Like any teacher who has started the 2020-2021 school year, I am trudging uphill to get a handle on teaching my curriculum in a digital world. Who am I kidding? We’ve been “in” school for three weeks, and I still won’t even get to the state-mandated curriculum until Tuesday. Like I said in a previous post, “I feel more like tech support than an actual English teacher” at this point. And in this new realm of almost fully digital teaching (I’ve gotten rid of all paper including books this year), these are the key factors that I’m worried about.
- Cheating and plagiarism. With the interwebs at their fingertips and teachers’ minimal capabilities of monitoring students learning at home, cheating and plagiarism, already an epidemic in middle and high schools, will be more rampant. Yes, there are programs to help catch plagiarism. Yes, there are programs where teachers can monitor what students are doing on their screens. Yes, there are programs where students can take tests in locked browsers. But. There’s no way for teachers to know that students at home don’t have their phones out or even another computer out googling answers while testing. Granted, the way that most English tests are set up anymore makes it hard to cheat, but that isn’t the case with math or social studies tests. And there’s no good way to prove that a student cheated with this setup. I also already had a student plagiarize an exit ticket, on a question that wasn’t even really plagiarize-able. Last year during digital learning, I had gobs of students put straight up the first thing they found in Google as their answers to a test grade assignment about “The Cask of Amontillado.” It’s loads easier to prove plagiarism, but students will deny it even with the proof in their face (and don’t get me started on the parent denial of their perfect student committing fraud). I’m enforcing a strict plagiarism policy this year to make it hit home to students that cheating in any form is not cool.
- Being recorded. There. I said it. We’re required to record our Google Meets. I’m being recorded all the time and so are the students. No thank you. First of all, I don’t understand how legally this can be a thing. I’m recording minors. Everyday. Secondly, the students don’t want to talk, whether it’s because of the fact they’re being recorded or you know they’re just middle schoolers who don’t want to talk. Thirdly, it’s a can of worms. It makes it awkward to correct a student’s behavior. My tone is forever documented on that recording, so are the students’. It’s going to make organic conversations around literature die, and these complex texts that we read at the middle school level discuss adult situations. You never know what kids are going to ask. Romeo and Juliet have a wedding night. They commit suicide. Odysseus cheats on his wife. Men rape women. While I’ve always handled the questions the kids ask about these texts professionally, I would hate to think what an outsider listening to these conversations might think about my classroom. I can’t skip over these parts; the kids are smart, they get it, and they ask questions about it. (Now granted, if students are doing independent work or testing, I don’t make them stay in the Meet the whole time because their technology doesn’t work properly if they’re running the Meet and trying to do work at the same time, but I run the Meet the whole time so they can pop in and out to ask questions.)
- Parent criticism. Listen, I’ve always dealt with this, lost sleep over it, had panic attacks about it, thought I’d quit my job over it, etc. But parents now can literally hear what’s going on in my classroom and your classroom if the students aren’t plugged into a headset. My students are on silent to get rid of background noise for the whole meeting, but I have no idea what’s going on in their houses or who is listening in because I can’t hear them and I can’t see them either. It’s eerie to know that people are listening who shouldn’t be. Not that parents aren’t welcome. Or that their input isn’t valuable. Or that they shouldn’t advocate for their children if they believe their children have been unjustly treated . . . but still. I’m human. Sometimes my tone comes out wrong, or I’m being sarcastic, or the parents have missed what’s happened before with their students, or– All. Of. The. Other. Possibilities. Parents are being eavesdroppers. And that’s creepy. Sorry not sorry.
- Shift in teacher and student work expectations. I refuse to be available 24/7 to students and parents because of digital learning. I refuse to bend over backward to meet unreasonable digital learning expectations. I refuse to run myself ragged just because society demands it so. I can still be a good teacher even while saying no. I’ve already shifted my paper-based lessons to be fully digital. Do you know how many hours of work that took? I now don’t get my own lunch break because the students have to eat in our rooms. Heck, I have to clock into work at 7:05 and I’m now with students until 1:15 every day, except for SWIFT runs to the restroom in between classes. I’m now chained to my desk in front of three computers instead of up and interacting with kids during lessons. When students are quizzing, testing, or writing, that’s my time to grade in class. That goes out the window with virtual learning because I’m troubleshooting device issues with kids and monitoring their screens constantly instead. I’ve got even less time to grade at work than I did previously. And the poor kids. No recess. No true group work. Also tied to their device, or devices if they’re at home. Often their technology doesn’t work. Lots of students can’t manage their time in class without a teacher directly in front of them. Their technology is a distraction. And I could go on and on. But mainly, I’m distressed at how we’re expecting students to be miniature corporate business people who can toggle among Google Meets, a lesson, and four other tabs when there are kids out there who can’t even get logged into a website they use every day. They’re just missing business suits and MBA’s. Pretty soon they’ll be telling their coworkers, I mean fellow students, to “lean in” and be “team players” and throwing “synergy” around like confetti.
- Is virtual learning our new forever? Once the pandemic gets under control, is virtual learning going to be a permanent part of brick and mortar schools? If I have students who get sick or have to have surgery requiring them to miss a week or two or seven of school, am I going to be expected to teach them while they’re at home if the parents want that for their children? Am I going to have to be prepared on any given day from this point forward to teach students at home too while most students will be physically present? If I have to have surgery that requires me to be out but I’m able to teach from home, will I be allowed to do it? Should I be allowed to do it? Is it one of those just because we can doesn’t mean we should scenarios for both students and teachers? Also, just an FYI, it takes three to four times as long to cover material virtually than it does in person. Students will get less done and learn less if this set-up is now part of our new forever.
I’ve got all kinds of other things on my mind, and I know the above is all rambly and gluey and incoherent in places, but at this point, I’m not worried about being eloquent.
And I’d love for all those Higher Ups in education, whether at the school level, district level, state level, or national level, to be alright with their workdays being recorded and listened into by whoever just so happens to walk by while they’re being live-streamed into people’s houses. Just saying.