What a time to be a teacher! In Spain, schools are shut down since March and will be closed for the rest of the school year. We are not going back to class until September.
And we are fighting in this new scenario of distance learning like lions. We are, as teachers, doing the best we can to try and teach the most we can.
And it is a tough situation. Some schools were better prepared than others and some teachers were better prepared than others. Some schools and teachers have learnt faster than others. Some schools and teachers were luckier than others, since their first attempts in this stuff called distance learning worked well, while others had to try again, and again.
Some of us are still trying to find the key. Some will never find it. Some had it already in their pockets.
Right in this scenario, a 10-12 hour shift is standard for a teacher of any level. Our backs are aching as hell and we feel our energy being sucked out of us by that computer we have in front of our eyes.
I know some teachers who have surrendered. Just like that. All this new situation has been quite too much for them and they have just said: OK, I cannot go on like this. They have had to put their health first and had to do less than they love to.
And, yet, even those who have (probably wisely) said I am stopping now, are struggling. Six, seven days a week. The task ahead of us is too important as to go and work less, as to make a smaller effort.
And we are tired. Wrecked. And the students are tired, and their families.
One month to go, guys!
Yes, the longest month ever awaits us. It is going to be tougher than it normally is to get to the end of the school year.
So, summer will come and we teachers will rest. A well deserved rest indeed. Towel, sun cream and mojitos will substitute wifi, laptop and back pain for a few weeks in summer.
But, what is that strange thing over there on the horizon? It is huge, and ugly and almost shapeless but, at the same time, so menacing. Let me get closer to have a look…
Oh no! It is it. It is coming! It is September!
Imagine. After a (short) lovely summer of peace and rest and sand and water and mojitos, there is the first back to school commercial on TV. And, not long after that, you find yourself in class, putting chairs and tables into their right place for your students.
But, watch out! This September will probably be very different to any other in our careers, no matter how long and intense they have been. This time we won’t have up to 30 students in class but, if we are lucky, 15.
Social distancing will be, according to most experts (and to the Spanish Minister of Education) applying to schools next September. 50% if your classrooms are big enough. Then face covers, gloves, disinfection of people, equipment and installations; protocols to get in and out of the class or of the school…
That is a tough one if there was ever any. Organization will be a work of art for most centres.
But, what about teaching?
If we just think of how we need the kids to enter the place or where we need them to sit, we will have just a small part of the job done. We need to know how to teach them!
The typical situation, unless your school is giant and your staff is twice the normal size, will be that we will have half of the students in class and half somewhere else. It can be home or any other common spaces of the school (library, cafeteria, gym, playground…) but it won’t be the classroom. They won’t be in direct contact with the teacher.
Of course, there is only you. I mean there is not a second teacher taking care of the 50% you cannot have in front of you. And, at least in my case, we teachers are good at many things but cannot multiply (yet).
So, how can we manage this? How can I be teaching my kids in my classroom when there is another bunch of them somewhere else?
Told you: tough one. The answer is what some experts are calling Liquid Teaching. That is, a system in which teachers can help students at home at the same time they teach in the classroom. Wow! Can we do this? Probably not.
The two key points here, as I see it, are motivation and autonomy. We need to have our pupils motivated to keep on learning regardless of where they are and we will need them to work alone or with little support half the time.
So, first, in my humble opinion, we need to try and reduce the digital breach as much as we can. We need to start putting pressure now on each education department to make them help families to purchase laptops/tablets/chromebooks and to install internet connections at home. This must be done as soon and as effectively as we can. Ideally, when September comes each and every one of our students must have a device and a connection to work from home.
A rotation system might work. The school keeps the devices and lends them to students who are to spend next week at home, rotating that loan to cover all the needs with half the equipment.
Then, methodology. First idea coming to anyone’s mind is: I teach in my classroom, I record or stream my instruction and kids at home can connect and follow. Well. No.
You cannot have a student at home, for a whole week, trying to follow your explanations alone. With no help and support. Even if they are connected live and they can make questions, it won’t work. Six hours a day, five days a week, in front of a screen watching some old man or woman speaking about the cell, the solar system or about logarithms is too much for anyone, even for our students.
Then, how? Well, quit instruction from the axiom and replace it with short pills created to start a learning process, based upon tasks. Instead of talking about photosynthesis forever, we’d better record a short video with a challenge and ask our students to investigate about it, collect and curate content and create some sort of evidence (a video, a presentation, a report…) of their learning.
This way, liquid teaching is possible.
What is the difference between kids at home and in class? Well, the time the teacher can devote to them. When in class, you make the most of that small group and work on complex parts of the projects, the manipulative tasks, the lab, the computer. When at home, you work more on the preparation of these tasks.
One vital aspect of all this is we need students to be as autonomous as possible when they are at home. They need to be able to find instructions and information, to make teams and reach decisions and to create content without much support from teachers (remember: they will be in the classroom).
We need to have good, simple solid means of communication with them (Google Classroom + Google Chat + Google Meet is my choice right now) and a good training system for teachers and pupils.
So, with all these things (a non existent digital breach, a good pedagogic system and nice training to carry it out) we will have a liquid September. One which allows us all to go on teaching and learning effectively.
Now, my questions: Do you think this is the sensible thing to do? Any other systems you can think of? What is the role of the government in all this? What are your expectations about what the education departments will do?
Please, come on in and write your comments.