I got to teach online last week. It was exhilarating, fun, engaging, and inspiring.
It was also exhausting.
I was teaching at Stetson University’s HATS Program for Gifted kids, as I often do during the summer, but this year Stetson moved the program online. I was teaching Short Fiction – a creative writing course.
I had seven students, grades 4 through 10, who joined me each day from 9am to 3pm with an hour long lunch. I had the students gathering ideas for writing – autobiographical prompts and maps (enthusiasm, frustration, worry, and wonder). They also did writing exercises to practice their up-close narrative writing skills: moment-by-moment narration, description, sensory detail, dialogue, point of view, and building suspense. They worked on their skills in creating ironies in stories. We wrote a collaborative story together, and then jigsawed it so each person took a section (a shorter version of the collaborative novel we’d done for the past ten years or so).
Students then took the ideas they had developed and drafted their own short stories. They received feedback from peers and from their teachers (my son helped out as my teaching assistant, as usual). We will be publishing a collection of their stories and the group story soon. From the reactions I received at our final meeting, and parental comments I received afterward, the week had a very positive effect on the students. They came away inspired to write more, and had a great time.
I also had a great time. When teaching is going well, there is nothing like it.
But here’s the other thing: it was exhausting.
When I taught online this spring, I had 3 honors English classes that met once a week for a half hour or so. They were doing my material. My other 9th grade classes were doing a robo-teacher and stopped showing up for meetings. Creative Writing was working fairly independently. So although I was teaching online, I was not interacting with students all day, every day.
During HATS, I was.
There were only seven of them, and they were all great kids. But online interaction is intensive and exhausting in different ways from in-person teaching. On Wednesday of Short Fiction week, we spent several hours brainstorming our group story, “The Shape of Fear”, together. I took an hour-long nap afterward. It was mentally draining in person, and twice so online. If you don’t believe me, try it some time.
And keep in mind, this was only seven students. And I had an assistant.
My district is planning on having a program called Volusia Live! when schools reopen at the very end of August. Teachers will be asked to teach to a class of students sitting in their classrooms, while also attending to a group of online students at the exact same time. The online students will be watching the live-stream of the class and participating on the computer.
I’m not sure how many combined students a Volusia Live! class will have in total, or what the breakdown will be. But I think if I am made to do it, I may have a break down myself.
Teaching well requires an extraordinary amount of task-switching (multitasking). In a “normal” class, I am delivering content a variety of ways, monitoring engagement, taking stock of student understanding, monitoring behavior, interacting with students, giving students feedback, course-correcting, and monitoring the pacing of the class, to mention only a few activities.
Under pandemic teaching circumstances, I will also be cleaning desks between classes, supervising social distancing and mask-wearing, and possibly running down the hall for resources since our filing cabinets are apparently being removed to make room for more space between desks. I also need to find creative ways to make peer interaction between students work. How do you pair/share or have small group discussion from six feet away? Shout?
Add to this keeping track of students who are watching the live stream, commenting over Zoom or Teams, adding chat comments over Zoom or Teams, and possibly asking for help over Zoom or Teams, and you have added an exponential amount of things for teachers to keep track of.
Also, fear of getting the virus.
I’m all for creative ideas. As long as they are well-thought-out.
I think I’ll be taking long naps every day after school this coming year.
I just hope it one of them won’t turn into – you know – the longest nap of all.