I don’t know jack shit about teaching remotely. There are many, many blog posts and articles that’ll inform you of best practices, useful websites, fun apps, sample schedules and the like. The most helpful of which I find to be open and honest reflections on what it’s like to teach entirely remotely, unexpectedly, and without training. There is expertise out there; it’s very nascent and scattered, but it’s there. There is also a gold rush on educational snake oil. Audrey has that beat covered.

I was always ten feet behind you from the start.

The National, “Light Years”

But like I said, teaching-wise I’m clueless. Do you teach “the basics” or use this opportunity to offer independent research projects? Do you try to encourage discourse via video hangouts or allow students to work asynchronously, if they’re able to work at all? Not only do I not know the answer, I don’t even know how to begin navigating these questions.

Teaching remotely is antithetical to everything I’ve encouraged teachers to practice (and antithetical to my own sense of interpersonal belonging):

  • develop talk-producing routines and vocabulary, now nearly impossible. Sure, you can instill protocols that help, but it’ll never replace the in-person experience.
  • work through complex, quality tasks in groups, now nearly impossible. Sure, there are neato whiteboarding websites. It’s just not the same as passing a sharpie from one kid to another in front of a scrawled-on poster paper.
  • have daily interactions with students that help communicate their brilliance as a mathematician.

To this last point – the lack of interactions with students that communicate your love and care – is what I do kind of know about. Or rather, what I do know isn’t happening.

I’ve heard from friends, colleagues, students, and my own offspring on the toll this is taking on adolescents. A lack of log-ins to Google Classroom only scratches the surface. While my data are anecdotal, I hear of missing persons reports for high school students. There are suicide attempts driven by uncertainty and lack of access to basic resources. Parents are out of a job and have to spend their hours navigating an intentionally cumbersome system of unemployment benefits. High school students have to contribute financially now more than ever, if they can. They need to take their own car to wait in lines from the food bank. Maybe they have to take their younger siblings along with them.

I’ve written in the past about how challenging – yet ultimately necessary – it is to show active caring to every student every day. I offered strategies to help close the “care gap.” The care gap is now a chasm. And students are barely clinging on to the side.

It’s never been more crucial to check in with students individually and let them know how much you care, that you do care. And it’s not clear how to communicate that message. Maybe you have a phone number. Maybe you have an email address. You may have to try multiple modes of communication on several occasions. You also have to do this while potentially learning how to use and teach from a LMS you’ve received no formal training on. You also have to do this while possible not having the space to do the things that recharge you emotionally: going to dinner, talking to your therapist in person, crying or laughing with friends.

Oh, the glory of it all was lost on me

‘Til I saw how hard it’d be to reach you

The National, “Light Years”

This is why I advocate a disciplined approach to active caring. It seems mechanical. Print out a class roster and identify when you have a personal positive interaction with an individual. Carve out 10 minutes where you’re talking with students one-on-one about something unrelated to your class. Print out grade level rosters and identify which students do and do not have connected relationships with at least one adult.

During a professional development last Fall (six years ago, I do believe), a participant scoffed at the notion of building disciplined habits to active caring. It seemed inauthentic. She was convinced she didn’t need to be that intentional because she knew she connected with each of her students. That may have been true! But if that seemed inauthentic then, it feels essential now when students have spotty access to their teachers. And when they do it can feel like a content-dump.

I have no idea how to teach in this environment. I recently read back through the section I wrote about technology in Necessary Conditions just to see if I had forgotten some little nugget of insight that might be useful for teachers. Nope. All the technology suggestions I made were about how to use it in tandem with your regular, effective facilitation. I’m officially of no practical use for pedagogical purposes. All I know is that there’s a high need and a higher degree of difficulty for active caring.

And I would always be light years, light years away from you

The National, “Light Years”

One thought on “Active caring: now more than ever

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