software firm to go into teaching, it was not because I wanted to spend hours in front of a computer screen. I felt I had something to offer students, and a way in which to deliver it, that would really make a difference in their lives. The COVID-19 virus has forced me back in time to those workdays huddled around a monitor, debating the best way to code for the end user. True, the lighting is better and no one steals my lunch from the fridge, but I really miss my classroom.

More specifically, I miss my students. Oh, they’re out there, probably driving their parents and siblings mad as they adjust to being cooped up at home. However, I miss the daily banter between classes, their challenging questions and even more challenging logic as they tried to justify being Yankees fans. I miss their groans at my joke of the day; the artful attempts to get me off topic during class discussions; the wonderfully random comments out of left field that remind me I’m dealing with the most interesting age range in education.

“Social distancing” has removed much of that, leaving teachers like me feeling unmoored and adrift in the new normal we’ve had to fashion out of thin air. See? I’m even mixing my metaphors. Fruitless trips to the grocery store (still no toilet paper?), furtive looks at the stock market (still no rebound?), and futile searches to find comfort in old distractions (still no sports?) have combined to make working from home less attractive than ever. Teachers are faced with all this while at the same time expected to create an entirely new curriculum delivery system without time for training, planning, or testing the end product. We’ve been tasked with building the lifeboats at the same time the ship is sinking.

It doesn’t need to feel that extreme, however. I’ve spent the past week writing columns each day documenting how one teacher is coping with teaching from home. In the process, I’ve discovered some tips that might help teachers, students, and parents not merely survive, but thrive, through all this uncertainty.

Tips for teachers

You’re working from home, but the office can’t stay open 24/7; set limits for yourself as much as your students. Reallocate the time and money you’re saving now that you’re not commuting to work. Set goals for the time you’ll be working from home: learn something new each week (besides the things you’re researching for teaching), try new recipes, pull out that old pair of running shoes or dust off that basement weight bench. Our sanity depends on what we do for ourselves while doing for our students.

Tips for students

Treat the school day as such: get up at the same time in the morning, address all your school work during the day, take frequent breaks, move around, stay organized, connect with your peers online, ask for help, and get to bed at the same time you normally would for school. You are fine. This will all work out. There’s nothing to worry about except whether the Yankees will sign another pitcher.

Tips for parents

You got this! Unlike their teachers, you have the distinct advantage of controlling the flow of food (along with other goods and services) to your suddenly omnipresent students. You’re not expected to become subject area teachers at the drop of a hat; teachers have spent years getting advanced degrees before spending their professional lives inside that classroom. You should be in a support role. Ask your child’s teachers for support and guidance. You’d be hard pressed to find a demographic more willing to offer both than teachers (along with significant portions of their energy and time).

The important thing to remember for all of us is that if we have our health, everything else will take care of itself in time. Social distancing doesn’t mean social disconnection, so seek out ways to truly connect with others until this passes. Reach out to a neighbor or someone at risk during this time; find small ways to help if you can. Call someone you haven’t spoken to in a while. While you’re at it, call your mother. Call someone else’s mother.

I just hope life gets back to normal soon; I’m beginning to think our dogs are getting sick of me being around all day.

You can read more at RobertFWalsh.com, contact him at RobertFWalshMail@gmail.com or follow him on Twitter @RobertFWalsh.