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.