Is distance learning tough? What about distance teaching?

Understanding the world of distance learning for other students, when you are a student, is fairly easy to imagine. You can conceptualize how other students are probably feeling because you are experiencing the same thing. But what is it like on the teacher’s end? What is it like having to restructure your entire class? What is it like trying to meet certain standards that are wildly different to teach if you’re not in a classroom?

When asked about the hardest parts of distance learning, Bellarmine math teacher Tony Rehberger said, “Assessing whether students know any of the content is really hard… in class, I can walk around, I can see their work. But when they’re remote learning or distance learning, I can’t see whether they’re getting it.”

He also expressed, “I just feel bad, because student engagement is… it’s really hard to stay focused and engaged… like watching the screen, it’s boring, you could be doing other things at the same time.”

Religion teacher Debra Sauvage noted a similar problem. “I have a much harder time sensing what’s happening with students when they’re not in person… and just the experience of being with students.”

Students certainly have experienced a learning curve in this new school setting, but what have teachers, behind the scenes, been needing to adapt to and learn? Sauvage said, “Teaching online has made me be more objective… and intentional about making sure I’m getting student feedback… it’s making me more flexible… I just have to roll with things and change things last minute and be willing to fail and admit mistakes even more than when I’m in person.”

Rehberger said, “I’ve learned that you have to let some things go to have balance in your life. You can’t cover it all. You can’t quiz it all. You can’t. You can’t make sure that everybody’s engaged, you’ve got to let things go… you can’t teach every single concept, which is tough if you can’t, because we’re still supposed to.”

A class Sauvage teaches is Prayer class, and there is a silver lining distance learning could provide in that class’s context. She said, “A hope I had is that… students would really create a prayer practice, because it wasn’t just at school, it’s at home.”

Through the challenges of distance learning, being considerate of every situation goes a long way. When asked about something that others may not know about teaching during this time, Sauvage said “I hope they know that we miss our students and that… we’re working harder than ever to try to connect with them and to try to help them learn in this kind of format.”

When asked the same question, Rehberger said, “Just to be patient with each other, whether you’re patient with the teachers, or patient with students… you don’t know what other people are going through, and it’s stressful and difficult… teachers are putting in twice as much work, and the students are getting half the amount…that’s just frustrating all over the board.”

Teachers are having to work twice as hard in 2020. We of  course know why we have to take such precautions, and are all having our own challenges, but understanding each other’s perspectives helps make the situation feel a little bit better, and feel a little less isolating. Students and teachers alike have to acclimate to distance learning, and the best we can do is work hard while being mindful of how everyone is affected by virtual school.