A turbulent time for teaching

While teachers meet the demands of remote learning and preparing lesson packs during the lockdown, it’s a safe bet most of them won’t have to look after the alpacas as well.

A wave of emotions preoccupied the minds of our rural members on the Saturday afternoon they learned they would need to deliver lessons in remote learning mode in less than two days’ time.

Members at Queanbeyan West Public School had worried that COVID would leak into their community without a lockdown, Women’s Contact Rebecca Kearns said.

However, their sense of relief from the remote learning announcement turned quite quickly to “a sense of panic and urgency to get our students, curriculum and ourselves ready to face home learning”, she said.

“Members were working all hours of the weekend after lockdown was announced to get prepared for Monday’s online learning. We held online meetings, there were frequent emails and much discourse over that time to prepare to hit the ground running on Monday.”

Federation Country Organiser Ian Watson said members found the weekend of the announcement difficult. “Members were understandably frustrated and annoyed by the lateness of the health orders. However, there was also an acceptance that remote learning was inevitable.”

Federation Workplace Committee member at Moruya Public School Narelle Pollock said that during term 2, several staff were allocated time to organise print-off packs. The day after the lockdown was announced, teachers printed the booklets in preparation for parents to pick them up.

“Parents can’t thank us enough for giving up our time so their children have learning to go on with. The P&C were full of praise,” Ms Pollock said.

Braidwood Central School teachers had “online lessons in our back pocket”, Women’s Contact Alisa Stephens said. They had been preparing the lessons, on top of their regular teaching load, when the school’s executive asked them last term to be ready to go should a snap lockdown be called.

Pre-empting the lockdown announcement of the next day, K-6 students were given packets to take home “just in case”.

“Despite this, there was actually significant time required of teachers over the weekend to communicate with colleagues about the week ahead and to actually schedule tasks to go live on Classroom etc,” Ms Stephens said. “The time demands on executive staff were additional, with multiple Zoom meetings over the weekend.”

Batemans Bay Public School Fed Rep Bec Howard said that in anticipation of a lockdown announcement, a staff meeting and some release from face-to-face time was dedicated to home learning in week 5. Parents were directed to the online learning hub for appropriate lessons for the first two days of remote learning and teachers provided a matrix of lessons from the Wednesday.

Country Organiser Mercurius Goldstein said: “In the context of the unsustainable workloads of teachers and principals identified by the Gallop Inquiry, it was an impossibility that teachers would be able simultaneously to prepare remote lessons while also continuing face-to-face teaching. The Department’s Learning from Home hub enables teachers to be prepared to teach remotely when the need arises in response to emergency situations.”

Eden Marine High School Fed Rep Sam Martin said members have expressed that time should be allocated for transition to remote learning as part of the government-led lockdown process.

Federation Country Organiser Ian Watson said members found the weekend of the announcement difficult. “Members were understandably frustrated and annoyed by the lateness of the health orders. However, there was also an acceptance that remote learning was inevitable.”

Riding the wave

Queanbeyan West Public School members feel more prepared than last year, Ms Kearns said. “We are more familiar with the technology and have an idea of what to expect. There is a much greater focus on wellbeing, particularly for our vulnerable families. We are also more aware of our wellbeing and have been making a point to look out for one-another as colleagues.”

Mr Martin said members clearly learned from the remote learning experience last year. “The online platform has become a fixture in many classrooms this year, therefore making the transition to remote learning easier for staff and students. However, lack of daily collegial engagement and staffroom support does make this a lonely and isolating process for staff.

Ms Stephens said: “The learning curve is less steep this year. We’ve been able to activate much faster … However, the juggle remains difficult, particularly for those of us with small children. The emotional demand on teaching online is taxing. Teachers are making welfare calls, running Zooms, giving online feedback. It’s difficult to set boundaries, when notifications come in at all hours, as students turn in work or ask for help.”

Don’t forget the alpacas

Agricultural plots and livestock still need tending and feeding during lockdown. “Rural schools sometimes house everything from chickens to sheep, pigs, and even alpacas,” Mr Goldstein said. “A number of teachers and principals report the need to go to the school to take care of animals and plants even while students remain safely learning from home!”

Technology troubles

Our members, in all geographical settings, are dealing with the challenges associated with teaching and learning in the remote learning mode, with technology a common problem.

“There are struggles around helping families who require resources and technology,” Ms Kearns said. “Many of our vulnerable families require phone call check-ins, due to not having technology available to them.

“Teachers also had some struggles to get appropriate technology and learning spaces. Many setting up their own learning spaces on step stools, drawers, cupboards and kitchen benches.”

Mr Martin said: “Eden Marine High School students’ access to technology resources and connection to internet services remain the biggest barrier for delivering high quality learning in an online environment.

Many of our students are not engaging in online learning due to lack of resources. Concerns were raised around the fairness and equity relating to students currently studying their HSC.”

A lot of Moruya Public School families have poor or limited internet service, said Ms Pollock. “Most of our parents prefer the paper booklet.”

Making it work

“A number of our teachers are remote and have internet difficulties themselves,” Ms Stephens said. “Some of our teachers are going to school before 8am and after 4pm (to avoid others) to make use of the internet and to work away from their own children. Others have driven into town from their rural properties to sit in the carpark and use school internet.”

Teachers have always been adaptable and this has been widespread in the current lockdown, Ms Kearns said. “From setting up ad-hoc learning spaces, creating interesting and engaging video content with limited resources and connecting with families. Teachers have been using whatever technology is at their disposal, many making educational videos using their personal cell phones, just to engage their students in learning. They have set up learning spaces and offices via a variety of creative means. They are driven and determined to continue to provide a quality education to every single student.”

Mr Goldstein said: “It is a great credit to the professionalism and dedication of teachers and principals that we continue to serve our school communities in the face of such great difficulties. That said, every teacher and principal looks forward to returning to school when it is safe to do so.

“Many teachers have found that ‘working from home’ could be more accurately described as ‘living at work’,” Mr Goldstein said.Working from home can prove for many to be a draining and distracting environment rather than a comforting one.”