Coronavirus is changing our world, and I personally hold deep concerns at how easy it was for the world to turn upside-down. I’m not a scientist or a medical expert, but I — probably like you — have no other choice but to follow our leaders and accept how my life must change. For the better, one hopes.
My expertise is education, and this world of mine is radically changing. Like my view of coronavirus, I’m rather shocked at how easy the changes have been. All of us — schools, students, and parents — will come out of the coronavirus pandemic with a much different view of how to do education.
1. Schools Will Embrace Home-based Teaching
The school I work at took an extra week off of spring break, largely for administration to pull together an e-learning solution. Teachers were instructed to cut lesson demands in half, not to worry about “getting everything done” this year, to be more in tune with how our community of families were dealing with the pandemic rather than grading assignments. Though our school is known for rigorous academic standards, we chose this simplified approach to setting up our lessons.
Not all schools chose this simple approach. I have heard horror stories from friends in other schools and districts, and I’m witnessing some from my own children. I have one daughter in college and another at a technical institute, and both schools have chosen to take the opportunity to load up on homework. They seem to think that missed class time should be supplemented with busy work. This is a mistake, though it is a teacher’s natural instinct. In our charter school, my dean needed to be rather pointed to our staff — me included — to scale way, way back.
Here’s what I now do as an English teacher to 108 home-based 7th graders. Two days a week I prepare a 15 minute video that launches my students into grammar and literature lessons. I have daily office hours for students to Zoom or call me on my redirected phone line. I monitor their progress through our LMS (Learning Management System) from which our school was already familiar.
I am finding time that I never had in our day-to-day school. Connecting with students and parents on the phone was previously a hassle, but now I have the time to do so. I have time to analyze student writing more deeply, to dig into individual talent and encourage students to either fix bad writing habits or develop good ones. And I’ve thoroughly enjoyed honing my 15-minute videos (no longer than 15 minutes, a mandate handed down to us that some of us teachers resisted) to be brief and to-the-point — no fluff. Brief, structured lessons have turned out to be far more effective than long and complicated ones. Simplicity has shown itself to be the key to successful e-learning.
This is way too easy. When we overcome coronavirus and return to school, we should seriously ask ourselves, “Why don’t we always do this?”
There are some elements of traditional school that we will miss (band, choir, drama, sports, speech and debate tournaments), but I expect schools will be more electronically creative with core knowledge education. We are discovering that the academic side to our school need not be so tied to a physical classroom.
2. Students Will Take Ownership for Their Work
I have found the largest time-waster in my career as a teacher is dealing with students who just don’t do the work. Some of them make a game of it and daily attempt to hijack my teaching, for themselves and their classmates. For a myriad of reasons they insist on establishing themselves as failures. These students typically launch high-anxiety parent/teacher meetings, interventions and special education resources that exhaust the school.
In e-learning the ownership is put squarely on the student, and I have been pleasantly surprised at how well they seem to take it. In our online school, if the work is not done, we consider the student absent. Maybe even truant. This triggered a half-dozen phone calls home last week, and the results were impressive. Here’s how one call went, on speaker phone with both mom and child (paraphrased):
“Consider your assignments as your attendance. When we teachers don’t see you hand anything in, we think that maybe you’re homeless or starving. We don’t get to see you everyday in class. So, get your work in, or we will call home to inquire.”
This student, a regular who submitted very little in the traditional school week, got all his work in this week.
I’m witnessing the same in my own kids, five of whom attend the school I work at. All of them start their day with a short, directive video from their teachers and are given clear tasks (no fluff!). There aren’t any games to play, excuses to make, complaining of imaginary pets eating their homework. They have a truancy call to avoid, and with mom/dad hovering over them, they get the work done. At their own pace and time, too.
I can’t help but notice that my students appreciate the responsibility. I suspect that when students exit this pandemic and return to school, they will feel a closer ownership to their personal learning. I seldom create work to merely keep my students busy, especially now. Perhaps even the difficult ones will find joy in their learning and actually enjoy doing the work.
3. Parents Will Advocate for E-Learning
They won’t call this “homeschooling,” but some sort of hybrid home education will be a new interest for parents. This pandemic has thrust them into being substitute teachers. Any hesitation they may have had about educating their own children is fading away. I bet some parents are thinking, “I enjoy being my child’s teacher.”
I remember the day when Wendy and I first contemplated home-based education. It was a novel and extremely taboo idea in the 1990s, but that community has grown handsomely since. I recall the underlying distrust in my individual ability to truly educate my children. Even as a certified school teacher, I didn’t believe I could do my children the service that the professionals at school could do.
We eventually realized that our hesitation was unfounded, but we had to give it a try to find out. Today, parents are being forced to give it a try, and I can’t help but think the logic of home education is on their minds. They are probably wondering if 40+ hours of school per week is worth it. Dragging kids out of bed to rush them to school everyday to learn bad manners from other people’s kids, to get indoctrinated by radical curriculum, and to continue to fear school shootings or drug abuse or bullying that are all inherent in school buildings. Homeschooling is turning out to be not too bad of a choice for families.
As parents are quarantined at home with their children, they’re watching how their teachers are performing and how their children are responding. They are not dropping their kids off at schools to trust in the professionals. Every day is a parent-teacher conference because they are the teachers. We “real” teachers are just guiding them with online help.
The perspective of home-based education — something most parents probably never considered for their family — is now becoming a probability. And as the business world embraces home-based technology (just like those of us in the teaching profession), parents may find themselves perfect candidates to homeschool their kids. The post-coronavirus world may make home education the preferred choice.
Wendy and I were supposed to be in Australia right now visiting our new grandson and our daughter’s family. That all got upended, thanks to this crazy sickness. Coronavirus changed everyone’s plans.
But when the dust settles and our world returns to normal, I believe the world of education will find better ways to make teaching easier, more effective, and better for our families.