Updating Lisa Delpit’s “Lessons From Teachers” for Virtual Teaching
As we enter the 2020–21 school year virtually, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it can seem like everything has changed.
Lisa Delpit’s “Lessons From Teachers” argues that with changes in attitudes and actions in classrooms, teachers can alter what happens in urban schools and transform the lives of students. As we enter the 2020–21 school year virtually, due to the coronavirus pandemic, it can seem like everything has changed. I thought it was relevant to update the ten precepts Ms. Delpit outlines for the virtual classroom.
I had the opportunity to attend a presentation of Ms. Delpit’s “Lessons From Teachers” last summer, as part of my teacher training through Baltimore City Teaching Residency (BCTR), and it resonated with me. As I enter my fifth year as a teacher, and second in Baltimore City Public Schools, I continue to revisit Ms. Delpit’s words of wisdom.
1. Teach more, not less, content to poor, urban children
In a virtual world, it can be more challenging to ensure students are being held accountable to the high standards we have within a physical classroom. As witnessed during the spring, as the United States struggled to deal with the coronavirus pandemic, expectations were lowered for students throughout the country. As teachers had to adapt, student accountability and work quantity suffered. As we come back to school, it is paramount that from the first day of class, we set much higher expectations for students than were seen in the spring. Teachers should push students to learn more and not less despite the global pandemic. Nothing is an excuse to lower expectations for students because it will only hurt them in the long run.
2. Ensure all children gain access to conventions/strategies essential to success in American society
Conventions include things like five-paragraph essays and mathematical operations. Strategies include things like finding meaning in a text and solving word problems. Imparting these lessons over zoom can add all new challenges. It can become more challenging to identify which areas are students are lacking in, but it also provides opportunities. The virtual classroom may more accurately reflect the workplace of the future than a physical classroom. Teaching kids to be productive and engaged while separated by a screen may give them further strategies they need to be successful as technological developments continue to reshape the world.
3. Whatever methodology/instructional program used, demand critical thinking
Just because we are in a virtual classroom, it does not mean we should not engage with our students in discussion and prompt them to think critically about the world around them. Teachers will need to get creative with students who are not engaging virtually. Setting class norms of participation and having open and honest discussions can also happen virtually. Virtual learning can open up additional avenues of communication, such as email, where critical thinking can be demanded even after class.
4. Provide the emotional ego strength to challenge racist societal views of the competence and worthiness of children and their families
As educators, we face an unprecedented time in the history of schooling. Not only are there very real stresses related to the pandemic, but also social unrest in the country related to race. Our students may not have had access to the same community supports, as they would in non-pandemic times, so the role of the teacher gains even more weight. Discussions about emotions and building confidence within our students should be a key emphasis.
5. Recognize and build on children’s strengths
Recognizing our student’s strengths can be more difficult in a virtual setting. Little interactions in the hall or between students that might give us insights into a student’s individuality and strengths are no longer available to us. To get to know our students, we need to do more than ever. We need to get to know them through, letting them get to know us, and communicating with families more often.
6. Use familiar metaphors, analogies, and experiences from the children’s world to connect what children already know to school knowledge
There are many common experiences we have all faced from living in a pandemic. Our students had similar experiences, and this is another way we can relate to them. It is likely students are also experiencing some of the same frustrations we are feeling related to virtual learning. All these experiences are further ways we can connect and engage with our students.
7. Create a sense of family and caring in the service of academic achievement
We need to foster a caring virtual environment that allows students to express themselves in a multitude of ways, just like they would in a physical classroom. It is also true that teachers will need to work harder to build a sense of family in a virtual environment. Reminding students that you believe in them and that you care about their success is always important, but virtually it might even be more so. Using technology to our advantage, such as making videos, or posting positive things, can be ways to foster a caring environment.
8. Monitor/assess children’s needs and address them with a wealth of diverse strategies
Let’s not make the mistake of assuming everyone is comfortable communicating virtually. Just like any skill set, there can be places where certain individuals excel and others where they need to improve. Giving our students creative options to share their knowledge and abilities will give us a fuller picture of the places where they need the most help and what strategies will be most effective to help.
9. Honor and respect children’s home culture
It might be hard to display positivity and energy virtually as a teacher, but it is very important. We need to encourage all our students that they can succeed. If you are using an updated online curriculum, ensure that it reflects our student’s culture in a positive way. As online curriculum engineers struggled to update their curriculums to be used for the 2020–21 school year, it is unlikely they were thinking about the diversity of the students who would be using the curriculum. If we need to augment our curriculum for the benefit of our students, we should be sure to do so.
10. Foster a sense of children’s connection to community
Fostering our student’s connection to their community is an area that could be easily overlooked during virtual teaching. Teachers do not always live in the communities they teach in. Teachers may not be as active in their school community during a pandemic. These things are understandable, but it is important to find ways to keep up with our student’s communities. It can be as simple as asking our students what is going on around them to finding positive news articles we can share with them.