Remote learning presents new classroom management challenges for teachers. It's not just about student disruptions or dress codes anymore. With kids learning from home, teachers have found that behavior isn't as much of a concern as attendance, participation, and connections.
Here are some common challenges teachers are facing in this situation, and their advice on dealing with them.
Further Reading: Remote Learning Isn't Going Anywhere. Here's How We Make the Best of It.
Striking a Balance
Some remote teachers insist that students wear school clothes instead of pajamas, sit at a desk with their cameras on, and save snacking for breaks.
But others take a more flexible approach. Leah Smith, a seventh grade English teacher in Litchfield, Connecticut, told Education Week that she has just three rules for her online students: be kind and respectful, don't distract others, and mute your microphone when others are talking.
Dave Austin, a seventh grade social studies teacher in Marlton, New Jersey, said that his students need reassurances from their teachers, not more rules.
"We have to give them a little slack," he said. "They're anxious, and they're scared, and if they're in their PJs having a snack while they talk to me about the Second World War—you showed up, that's fine."
Keeping Up Appearances.
Jenny Baker, who teaches English in Ohio, sees her students on a hybrid schedule. "Attendance is so-so," she said, "but I'm trying to keep kids engaged. I'm lenient with late work because I know some of my kids' home life situations. It's not surprising to me that they can't get their work done."
Baker has also been putting her assignments on Google Classroom to help students know what's due and when. And she sends students individual texts when they don't show up, asking if they need help with an assignment. "It takes time," she said, "but my kids need to know that I notice when they're not here."
Business teacher Debbie Kleinhenz, who teaches remotely in another Ohio district, agrees that attendance is a problem. "We're lucky that our district gives every family a Chromebook," she said. "But if there are siblings, everyone has to share. I tell kids I'd rather have them in class even if they haven't finished the assignment."
But Kleinhenz says her district helps teachers with attendance. "The office has runners who visit missing students every day to connect with their families," she said. "It hasn't solved the problem, but it helps."
One Virginia high school freshman, who has remote learning from 8 a.m to 3 p.m. every day, told me that no one participates in her classes.
"Everybody's there, but nobody wants to say anything," she said. "No one wants a big picture of their face on Zoom."
Baker says that she sympathizes with teens who are uncomfortable with close-ups. "I'm learning how to have breakout sessions so that kids can work together in separate remote rooms," she said. "I'm hoping when they get to know one another as friends, they won't be so uncomfortable on Zoom."
Baker also said that besides posting assignments on Google Classroom, she tries to be clear about assignments and flexible about due dates.
Putting It All Together.
Many remote teachers say that while connecting with students is more difficult, it's worth the effort. Teachers send students individual messages or have weekly online office hours, some in the evenings. Even during class, teachers find sending a quick message to individual students can keep them involved.
One energetic elementary teacher I know actually sends her students a snail mail postcard to encourage them to "keep up the good work."
Teachers say efforts to connect with kids shows you care about them even when they're not physically present in your classroom. And support from the school in reaching out to families really helps.
Kleinhenz said that, believe it or not, remote learning has actually improved her connection to her students. "It's strange," she said, "but they email me constantly and include personal details of their lives much more easily than they did in the regular classroom."
Further Reading: To Make Remote Learning Work, Teachers Need More Training
To be sure, teachers and kids are looking forward to closing their screens and going back to school. In the meantime, classroom management for many teachers depends on their success in connecting with kids and their families.