As we have switched once again to virtual teaching this year, this has unsurprisingly presented some unique challenges and situations that are not a problem in ‘real life teaching’. So, in true BuzzFeed style (a website I find myself mentioning a lot in these posts), here are ‘3 ways that virtual teaching differs from teaching in real life.’

1. You can MUTE the kids!

This one is revolutionary. There have been countless times in real life lessons before when, frustrated with kids that just can’t help themselves talking, I have longed to be able to ‘mute’ them and now with virtual lessons, it exists. Generally in the live video lessons, most stay muted by default most of the time anyway, but just having the power to easily mute and also remove students from the lesson/call is a reassuring thing to have while teaching.

The option to remove students was particularly useful during one of my first virtual lessons with Year 8, where one boy had very quickly found a new way to annoy me: using something that modified his voice to make it sound different. He was clearly enjoying this too much when at the end of the lesson he was saying bye in his distorted, echoey voice to each student one at a time and I was able to remove him. Luckily by our second lesson, the novelty of this feature had already worn off for him, as his voice was back to normal. 

2. It relies on teachers and students being au fait with technology

Although the technology we are using is not exactly complex, running the virtual lessons requires you to be completely on it as there are lots of different things going on. At the start of each lesson, I will present my tab showing the slides for the lesson, admit the students one at a time, start recording the lesson and then do the register. Sounds simple, except in actual fact this is normally what happens (all names made up of course):

Me: Ok please answer the Do Now questions in your Google Doc then unmute yourself to answer the register. Right, Sophia?

Few seconds pause while Sophia unmutes herself  

Sophia: Yes Miss.

Me: Riley?

No response

Me: Riley are you here? Can you unmute yourself or type in the chat if your microphone doesn’t work?

No response and switches tab to check the chat: Olivia: Miss where is the Google Doc?

Me: Olivia the Google Doc is on the assignment on Google Classroom, where you found the link to get into this lesson. Ok no Riley yet… Liam?

Few seconds pause while Liam unmutes himself

Liam: Yes Miss

In chat- Olivia: I don’t have it.

Register continues in this way with more questions from students in the chat throughout. Get to the end of the register at last. 

Switch back to the tab with my slides that I am presenting and click onto the next slide…

Me: Ok let’s go through the answers now, please make sure to self-assess your work.

Doorbell notification ‘Someone wants to join this meeting: Riley Anderson’ 

After a week and a half of these virtual lessons, we are all getting better at using the technology now. Although there are still times when I’ve messed up. For example, when sharing my screen and modelling how to use the equation ‘moment = force x distance’, I was  typing out the calculation, while explaining how to do it in great detail for two different examples, only to realise after the end of this modelling that I had been sharing the wrong tab and they couldn’t see what I was doing for the past few minutes, yet no-one had stopped to let me know. Oops. 

It has also happened twice where I have closed the wrong tab, accidentally exiting the lesson, whereas it’s pretty hard in real life to accidentally walk out of the classroom while you are teaching.

3. I can’t see most of the students while I’m teaching

Although students are told to have their cameras on during their lessons, in most classes the majority of them will keep their cameras off, either because it slows their laptop down or just because they don’t want to be seen (probably because a lot of them are logging into the lessons then leaving their laptops to go and do other things…). 

This makes it really hard and very different from teaching in real life. Especially when I’m making jokes and I can’t see any of their faces or reactions and they are all on mute, so I just continue rambling on. Although sometimes if there’s just a few students with their cameras on I can see a few smiles which is enough to satisfy my apparent need for validation from my classes. 

Even if I can’t see them, some will use the chat function to give me an idea of how the lesson’s going. For example, in the chat with Year 7s yesterday, there was just a series of ‘…’s when I had asked for volunteers who could share their work and no-one was volunteering, so it was just an awkward silence which I filled with rambling encouragement and pointless phrases and such as “sharing is caring”. Or, my favourite comment in the chat this week came from a Year 11 who said “Carry on. You’re doing well señorita.”, giving me the compliment I didn’t even know I needed to hear.

As different as virtual teaching is, some things in teaching will also never change. This post was originally going to be a list of ‘5 ways it is different and 5 ways it is the same’, but (shock), I wrote too much about just the differences. So, to be continued… 

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