Tuesday, March 23, 2021

Stranger Than You Can Even Imagine

After 2 days back at work this week, I've now taught each of my 5 classes in person for the first time in over a year.  Without going into details about my districts exceedingly-flawed hybrid model, suffice it to say that I taught each class twice--once in the morning for in-person students and once in the afternoon for online students.  My in-person classes ranged anywhere from 5-10 students each.

I'd like to focus on one of my classes in particular, which I didn't teach until today.  This is a higher math class of almost exclusively college-bound students.

I'd previously notified my students that, with the hybrid model, our class time was significantly less than it had been under all-online classes, 50 minutes vs 90 minutes.  Therefore, it was incumbent upon them to watch my instructional videos before class and take whatever notes they thought were necessary, because with only 50 minutes of class we'd need to get right into practice problems.

Not one of them had watched the video for today's class.

I wasn't going to reteach the material in the video, so I would incorporate as much "instruction" as I could while we worked out problems.  Not long after I started in, I stopped. 

They were just staring at me.

"Are any of you going to write any of this down?"  A few reached for pencils and notebooks.  I continued my instruction.  As I'm wont to do when teaching, I frequently stop and ask questions to check for student understanding.  And so I did.  I asked a student a question.

The student just stared at me.

I looked at the student for a moment and then said, "You realize I can see you, right?  You're not hiding behind a screen with your camera turned off."  I said it with a hint of humor, but the dark truth is there--these kids have no idea how to be students.  They have completely forgotten.

Yes, I know that 374 days had passed since the last time they were in school.  But these college-bound students had been in school for several years before those 374 days.  None of these students is a freshman.

They have forgotten how to be students.

This partly explains their low grades.  They don't engage--they turn off their cameras (I cannot require them to turn them on), they don't ask questions, they don't really take notes.  They listen to my videos--at least, they did when I played them during class--and they listen to me talk and explain.  They don't do anything, they sit and listen and let the words flow over and around them.  They learn only what they hear and remember, which cognitive science will tell you won't be much.  They are completely passive, there is nothing active at all about their learning.

I'm not the only one seeing this.  

I was speaking to one of our vice principals this afternoon.  This administrator said that several teachers had already talked to him/her about this very same phenomenon.  In fact, this administer said that he/she saw a student yesterday and talked to that student; when he/she said hello to the student today, the student just stared.  

That's what they do.  They stare.  Children of the Corn, or something.

Several of us teachers were discussing this at lunch today.  I remarked how, in years past, when I polled my students about a later start time for school, they were almost uniformly against it.  If school started later, they'd opt to take what we call "zero period", an extra early class that only a few teachers teach.  Their reasoning was always that they want to get out of school as early as possible so that they could "do stuff" the rest of the day.  Now, however, students are opting out of in-person school, which starts at 8:05 and gets out around 11 am, so that they can take online class, which doesn't start until well after noon.  Now they'd rather sleep in.  Why the change?  In the past, students wanted to leave early so they could "do stuff", now there's no "stuff" to do--that was our conclusion.

One teacher said that he thinks the students are depressed.  That's why they want to sleep all day, and when you're depressed, you can't even really explain why you want to sleep all day.  Looking at those students today, whom I won't see again in-person until next week, I think that teacher is on to something.

They stare.  They sit, and they stare.  It's the strangest and scariest thing I've seen on a large scale in all my years of teaching.

Yes, we've all heard about the emotional and psychological toll that staying home has had on students.  We've read about the increase in therapy, suicides, etc.  Until today, though, that was all abstract to me.  Today I saw the damage up close and personal.

I have no idea if they'll get back to "normal" any time soon or not.  If they don't, though, we have a much bigger problem on our hands than so-called learning loss.  This could be nightmarish. 


Ellen K said...

It's not you-it's them. They have forgotten how to be students. And it's not just the remedial students struggling-it is ALL students. The hybrid approach doesn't work. Five years ago we were encouraged to do just the type of teaching you're using-present the material in advance for the students to consume on their own time and then put the knowledge in action during class time. The same thing happened-these students-the same ones Democrats want to vote, who make TikTok videos and eat Tide Pods-consider their time THEIR TIME. No longer do they believe they should have to use THEIR TIME for such drudgery as reading, writing or research. As a result, we have removed all rigor from high level courses and the students assume that good enough is good enough. We've eliminated meritocracy for admissions and no longer acknowledge achievement opting instead for rewarding with accolades that have nothing to do with anything the student does, just who the student is. I promise you students in India, China, Japan and Russia are not learning under such a system.

Steve USMA '85 said...

You are scaring me Darren.

Peg said...

Fascinating. Thank you for sharing in detail. I've been wondering how students would have changed when returning to school. I always enjoy reading your blog- from classroom insights to travels to Army games.

Banshee said...

Um... Are you sure it's not a school prank revenge? Pretending to be stupid while not being able to be dinged for not paying attention is a great malicious compliance, and making it schoolwide would be genius.

Anonymous said...

Academic Achievement
I have two students who attend very "high quality" public schools in Silicon Valley - a middle schooler who tolerates Zoom school well and the other one, a freshman in high school who does not. While the middle schooler can engage over Zoom, NWEA testing suggests there's been little to no academic growth from Winter 20 vs. Winter 19. While the student tests at a very high percentile (above the avg. NWEA grade level), the rate of growth hit the Zoom school wall. I can only imagine what kind of "learning" is happening with the freshman.

California 3-8 and 11th graders will be taking the CAASPP/SBAC this spring - so we'll all get a sense of the learning that's taken place over the last year soon enough.

Think of hybrid or part-time schooling as occupational therapy so students can remember how to do school.

Some parents think that going back to in person high school for only 6-8 weeks before the end of the school year is too disruptive (it is) or are concerned about Covid infections (will it ever be safe?) If you expect your child to go back to in-person school in August, then shouldn't you start getting them readjusted to school now? If they don't physically go back to school now, it will have been 17 months since they last stepped into a classroom.

Here's an anecdote - I proctored the PSAT make-up in January for Juniors. Listening to directions - no you can't go to the bathroom even if you finished the section, no I don't have a spare calculator. A bit like kindergarteners, albeit ones who drove themselves to school. Even motivated kids, kids that adults/teachers have certain expectations of - have gotten out of practice going to school - let's not underestimate what it will take to rehabilitate the inmates. My concern is that teachers may not understand what it will take for kids to get reacclimatized to "doing school" to teachers' expectations.

People outside of California cannot imagine the extent of the lockdown we've been under in Santa Clara County and people here cannot fathom that other parts of the U.S. have been open with kids going to in person school for much of the year. There 'll be a reckoning in California on academic achievement during the 2020-2021 school year and what it will take to get back to school in August 2021.

Jennwith4 said...

Ellen K, it’s not just this “new way of learning” that is contributing to this. Parents demands of no homework and having no involvement with their student’s progress has helped to shape the “sit and stare” students of today. I fight everyday to get my students beyond this. I’m almost out of ideas. The end of the school year is near, but I’m making changes now to try and improve their involvement.

Rollory said...

This is a really funny story, thank you for sharing!

The problem - the REAL problem - is that they must want to learn. Everything about school in particular and this modern society in general discourages them from learning or engaging in much of anything. You want them to get interested in class discussion? Try this: start talking about how to get the opposite sex interested. And I don't mean "just be yourself" type lies - I mean start repeating Red Pill / PUA / evo-psych theories and discussing them in detail and how they might be tested and what evidence would support them and what evidence would disprove them and what the implications are for everyday interaction; and also what it means for current divorce and family court law and policy. Or read various classics touching on the same topics - Schopenhauer has plenty of passages on this topic, and there's that poem, "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may" - even when I was in school we spent about five minutes total on that one and then moved on because the (female) teacher was terrified of the implications. OR, pull out (to pick just one example book) Corelli Barnett's "The Decline of British Power" and discuss the parts where he talks about how the Frenchman who was later hanged for being a treasonous collaborator was the only one capable of seeing reality and trying to avert disaster during the Ethiopian crisis; or how Barnett describes Hitler as being justifiably flabbergasted when Britain chose Poland, of all things, as a cause for war, and discuss what justifications there could be for the German point of view, and why precisely Britain declared war on Germany for invading Poland but allied with the Soviets for doing the exact same thing.

Oh wait. That sort of behavior would get you fired for political incorrectness.

Or have a chemistry class where you make gunpowder and set it off. Outside, of course. Or have a class where part of the homework is to get a job - a real honest W-2 producing job - and discuss the paperwork associated with it in the context of the benefits and problems with social regulation. Or, or, or ...

I refer you back to my third sentence.

Like I said, tremendously funny, one more symptom in the ever-accelerating total collapse of this demonic excuse for a society, and those of us who have been agitating for literal decades trying to turn it around can only say "I fucking well told you so."

Ellen K said...

Steve, you should be scared. We should ALL be afraid. These kids are indoctrinated far more than you know. "Normal" as we know it is gone. Students are going to divide in one of two ways-the compliant will simply accept everything and blindly go out into the world to vote for whatever "Democrats" put out. The rest will become increasingly isolated, many choosing to drop out of social media and off of the virtual lives we've created.

Anna A said...


I can see that happening even to me, and I am 50 years past high school. I see myself choosing virtual things(even though I am engaging others there at the same time) over tangible (though I might be more isolated there)

I find it scary.

I'm hoping that things get better once more tangible things are allowed. And am thankful that I have a decent governor (DeWine-Ohio)

Ellen K said...

Jenn-I absolutely understand. I retired in May 2019 on the heels of a meeting with parents who were INCENSED that in an AP Studio class I wouldn't accept anime doodles on notebook paper as entries for a year long portfolio. In the meeting I tried to explain that as a working artist having more skills and more diversity made their student more marketable. I was assailed with the comment "We raised our children that they could be anythink they wanted to be." That was never the point, the point was they had to learn to do more than one thing. This is true of any profession. Then these parents threw the race card. I got zero support from the administrator and frankly the comments attributed to me by a couple of girls wanting to use my class to do their make up and text were lies. That was when I made my choice. BTW, this child lived in a million dollar home, her parents were CEO's of their respective companies and she was heading to SAIC. This was not some poor child being badgered by a mean white lady. That was five years ago, and the situation has only gotten worse. No homework, no projects, no reading, no expectations, everyone gets credit.

Anonymous said...

Concur. Mine show up, plop down, and ready themselves to be entertained as if they had just turned on the TV. "Group test" wherein they were allowed to talk to each other in hopes of getting more answers correct? Silence.

I will *not* prep twice for each of my four courses. Four preps is challenging. Eight preps is a solid no. I fear many are convinced that—much like the groom at a wedding—they've fulfilled their obligations be simply showing up.

The rest is on you, teacher. Teach me so well that merely being in the room during your instruction will instill mastery in me. Because my part in this is done: I'm present.

And the extent to which students' SE needs haven't been met, you need to go ahead and fix that, too. Just don't let them fall behind academically while you're attending to all that SEL stuff. And be ready for the next schedule change being cooked up. Because once that schedule is announced, you need to hit the ground running as if you'd been planning for it for years. Any questions?

Darren said...

Now that the feds and the state have reduced so-called social distancing to 3' instead of 6' in schools, there's talk--or is it just rumor?--of combining our Mon/Tues in-person students with our Thurs/Fri in-person students so that they can be at school 4 days a week instead of two, but still for only 3 hrs a day, and I'll still have to reteach my classes to the at-home kids in the afternoon.

That's a pretty impressive sentence :-)