How to Teach Remotely in Under 10 Hours a Day


I’m upset. We had a faculty meeting in my school today, where the principal nicely asked for feedback as to how we’re doing. And teachers explained how they were working from 8:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m. every day and working on weekends. Another teacher said she was averaging three hours of sleep a night. I was horrified.

This is not OK.

No way, no how. You’re helping nobody by stressing yourself out like this, during this whole 2020 COVID-19 pandemic where we’re teaching remotely, or we’re teaching in person and online at the same time, whatever it is you’re doing, get a grip. Or maybe it’s just a regular school year and you average crazy hours of overtime. Here’s a suggestion for taking back your life.

Let’s start with mindset. You’re a teacher. Yes, what you do is important, but people’s lives are not on the line. You are not a brain surgeon who can instantly kill a patient if he makes a mistake. You need to remember that. I remind myself of that message often. If I bomb a lesson students may be bored and/or not learn much. That’s it. No long-term damage.

Every lesson, remote or otherwise, is compromised of 3 basic elements. You begin with a teacher-lead discussion or lecture infusing new content to the students. Next, students should interact with this material independently to assess their understanding. The lesson concludes with a synthesis question or discussion to check for understanding. That’s it. Done.

Every lesson you teach basically needs these components.

You need some kind of PowerPoint presentation, some kind of presentation with a lecture to your students. Then you need them to have some kind of activity, individual work, where they’ll work with the content you just taught. And then everyone comes back together for an exit or a discussion of some kind. Every. Single. Lesson.

This is what it comes down to, these three things. You’re going to speak to them. They’re going to go off and do a little work. You’re going to come back together and discuss. That’s it.

It can be done with different modalities. But this, if you bring it down, is the essence of your lesson, particularly with remote teaching.

PowerPoint, student activity, conclusion. Done.

This is my planning book. It’s a black and white composition notebook. Because everything is online, for the first time in many years, instead of making Microsoft or Google docs and typing I actually have a book that I’m writing in, just for a change of pace — just to get off the computer and use my gel pens.

As I’m planning, you can see what a hot mess this is. But I understand it perfectly. This day it was going to be day five. Now it became day six, then day seven day and then day eight. Day ten became day nine with a couple of notes to myself on what it is I’m teaching.

I teach two courses this year. I have one book. The front of the book is one for the back of the book is the other course. And this is how I plan. And you know what? It works. So map out your unit, what unit you teaching, what topics, content skills, just write it down on a sheet of paper and maybe a nice pen.

You’ve got to take a break from the computer, go hard copy, stay one or two days ahead. That’s all, because things are changing constantly.

New York City just closed yesterday. Before that, I was in school doing synchronous and asynchronous and bisyncretous (?) — I don’t know, we were teaching students in class and at home. Now suddenly everybody’s home, everything’s shut down. So do not plan too far ahead.

Create a naked PowerPoint. OK, when I say naked don’t blush; it just doesn’t have to be pretty. It really doesn’t. I mean, pretty is kind of nice, but doesn’t in the long run add value. You know what you’re going to teach because you opened up your book and you planned it out, you need a PowerPoint to lead your presentation and your lecture.

You need some kind of student handout for the individual work. And that’s what you need for every lesson. And you’re done.

Go drink wine, hug your child, pet your dog, whatever.

OK, now I want to show you what I mean by a naked PowerPoint. I covered Miranda versus Arizona in one of my classes. This is my PowerPoint. Notice my slides. Notice like three, four, five. Same friggin picture, Maranda’s face and a quick line. This drove my lecture.

And you know what? it was a good lesson. The students were engaged, they learned. I was excited to teach it. But there is no background color, there is no nice font, not necessary, especially not in 2020.

Are you hearing me, guys? I don’t know if you can tell I’m really upset that teachers, any teacher, would lose sleep because of planning is completely unacceptable to me.

There has to be work-life balance. Treat yourself as nicely as you treat your students. I’m sure you’re going over and above, you’re bending over backwards during this crazy year with your students because, as you know, many of them are going through all kinds of situations.

Could you please do the same thing for yourself — please? That’s it. You’re welcome. Have a good day.

Teach and Thrive

A Bronx, NY veteran high school social studies teacher who has learned most of what she has learned through trial and error and error and error.... and wants to save others that pain.

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