5 Tips for teaching virtually during your first year

I’m sorry to say, if you are looking at your first year of teaching you are in for a double whammy. The first year of teaching is notoriously the most difficult year. Add to that the shift to socially distanced learning or teaching virtually due to the COVID19 pandemic and you’re in for an extra challenge. BUT YOU CAN DO THIS!

This post will focus on those new teachers who have been hired in a district that will be beginning the year teaching virtually.

You will not be alone. You will have mentors and colleagues that help you every step of the way and, remember, teaching virtually is new to all of us; if you’re just out of college you’re probably more digitally savvy that many of the veteran teachers at your school.

Before you read further, you might want to check out some of the following posts:

10 month vs 12 month pay checks

To do list for the summer before your first year teaching

Recommended reading for future/new teachers

You’ve signed a teaching contract. Now what?

How to create an Amazon wish list

5 Must-Haves for New Teachers

5 Rookie Mistakes You Shouldn’t Make

The key to success in teaching

You are staring down your first year of teaching and you find out that your first nine weeks/semester you will be teaching virtually. What should you do?

1. Learn the digital platform early

Different schools use different digital platforms. My district uses Schoology. Others use Blackboard, Canvas, Google Classroom, Edmodo, and so many others. If your school district has gone digital that means your new teacher orientation will likely be digital as well. You will be signed up for online sessions to introduce you to all those things that new teachers normally get during “new teacher week.”

My family. I include a picture like this on my home page so students can see the human side of me.

When you have your session on the district’s digital platform PAY CLOSE ATTENTION! This is going to be your lifeline for the next several months. You are going to need to know how to use it backwards and forwards. Sign on to the platform. Practice making assignments, posting lessons, uploading slide shows, scoring assignments, recording lessons, posting discussions, etc.

The more familiar you are with the platform, the better off you will be.

Once you’re comfortable in it, start to personalize the pages you’ll be using with your classes. Some programs will let you upload a picture or unique thumbnail to make your class stand out from others. Some will let you make an “about me” page where you can share information about yourself with students and parents. Upload a picture of yourself with your dog, or spouse, or whomever or whatever is important to you. Making connections is going to be more difficult and more important than ever this year.

2. Be a team player

It is likely you’ll be joining a team of teachers who worked together during the spring shut down. That may be a team of grade level teachers or content teachers like (English 10, or World History). There are very few instances in which you won’t have a team to work with, but it is possible; for instance, if you are the only music teacher in your school, or the only AP Spanish teacher. Even in those cases, there should be others in the district who have the same content as you. Connect with these people.

Understand that the team you are joining was in crisis mode at the end of the last school year. They are likely bringing knowledge and experience as well as concerns and questions. They will have plans from previous years that can be transitioned to a digital platform and they will also need fresh ideas from you on how to engage students with new technology. Offer to contribute based on your strengths

3. Find a comfortable and quiet space to teach virtually

This is easier said than done for those of us with children. As you could see in the picture adjoining the first tip, I have a six-year-old and a four-year-old. Finding a quiet place to work can be a huge challenge. My colleagues and students got to know my children well, especially my son because he loves to make appearances in zoom meetings.

Having said that, I’m incredibly lucky. I have family in town that helps me by watching the kids for a few hours a day so I can score essays, post assignments, and hold zoom meetings. Many of you will likely find yourselves at home with your own children all day.

Those of us with children during this pandemic find ourselves doing double duty teaching. We are helping our own children through their online learning and attempting to teach our students digitally. It can be quite the challenge and without a comfortable space to work it can become impossible.

My family made a decision in May, when it was clear that COVID19 was not going away anytime soon, to convert our guest room into an office. It now serves both as our “temporary home school” space as well as my space to get work done.

Our guest room turned home office. Essentially a butcher block on two end tables that I ordered online. At the moment there is a lot of lego action going on, but during the school year we’ll clear it off for school materials.

This serves us much better than our previous model, which was the kitchen table. The best part is that the guest room/office has a door, so if I’m in an important Zoom meeting I can muffle the sounds of the kids playing in the next room by shutting the door. I also love that we can now display books. Previously we didn’t have any shelving for books and now my kids point at them and ask what they are about. Score for mommy! If you’re interested in how I built the reading room my next post will share more about the process and the materials I used.

I put my iPad on the upper window sill and walk while I am in Zoom meetings (which is often, so I get lots of exercise!). I can also take off the arms and put it under a desk.

As a side note, I also splurged and bought a treadmill that can go under a desk so I can slide a chair out, put the treadmill in, and walk and work at the same time. I bought this one by Goplus because it has great ratings, it’s light, it’s really slick looking, and you can add the arms or not depending on how you want to use it. So far, I’ve been using it with my iPad on the window sill during Zoom meetings.

4. Test your home internet

If someone else in your home is also going to be using bandwidth (using a computer or cell phone) while you are trying do to synchronous (live online) instruction you may find that your internet lags. Test it out before the first day of school.

Consider how many devices might be in use at the same time in your household in a worst case scenario and then try it. I found that if I try to use the internet on my phone while on a Zoom call on my computer it messes both up. I’ve decided to just stick to one device for now, but I may need to upgrade my internet service if my children are going to be Zooming with their teachers at the same time that I’m Zooming with my students.

5. Practice using face to face platforms

If you have not set up a Zoom meeting before, now is the time to nominate a friend as a guinea pig and try it. Go through the process of downloading the app, setting up the meeting, adjusting the settings, (like privacy, doorbell, waiting room, etc.), conducting the meeting (actually have a conversation – try muting yourself, turning your video on and off, sharing your screen), and ending the meeting.

What other platforms does your school use? You might want to practice with FlipGrid or Loom. There are so many. Ask your department chair, grade level lead, or content team members to let you know what sites your school generally uses.

Keep your head up.

You can do this. It may not feel like it because you’re not looking them in their faces, but kids need you more than ever this year. Doing school from home is a natural fit for some students, while others find it incredibly challenging. Likewise, some teachers find teaching from home a great fit for their lifestyle, while others desperately miss the classroom (I’m in the second cohort).

Teaching virtually for the first quarter, semester, or even year of your career may sound daunting, but remember you are a part of history now. Schools will likely never go back to exactly the way they were pre-COVID19 and you get to be a part of the change. You get to have a voice in what kids need and how school should look in the 21st Century. You get to help students through what is likely one of the most difficult years of their lives. Be strong. Show grace. Be flexible and you will do great!

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A Teacher's Guide

I am a National Board Certified educator currently teaching in Virginia. I have taught the following: English 9, 10, 11, and 12 (on academic, collaborative, and honors levels); Dual Enrollment English; Mass Communications, Yearbook, Newspaper, and Communications Technology. I have experience in five different school systems, four in Virginia and one in Maryland. I served as my school’s 2019 Teacher of the Year and was a top five finalist for the Teacher of the Year for Virginia Beach City Public Schools. I am passionate about recruiting and retaining quality educators in our public schools. Let me help you find your path to changing lives through teaching!

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