I hated remote teaching during the Covid-19 lockdown. It should never replace the classroom

While some students thrived, many others flailed in the digital learning environment

By: Amra Pajalic

Sun 7 Jun 2020 

A student at home on a laptop
 Many students struggled while learning from home without the face-to-face interactions with their teachers. Photograph: Monkey Business Images/REX

One of my teaching colleagues returned to school recently to discover a student who hadn’t submitted any work this term due to not logging in and engaging with the lessons. It’s students like this who have suffered during remote teaching. In one week in the classroom, this student has since completed seven weeks of missing work because of his teacher’s daily support and encouragement. He is once again on track to pass the semester.

In staff rooms my colleagues and I discuss the future of teaching and whether, as the coronavirus lockdowns ease, there will be more of a push to teach remotely. This is not just a fear for teachers concerned for their long-term prospects, but something that is being discussed as a potentially positive move.

But we should keep in mind how varied the experiences of students have been during this period.

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It is true that some students thrived under remote teaching. These are the students who are highly self-motivated, highly literate and are working above the standard in the classroom. They are the students who require extension and enrichment as they lightly hopscotch through the curriculum.

Learning from home has also been a positive for some students with social anxiety, who were given a reprieve from the struggles of managing multiple interactions in a day and dealing with fraught exchanges with peers. There are also the individual needs students who are also requiring individualised support based on their academic and social skills. These students too might be happy to be at home completing basic literacy and numeracy skills.

The students who generally work at a standard level are a mixed bag. These students all overwhelmingly wanted to return to school either because of the challenges of remote learning or because they miss the social interactions with their peers. This group should have been able to manage remote learning due to their basic literacy, however they have different points of need. Some of them are able to manage the work after an explanation, some of them struggle and remain mute, suffering in silence and the errors only became apparent when their work was submitted for assessment.

In the classroom these students are more easily supported because I can see from their notebooks as I walk around the classroom who is struggling, or the students themselves would be able to understand the task requirements because they had multiple opportunities for instruction through my modelling and then by viewing the notebooks of their desk mates. In individual digital silos, they lost so much support.

Then there are the students who have poor organisation and work skills. They require a teacher’s constant reminders and face-to-face interactions in order to complete the work they need to pass the subject.

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We make the assumption that young people are literate with technology because of their interaction with various platforms and social media, however their basic digital literacy is quite poor when it comes to downloading files, naming files, accessing files from Google Drives or school platforms, saving and uploading files, inserting photos or other media, using formatting functions such as changing the colour of fonts or highlighting. There is the need to provide multiple explanations and demonstrations constantly.

The students who work at lower levels are the ones eager to return to school and who have found remote learning difficult.

Some of these students have been identified as below standard and have been placed on modified programs. Others have low ability due to concentration and their inability to process multiple instructions at once and need a slow, step-by-step instructional model, which remote teaching does not lend itself to. Flicking up and down a digital document disrupts their ability to process the learning task and they get lost and frustrated.Advertisementhttps://f00325bbd841227db3c67ed300edaefb.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html

These students are the ones who are already at risk of falling through the cracks in the classroom and are exposed to many intervention strategies, learning programs and engagement programs in order to support them. They succeed because of the school environment that supports them and the relationships they develop with their teachers, and when this is removed from the equation through the digital learning environment they flail and sink.

Now that I have been remote teaching for seven weeks I know one unequivocal and indisputable truth: remote teaching can never replace the face-to-face model for secondary students. These students need schools in order to succeed and develop their academic and interpersonal skills for life.

And I also know that I hate remote teaching. Remote teaching was all of the bad parts of the job – the corrections, the administration follow-up, creating digital lessons that weren’t executed due to internet issues – with none of the good – the feeling of satisfaction when a lesson was executed well, helping a student with a problem, and the look on my students’ faces when they achieve an outcome.

  • Amra Pajalic is a high school teacher and the author of memoir Things Nobody Knows But Me.

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