The school I work at has a 40% Special Education population. That means that four out of every ten students have an IEP. This doesn't even include the students who have undiagnosed anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorder. This doesn't include students who have 504 plans or other things in their life that make learning difficult.
I know these numbers may seem high but there's a reason these students are drawn to my school. We offer them a program that they couldn't get in their home districts. We offer a small school environment with flexibility. We offer personal relationships and the support they need.
How do we do this? With online learning.
Even before Coronavirus, or Covid-19, hit we were using a hybrid model that incorporated online days on Thursdays and Fridays. Students had regular face-to-face learning Monday through Wednesday (in-person, synchronous) and could do their work from anywhere anytime Thursday through Sunday (online, asynchronous).
In addition to this hybrid program, we offer a completely online program. This completely online program is near and dear to my heart because it offers an amazing opportunity to so many students who wouldn't otherwise have a positive school experience.
In the past five years, I've gotten to know so many students who chose the completely online program not because they are lazy, or they don't want to do school, or they think the online class will be easy. They choose this program out of necessity.
Many of my completely online students suffer from social anxiety or they had bad experiences at large districts where they seemed to be just another face in the crowd. I have completely online students who refuse to even leave their houses because their anxiety is so high. I have completely online students who are going through day programs to deal with serious mental health and chemical dependency problems. I have completely online students who are dealing with problems so much bigger than any Middle School student should have to deal with.
While so many of us are frustrated and upset with having to do distance or online learning, I see an amazing opportunity to provide learning to those who struggle with face-to-face teaching and large class sizes. I see the amazing opportunities that online learning can have for those who otherwise don't fit into a traditional education model.
My true hope is that some good will come of this year and teachers and administrators will see the amazing power that technology can have in the lives of our students. While online learning is not the answer for every student, technology incorporated into the classroom or used as an alternative way to complete assignments can ease the stress of an otherwise rigid system.
So, what can you do about it right this very minute? Here are some tips to really reach every student during distance learning.
Be positive! Rather than looking at this in a negative light, think of all the good that will come from this year of exploration and experimentation! Yes, students may be losing some content knowledge, but think of the amazing real world skills they are gaining!
Be flexible! You want students to do a Flipgrid that answers questions but have a student who doesn’t want to be filmed? Let them email you the answers to the questions! Want students to do a drawing but have a student who hates drawing? Let them make a digital collage!
Be persistent! When a student doesn’t show up to your class, hunt them down! When a student isn’t turning in assignments, bug them until they will work with you! I tell my students all the time “I’m not going to let you fail my class!”
Be you! Students can tell when someone is being fake with them a mile away, so just be true to who you are as a teacher and let them get to know you as a person. I love sharing about my pets, my toddlers, my husband, and my life with my students and we form great relationships over these things.
Emily Eggers is a middle school English/Language Arts teacher at a hybrid school in Saint Paul, MN. For the past 5 years she has been working to become a rockstar online teacher and now she hopes to help others be awesome online teachers too!
When she has any free time she spends it with her 2 toddler babies, Penny & Izzy.
Follow her @teachingfromthecouch