"This is going so great!" said one of my ELL students last week. Surprised by her comment, I responded, "That's awesome! I'm so happy to hear this. Can you tell me why?" The student, who arrived almost 2 years ago after having grown up on a refugee camp, told me that at first, distance learning was hard because of all the technology, but then, she got used to it, and it was going great. A few other students nodded in agreement with her, and said "yeah, me too."
ELL students tend to be a more vulnerable group, and as students at the beginning stages of learning English, my students have a myriad of challenges and traumatic events in their lives. Thus, in my town, the decision was made to bring beginner ELLs back in Phase 1 of our plan (along with some special education groups). Originally starting at the beginning of October, phase 1 had to be postponed because of a surge of Coronavirus cases; now, the cases have stabilized, and phase 1 will begin later this week.
My students' comments are not reflective of the typical narrative we have been seeing and hearing on the news. Yet, here they were, a month into distance learning, with unlikely sunny dispositions. The particular student who told me it was going great lives in an apartment with one parent, 2 baby nephews, and 7 or 8 siblings who are in school too. Another student is in class with me in the same room as her sibling, a high school student, and I can hear everything my high school ELL colleagues say as they teach. As my students smiled through their cameras, I felt lucky and relieved that it seemed to be going well for them. I wondered how much of the success we were having together was due to the fact that I had some of the students last year, and only a few were new to me. I had been able to be in the physical classroom with some of them for a good 7 months, and we had built our small community. They were showing up every day, on time, participating via the chat or by commenting, and doing and turning in their work.
My other classes have been a mixed bag: some very successful days, some mediocre days, some days where I just want to cry after class. But, the resilience in my beginner ELL group has shown me that we can indeed be successful at distance learning. Even when the WIFI goes down or is overloaded, even when I ask for volunteers and the wait time silence is deafening, my spirits are kept up because I know my students are there to keep me going. I learn to interact with them onscreen a little better each day. They make me laugh and smile, and they bring me joy.
Sometimes, when I feel frustrated and find myself staring at a screen of avatars, photos, or names instead of faces, I think of one of my Zumba teachers (I have many! They are amazing! They helped me through the pandemic in the spring!). Stephanie, also a public school teacher, started doing Zumba online soon after everything closed down. Stephanie doesn't worry if she doesn't see our faces onscreen, and frankly, not many people in the class want to have their video on while doing crazy Zumba moves. Stephanie cheers us on from her side, pointing at us and giving thumbs-up signs, encouraging us to enjoy ourselves. She always begins and ends class with a positive message, which lets us know that she is excited to be there and appreciates us. She is consistently smiley and super-energetic, and her positivity is catchy. By the end of class, I always feel happier and am smiling, too. I try to channel Stephanie and bring my best to class, too.
Certainly, remote teaching is not the same as being in the same physical room together, but it is going much better than I anticipated. How's it going for you?