I’m a Teacher—Here’s What I Really Want You to Know About Remote Learning

One elementary school teacher explains why she thinks it’s essential for kids to head back to the classroom this fall, despite the pandemic.

My favorite game as a child was “teaching school” to my little sister and our stuffed animals. In middle school, I loved tutoring my friends when they needed help. By high school, I was volunteering as an intern at the local elementary school. It was a given that in college I would major in education, and since then, I’ve taught first and third graders in both English and bilingual classrooms. I even run a private tutoring business on the side. Clearly, teaching has been a lifelong passion for me!

Teaching has never been just a job to me, and I have been fortunate to be recognized for my passion. I received the Mile High Teacher award from the Mayor of Denver in 2012, due to the amazing progress my students have made. I care deeply about helping to foster happy and healthy children, their educational progress, and overall success in life. And that is why I am so alarmed by the current push for online schooling this fall. While I understand the concerns about going back to school during the pandemic, I believe remote learning will cause far more harm than good—and that’s not a popular opinion where I live.

Kids belong in the classroom—even now

This issue is so important to me that I organized a peaceful Walk of Hope for the choice to have 100 percent in-person learning this school year in my county. Along with other like-minded families, I demonstrated in front of the district administration building during a school board meeting on the issue. Over two days, we gathered between 80 and 100 children and parents, who brought creative, homemade signs that expressed our hope that we’d be given the choice to attend school in person. We delivered a sign to administrators, signed by the children, that said: “We are hands-on learners.” Our walk was covered by four separate news channels, and I was told that it had a positive effect. As of now, the district’s plan is to offer 100 percent in-person learning after the first two weeks of online school. That said, back-to-school season may be different in a few key ways.

Online school hurts our kids’ educations

So, why do I think remote learning is such a problem? Elementary school is vital to a child’s development and academic success. It sets the groundwork for their future lives by teaching them how to learn and how to enjoy learning, and I just don’t believe you can get that in the same way through a computer.

protesting closed schoolsCourtesy Lindsay Datko

For starters, online school doesn’t provide sensory stimulation. Children learn through all their senses. They need to see, feel, touch, smell, and hear as they learn. As a teacher, I rely on a wide variety of sensory activities to help them fully absorb the material and put it into action. Online school offers only auditory and visual cues and often doesn’t even take full advantage of those.

Plus, some skills can’t be taught through a computer. As a first-grade teacher, I am losing at sleep at night worrying about students learning to read this year. To develop reading skills and comprehension, they need to learn decoding skills, watch the teacher form sounds, meet in daily groups, listen to read-alouds, watch their peers learn to read and imitate their good habits, and be able to act out stories and sequences to develop comprehension. None of these things can be done well through a computer screen.

And reading is just one example. In a remote-learning model, kids may miss a number of crucial developmental windows. There are certain windows during childhood when kids are primed to learn certain skills, and if a child misses these, especially in first grade, it takes a great deal of hard work and effort to break their underdeveloped or poorly developed habits and form new ones. It’s not impossible after that point, but it does become much harder and you risk the child feeling like a failure or thinking that they’re just “bad” at it. I fear that 100 percent remote learning will cause whole years of kids to miss these windows.

It’s also problematic psychologically

Of course, there is also a big concern regarding mental health. Just like you may feel depressed and isolated working from home, so do children in online school. And no, “seeing” their classmates via Zoom isn’t a fix. In-class schooling provides a sense of normalcy and routine that kids thrive on. I worry a lot about the impact on my students’ mental health this next year.

The bottom line is that children need their friends. They also need to learn together with peers, since they often learn almost as much (and sometimes more) from one another as they do from their teacher. They learn to build character and a work ethic, and they imitate those who understand concepts quickly. It also teaches them social skills and encourages interpersonal interaction.

Plus, children already get too much screen time. Ask any child-development expert or pediatrician and they’ll tell you that one of the things they are most concerned about is how much time kids (even very young kids) are glued to different screens. The last thing they need is to be forced to sit in front of a computer for hours a day for school.

Students need their teachers

Teachers form a unique, loving bond with their students—and this bond has the power to change children’s lives. Interaction with a teacher who loves them is incredibly important for elementary students. A healthy bond with their teacher lets them show their personality and be honored for who they are. They need a teacher to relate to them and care about their daily lives, joys, and struggles. I can tell you from experience that this is much harder to do through a screen.

protesting closed schoolsCourtesy Lindsay Datko

Online school isn’t great for teachers either

Speaking of teachers, I don’t believe remote school is in our best interest either. It’s important to protect the health of educators, especially ones who fall in high-risk categories for COVID-19, but it’s equally important to give teachers the option to be in the classroom if that’s what they want.

From a professional standpoint, online school makes it much harder to monitor student progress and for a teacher to know if a child is understanding or not. Parents helping behind the screen is great, but that can’t make up for a teacher’s knowledge and experience. Online school is also harder to customize. Normal classrooms have students on a wide spectrum of skill and progress, and teachers are trained to assess who may need extra help or extra development opportunities. Remote learning makes it so much harder to customize a child’s education—including carrying out state-mandated IEPs (individualized education programs) for special-needs students.

Teachers also can’t protect students when they don’t see them in person regularly. Teachers are mandated reporters and people the public trust. If school is all remote, I shudder to think of how many children will suffer from abandonment, educational and physical neglect, addiction, hunger, and many other harmful situations. Teachers will not be able to assess and report through a screen.

This decision isn’t easy on anyone—parents, teachers, or administrators

Teachers are facing a major learning curve. From March through May of 2020, we were in survival mode, doing whatever we could to make things work. This year, teachers face those same issues but with the added pressure of tracking progress and assigning grades. Similarly, I understand the issues parents are facing. As a mom of three elementary-aged kids, I want to do everything I can do to keep them safe while still thriving educationally. And administrators are in the unenviable position of having to balance everyone’s conflicting needs and opinions.

However, as a teacher, if I could, I would be sprinting back to my classroom to welcome those little ones into a safe environment. As a parent, I am completely comfortable sending my children back. I understand the risk. There will be outbreaks, and we must not deny that. While I am pro-in-person schooling, I’m also in favor of wearing masks and following social-distancing guidelines. I find great comfort in the CDC and the Academy of Pediatrics guidelines and recommendations for schools to open. We must mitigate the risk as much as possible and then reopen our schools. Education is one of the main foundations of our society, and that’s why I’m already planning our next Walk of Hope.

For more on this developing situation, see our Back to School 2020 Guide and our comprehensive Coronavirus Guide.

Editor’s note: The opinions here belong to the author. To submit your own idea for an essay, email [email protected].