Thursday, October 01, 2020

Teaching in the Time of the Pandemic

 It's so absolutely odd to begin the year by seeing students onscreen instead of in person. One of the very worst aspects, for me, is having to actually call attendance weeks into the school year. Some students have made an impression on me, particularly in my smaller classes, but in my classes of 30-34 it's really hard. I have never been this far into a year and still calling attendance.

Now some students oblige me tremendously by not showing up at all. I get to learn their names fairly quickly. After all, I've tried calling their homes to no avail. I can remember they're never here. But I really miss my Delaney pages. I don't use the book, but I lay out the seating chart on the pages, and I can tell by day two who is and who is not here just in a glance. 

There's no seating chart on Zoom, unfortunately, and I haven't figured out how to print out the names of people there. The best I've been able to do so far is to begin the class, do whatever I have to do and then, when there's an activity that doesn't require my participation, go through the list. By then, I remember some students are there, and I only call the names of those I do not recall. It's a lot faster than calling all names. 

Of course, a lot of my students tend to be quiet. I've read a lot about classes in Asia that are very large in which student participation is not considered desirable. Sometimes it's hard to persuade newcomers that I want to hear their voices. I try very hard and get overly dramatic over it. However, there's only so much drama you can effectively pull off while seated in front of a computer screen.

Our school is asking students to show their faces during class. I think that's generally a good thing. Nonetheless, some of the same students who always hid their faces and did nothing last year continue to do the same this year. On the brighter side, most of my students are very cooperative, and turn on their cameras when I ask direct questions. I think the temptation to lie down and take a nap is far less when you know the teacher can see you.

Between classes I no longer hang around offices speaking to teachers and trying to avert disasters with administration. This works because Google Classroom is a real taskmaster. It's a little easier because it now connects to Skedula, so I don't have to write every grade only to rewrite them somewhere else. 

I'm really disappointed to see students submitting paragraphs clearly copied from other sources. I wonder why my students assume I can't tell the difference between Wikipedia entries and writing of beginning ESL students. I posted several sentences into Google and immediately identified plagiarism. I also got one composition from a student who's never shown up that was written in perfect English, clearly by a friend or family member.

It's hard for me to understand why anyone would be in this country and not want to learn English. Sure, it's possible they watched the Trump-Biden fiasco and decided English was some shithole language. But it's not always used like that, and it's pretty practical for getting around in the United States. Next to pants, it's one of the most important things you can bring to a job interview.

My conclusion is that remote learning sucks compared to the real thing. As far as I can tell, the only thing worse is sitting masked with 12 people and a masked teacher in a room in which no genuine interaction can tale place.

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