Remote teaching reminds me of my first year of teaching when every day that I entered the classroom was fraught with nerves and anxiety. After every lesson I walked out feeling like a failure, flagellating myself about all the mistakes I made. By the end of the day I would be sore and exhausted from walking around the classroom all day, bending to check student’s workbooks, bruises on my hips from squeezing between tables. I was in bed at 8.00 pm, sharing the same bedtime as my five-year-old daughter who was in her first year of kinder. And now seven years later I’m back as a beginner teacher, my new classroom is my bedroom as I grapple with remote teaching. Every day brings a new challenge and a new opportunity to fail or succeed, depending on the day and the lesson.
My first day of remote learning arrived on my six session day and was a baptism by fire as I attempted various ways of sharing resources for students, tracking their work, being an IT guru as I attempted to figure out why this, that and the other wasn’t working. I spent every spare session diligently writing instructions, re-writing them, using different platforms to make things easier, failing again.
I have been teaching my classes remotely using Google Meet with my students switching on their cameras and conducting behaviour management as I watched them on my screen, while I kept repeating instructions, and flicking to their online documents and providing feedback.
During my spare periods I tracked and corrected student work, emailed coordinators about students who were not in attendance, responded to numerous student queries, replied to students who didn’t receive the work or do the work. I attempted screen recording only to revert to a low-tech solution of recording my screen as I provided instructions. In between classes I helped my daughter understand her work, soothed her anxiety, and dealt with her meltdowns.
In between classes I helped my daughter understand her work, soothed her anxiety, and dealt with her meltdowns.
I had a lesson that went smoothly when I used Google Classroom to create an individualised worksheet for students. I presented my screen and was able to provide individual feedback on student work and model how they could better improve their answers. I was almost replicating the experience of being in a classroom and was on a high. I was buoyed that I was ‘getting it’ only to be rudely slammed down by the digital fates when the exact same thing I attempted the day before didn’t work because I made a mistake and didn’t attach the document correctly.
When I hung up I cried, and cried, and cried. I cried so hard that my husband and daughter started laughing at the temper-tantrum quality and sense of unfairness I was displaying. I was trying so hard and yet despite my best intentions and digital savvy skills I was failing so badly. I hadn’t felt this dispirited since that first torturous year of teaching.
I am constantly questioning what is the right thing for my students. At first I focussed on creating online learning resources to make it easier for students to access.Now, after suffering a migraine myself from staring at the screen too much, I am re-thinking my approach. My students with glasses tell me their eyes are strained too and I need to limit their use of online screen time. I am now switching to students writing out their answers in a notebook and taking a photo to submit their work.
I worry about the lack of variety in their learning with remote teaching being repetitious and am attempting to introduce more educational games such as Kahoot quizzes and look for opportunities for students to undertake collaborative learning in a remote setting.
Then there are the challenges of teaching my year English as an Additional Class. While it is a small class with only 11 students I have three students who have strong language acquisition and can breeze through the language analysis tasks we are completing, those who are in the middle and can access the work with some support, and others who are acquiring the language and need sentence by sentence support. How do I replicate class discussion and whiteboard work where students share responses to support each other?
For now I’m using Google Classroom with students posting their work as comments to replicate the whiteboard and discussion. I am video conferencing the whole lesson, talking individual students through the work. Everything is much slower and more exhausting. Lessons that would take one session now take two. The Student Weekly Planner that decides what I need to teach by when has already become a fictional artefact.
I am video conferencing the whole lesson, talking individual students through the work. Everything is much slower and more exhausting.
And yet, with all this, I am succeeding. My EAL students have written two paragraphs of analysis. I am achieving 90 per cent attendance with my year 7 students. One of my students went to the dentist and signed into class as soon as he was home, a testament to his need for interaction and stimulation. I am giving my students some normality and routine, an opportunity to learn and have fun.
While I desperately miss my normal life, my classroom, my school community, the camaraderie in the staffroom, the quips from my students that make me laugh, hearing my daughter at the end of the day ‘spilling the tea’ and sharing stories from the trenches with my husband about our workdays, I am finding moments of joy too. The joy of having lunch every day with my husband and daughter, seeing my daughter’s dedication to her studies and her beautifully colour coded notes, appreciating my husband’s nurturing.
And I’m learning—I’m learning to be kind to myself, to find success and not dwell on the failure. So I’ll keep trying and failing, and failing better. And we’ll learn together. We’ll learn how to be resilient, how to cherish our families, our communities and our mundane lives.
Amra Pajalic is a high school teacher and author of memoir Things Nobody Knows But Me. You can visit her website here.
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