Ten Years of Teaching Online Has Taught Me These Five Things

Not all of them are bad. And all the good things are do-able.

Chris Jones
Jul 23 · 7 min read
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Photo Credit: Michigan Virtual (michiganvirtual.org). Also see their article on this subject.

My wife and I are teachers. She teaches the hard stuff (math), and I teach everything else. This last term was her first experience with online teaching, and she <ahem> didn’t like it very much. Looking ahead to the fall, though, it became clear that she was going to be at least partly on-camera again. She lamented this, and I said something without thinking that I now believe was inescapably true: “You are probably never going to teach another class in which all your students are there in the room with you.”

I’ve been teaching online since approximately the time that online teaching became theoretically possible. Before the iPhone. Before phones had cameras, even. There are probably people out there that have done more of it than I have, but there aren’t many, and few have done it in as many formats, across as much time. While in my opinion online instruction is not nearly as good as in-person, I believe it to be superior to CDC-guideline class (and I’ve taught that, live and in-person, so I know what I’m talking about).

I learned a thousand things from my experiences, but there are five that stand out to me as necessary to know in the current educational environment. Since practically speaking EVERY teacher in America is about to become an online teacher — and not just as a stopgap, but potentially permanently — I thought these five understandings might be valuable.

  1. First, before everything else, is this: there is no reason to fear. You’re going to mess up, and that’s okay. You’re going to fall short of what you expect you can do. That is also okay. You’re going to struggle to reach every kid in your class. That is no different than it was before, and it is okay. Breathe. Teaching is hard enough without all the stress of the technology. Don’t allow the unfamiliar systems to distract you from the essential connection with the kids. They’ll forgive you if they love you, and they’ll love you if you love them. Keep that first. Remember, always, that trust begets learning. If you get that part right, the rest of it will be fine. Not perfect, but fine.

My teaching background is as checkered as it gets. I’ve taught homeschool, private school, public school (substitute, in the interest of full disclosure), and charter school. I’ve worked with unschoolers, non-schoolers, alternative schoolers, hard-core public-only schoolers, all of it. I have taught everything from choir to math, and every age from 10 to 50, online, onsite, and hybrid.

I have come to believe that our school system could use some work.

This isn’t precisely how I was hoping the work would get done, but here we are, and it would be a shame to waste a good crisis. We all knew — all of us — that the system we were working in was not perfect, and that given a chance and a choice, we’d make some alterations.

So what are you waiting for? You’re never going to have a better chance than this one.

Look, the pandemic is awful. Not seeing the full faces of all our kids is going to suck crap through a tube. But what, exactly, are we going to do about that? Carp? Moan? Or try to innovate ourselves into something we would never have had the energy or the guts to try, except that the necessity has now been forced upon us?

At the height of the Apollo 13 disaster, mission commander Gene Kranz is reported to have said, “I believe this will be our finest hour.” I believe it too.

P.S The above five things are just a start. You can do better, and more. If you want help, I’m just a comment away. And I’d love to know what your ideas are, as well.

P.P.S. One of the critical things to make the above work is for school districts and state bureaucracies to get out of the way of teachers. Please, if you’re an administrator, read this.

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Chris Jones

Written by

Working writer, teacher of historical things. I sing opera, and I fish. Usually not at the same time.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

Chris Jones

Written by

Working writer, teacher of historical things. I sing opera, and I fish. Usually not at the same time.

Age of Awareness

Stories providing creative, innovative, and sustainable changes to the education system

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