What Distance Learning Has Taught Me About My Personality as a Teacher

Humans have five basic senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell and taste. The sensing organs associated with each sense send information to the brain to help us understand and perceive the world around us. Online teaching provides only two of these senses. Those of use who use all five, or six, are making huge shifts to create the learning environment both teachers and students need. We are still looking for ways to make this situation better. Logging in for class these past weeks has taught me a great deal about my personality as a teacher and provided insight on how I need to change in the age of Covid-19.

I am an unusual kind of teacher, because for 21 years I have hugged or high fived each one of my students whether teaching elementary, middle or high school. When they enter, I am at the door and make sure to connect in some way with eye contact, physical touch, fist bumps, or hugs. Students often say that I was the first person that spoke to them, interacted in a physical way, or asked how their day was. Social media shares posters for teachers to ask their students how they want to be greeted, and there are many creative ways available for teachers to connect with their students. Well, for me it was always a hug or some sort of physical interaction. After greeting my high school students, they would be welcomed with the smell of coffee and they would either serve themselves a cup, or I would bring them a hot coffee/tea/hot chocolate on a tray; depending on if I arrived early that day. Eye contact would help me use my “sixth” sense, defined by Miriam Webster as “a power of perception like but not one of the five sensesa keen intuitive power.” I would look into their eyes and sense, by reading body language, eye movement or energy, who needed extra care or a hug. Oftentimes I would ask the students to speak to me for a moment and find out within seconds what was occurring. A call to the counselor would be made, and I would help in the way that I could…through my senses. Most caring teachers understand this sixth sense phenomenon.

March 17th was my first day as a distance-learning teacher for my high school students. Covid-19 made its ugly way into our community and created fear just like the movie “Invisible Man.”  We were under attack by something we could not see… and still do not know which way to go to avoid its danger. Students began sheltering in place and logging in to their devices for class and are still doing so to this day. Fortunately, we had a one-to-one device roll out a few years ago and our students were technologically ready, but none of us were “ready” for this shift. Teachers began assigning work on Canvas, which is the platform our district uses. Others logged into Zoom and began their face-to-face meetings for tutoring sessions. I did so as well. My once, full of life class, cackling, smiling, sharing, pouring coffee, adding creamer, telling story group was now boxes and faces on a screen. Some of the students were names…no face…camera turned off, but present and accounted for. Other students were now caretakers and their cameras were facing on the ceiling fan as they were tending to brothers and sisters. I truly have no real sense of how my students are currently holding up. Our district is doing a great job to offer Zoom counseling sessions, text a counselor, and parent meetings online, and while I appreciate these options, three of my human senses are gone to best help refer my students. I now, at best, am operating with two….sight and sound.

I am a teacher, and Covid -19 will not take that away from me. I long to impart knowledge and provide a better future for my “kids” no matter what pandemic or catastrophe is present. Our students are ready with technological devices, but what I am learning is that I need more training to navigate through this time. I need insight on how to reach through a device to multiple students and still make an impact. My wheelhouse involves physical and emotional connection to teach most effectively, and now, I need to do the best with what I have where I am, and rethink how to unite my class in spite of the changes.

When my last Zoom call to my students ended….I burst into tears. Am I being too emotional? Perhaps. Letting go of the comfort of hugs, smell of coffee, laughter and togetherness is difficult. Teachers everywhere understand that this new normal is a cataclysmic shift and may possibly relate to my tears. We use our senses to connect, share and make sense of the world around us, and now I am peeking into a new world that is unrecognizable. I have learned that the way things used to be may not be so in the future. I must research ways to teach digitally with confidence, while sending virtual hugs through the screen. Maybe one day, the pot of coffee will be served again, hugs will be had, and students will be better prepared to enter into the world this new technological world.

Paige Watts
About Paige Watts

Paige is a teacher and Director of the Translation Academy at Dalton Public Schools. Paige has taught various grade levels for more than 21 years.

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