SchoolRubric is currently in beta version. Please stay tuned for updates!

I Miss My Classroom: 4 Things That Distance Learning Cannot Replace

My experience with school closure has solidified the value of in person instruction, in a classroom setting, in the traditional sense.

Kevin Brennan
abril 26,  2020
Perspectives

It’s Saturday morning, the end of the third week of this new normal called quarantine, stay-at-home, self-distancing, whatever. I have not seen my kids (my students) for three whole weeks. Their weekly assignment was due last night at midnight, so I figured I’d use my Saturday morning to look through what they had turned in, provide some feedback, and see if they resubmit. I log into Google Classroom and glance through my four sections of Senior Civics just to get an idea of how many turned the assignment in (our district was not allowing us to put in new grades in our gradebook, so the incentive for seniors was quite low). It was better than the week prior, about 50%, but still not even close to what I would get prior to this hiatus. Small victory for sure. I navigated to my first period’s class page and opened up the first assignment. Wow, not even close to hitting the marker….let me look at a couple more before I decide what I’m going to do….not much better.

Normally, this is where as a seasoned teacher I would stop and simply start planning on how I was going to re-teach this skill. How could I “wrap this up” in a different way that they could understand it better? How can I get them to the goal? Let’s see… partner them up, groups of three? Do I group them strategically? Yes. I’ll have a high, medium, low grouped together. What should they do? How about they share their work with each other and develop some questions they had with the assignment. Yup. Walk around, talk to each group individually, listen in on conversations, interject when needed. Regroup, have each group share their best question, see if members from other groups can answer. If not, I’ll re-explain, draw on the board, etc. Next, have them redo the assignment, hopefully with better understanding, work in pairs if they want, and just make sure they understand.

Me and my Ram Strong kids from 2013.
Me and my Ram Strong kids from 2013.

But this isn’t normal. Don’t get me wrong, technology is now available and usable in a way that can make a lot of this a reality. AND the intricacies of making this happen, although daunting, are doable… but this whole process brought me to something totally different… I miss my job.

I closed my Chromebook and stepped away from my work (it’s Saturday, right?). The first thing I did was text one of my colleagues with whom I co-teach a class with, so I could get my frustrations off my chest. He helped me navigate those frustrations, and I was on to how I was going to make the best out of the situation with the technology available to me (which, by the way was ample, our district rocks in providing the teachers and students with great resources). As I was figuring out how to reteach, I came to the realization…I can do this for the time being, but God help us if this becomes the new normal… I miss my job.

There is something about a classroom. If you love teaching like I love teaching you know what I speak of. There is a rush, a high, an energy that a classroom brings. There is a challenge presented to make students feel the same passion that I feel for my subject, make them say, “Man, that class flew by, and I learned so much.” Find that right question that makes a debate run over to lunch, passing time, and maybe even the next class. See that kid coming into your classroom, knowing that this may be his only safe haven all day and welcome him in with a smile and a “How’s it going Bryan?” The classroom and everything that goes into it… is the reason I got into teaching.

This experience has made me stretch as a teacher by finding new ways to make it work. But I would be lying if I didn’t also recognize the fact that this experience has solidified the value of in person instruction, in a classroom setting, in the traditional sense. Here are the four things that are missing and simply can’t be replaced:

1. In-person adaptations and adjustments

My colleague that I texted couldn’t have put it any better. “With in class engagement (like everything we’ve honed over our careers), we can finesse kids into caring and subsequently learning, but it can’t be done online”. The most gratifying moments in my career have been when I can take a disengaged, apathetic student who has always hated school and get them to not only care but enjoy learning. It usually takes numerous after-class conversations, pairing with outstanding human beings, and a bag of tricks that help him/her understand and love the content. It takes reading of body language, use of proximity, changing on the “fly” when something is not working, and many other techniques and strategies that can’t be emulated online. Has technology made some of these modifications more possible? Maybe, but a Zoom call, while so very cool, does not allow the same “feel” that an in person interaction does. A tap on the shoulder, pulling a chair up to the student, a quick conversation… I can’t even describe it. We can “finesse” so much as teachers when we have them sitting in front of us.

We can “finesse” so much as teachers when we have them sitting in front of us.
We can “finesse” so much as teachers when we have them sitting in front of us.

2. A safe haven for students to escape to, and another family to be a part of

My students aren’t just my students… they are my kids. An effective classroom teacher deeply cares for their students first, and results follow. Many students see school as a “safe space,” a refuge, and teachers and students as their extended family. Lifelong relationships are established. I’ve been doing this “gig” for over 20 years, I have “kids” in their 30s who are still checking in, wanting to sit down and chat about life. I have students right now who are struggling. I had a Zoom with my advisory class (We refer to it as Ram Strong as we are currently implementing the Character Strong curriculum). At the end I had a student, who is having to care for her grandma all day, dealing with several deaths in the family etc. Her statement to me was, “Brennan, I am not doing well. I’m trying to keep it together but I have to be honest… I am not well at all.” School is her safe space, her escape, her time to be a kid. We, as teachers, know that it is part of the job description. Yes, I was able to get her into contact with the school counselor. Yes, technology allowed me to “catch” her.  But, yet again, it’s not the same. What if she was unable to log in that day? What if her responsibilities at home made it impossible for her to log in? Why was she comfortable talking to me in the first place? I’ll tell you why – I was able to establish a relationship in a safe space that allowed her to feel comfortable enough to share. You can’t do that online. I miss helping, listening, counseling, caring, nagging, and just being there for them… and I miss them being there for me. I refer to it as my “paycheck.” I don’t buy into the argument that a teacher’s value is represented by how much we get paid monetarily… my paycheck comes when I know that I made a difference with a student OR better yet, they made a difference with me.

I miss helping, listening, counseling, caring, nagging, and just being there for them… and I miss them being there for me.
I miss helping, listening, counseling, caring, nagging, and just being there for them… and I miss them being there for me.

3. A sense of community among colleagues

Besides being a classroom teacher, I’m also a coach. One thing that I realized early on was that a positive coaching experience is tied directly to who you’re coaching with. Common core values have to exist between you and your fellow coaches; otherwise it can turn into a miserable experience. Teaching is much the same. I have fellow teachers with whom I share common core values. Our missions match, we love our students, we have a growth mindset, and we WANT to be better. And quite simply, they are fun to be around. We genuinely care about each other outside of the classroom. There is a sense of community that makes coming to school each day enjoyable. Lunches and passing times are spent talking about family, politics, sports and yes, teaching. I’ve found a group of people who make me want to be better… a better teacher, coach, father, husband and person. Texts, phone calls, FaceTime, and Zoom are fine…but it’s not the same. WE are a family. We celebrate the victories in our lives and we support each other through the trials and tribulations. I’ve shed tears with my colleagues, I’ve shared laughs and everything in between. Those connections are not made if I’m sitting at home managing my classroom from my dining room table. A sense of community is something that we seem to be losing in our society as we become more isolated with our technology… We cannot lose our connection with each other.

There is a sense of community that makes coming to school each day enjoyable.
There is a sense of community that makes coming to school each day enjoyable.

4. The energy of the classroom

I don’t know of many teachers who got into it because they love to grade. It’s the energy of the classroom. The debate, the discussion, the passion. It’s the Michael Websters of the world, who genuinely perks up whenever a good dialogue is on the horizon. He rubs his hands together, looks down, smiles, and exclaims “yes!” My day has been made. We “dive” into American foreign policy, marijuana legalization, race relations, health care, same-sex marriage, you name it! The discussion spills over to lunch and I have to spend the first ten minutes of the next day making sure no one “crossed the line.” It’s fun, it’s energizing and it’s engaging. Now, have I found ways to emulate this online, sure. Do they do this through social media all the time? Certainly. Does it match the energy of the classroom? Never. Feeling the energy of a classroom makes this a job that I’ve NEVER had a hard time waking up and getting to. I LOVE MY JOB! I love it because of the energy that my kids bring to the classroom.

I miss my job, I miss my classroom, I miss my kids, I miss my friends… I miss school.
I miss my job, I miss my classroom, I miss my kids, I miss my friends… I miss school.

In my 20 plus years of teaching, education has transformed itself. I welcome those changes, but in all of this we need to remember to keep balance. In referring to crisis, John F. Kennedy spoke to the Chinese meaning of crisis “…the word crisis is composed of two characters. One represents ‘danger’ the other represents ‘opportunity.’” We have the opportunity to embrace technology and find ways to utilize it more effectively, especially as we are forced to instruct in a distance learning model. This is also an opportunity to reflect on what we’re missing out on in our classrooms and embrace it wholeheartedly when we return. I miss my job, I miss my classroom, I miss my kids, I miss my friends… I miss school.

I come from a family of 7 kids, but the first to go through one school system, which happens to be the same district I work for now as a High School Social Studies teacher at West Valley High School. I’ve been working there for the last 18 years, I am currently the department chair, I have my Master’s Degree in History from Central Washington University and teach Civics, AP/CHS American Government and Politics, CHS United States History and American Studies. I also have coached Football, Track, and Basketball. My wife Tori and I have been married for 21 years and have 2 daughters Tai and Marli.

Article Keywords
print article
Read More Articles

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Sign up to stay informed about the latest articles, forum posts, and school news from SchoolRubric.

Subscribe To Our Newsletter

Powered by EmailOctopus