English Teacher Speaks on How to Change the Approach to Distance Learning in Russia

What resources will help the teacher and how parents can support their children.
Ksenia Dmitrieva | 15 December 2020
English Teacher Speaks on How to Change the Approach to Distance Learning in Russia
Photo: Freepik

Children study online and then spend hours doing their homework. Is there another way to go through the school curriculum? Distance learning in 2020 has not been easy for us. Students are stressed, parents are annoyed, and teachers are awfully tired. Russian teachers talk about how children can study in a new reality and how parents can support their children.

Survival experts recommend that those who find themselves in an extreme situation – on a desert island, in a forest, on a mountain, and so on – do not tell themselves that they need to put an effort, tolerate it for a little while and they will be rescued soon (even if it is so), but to start a new life, as full as possible, in this new place. Build a good, strong house, not a temporary shelter for one night, plant wheat, bring in goats, and so on on Robinson Crusoe’s list. (This, by the way, will solve one more problem: they will keep their hands and minds busy.)

Today we, the parents, whose children started to study remotely, found ourselves in a similar situation: here it is, a new reality, how long it will last we don’t know, it is useless to continue pretending that it is possible to live in this reality, while using familiar tools and methods, and maintaining the volume of knowledge and effectiveness of learning. It is useless. So, it’s time to build a new life, preserving the most important thing: our health, psyche, and relationships.

Therefore, Pravmir.ru is ready to become a platform for discussion of these problems by teachers, school directors, education leaders, and parents. Pravmir.ru invites them to talk about what new form of distance education has opened for people and how parents can support their children under these conditions.

Today, Irina Alekseevna Petrushchenkova, an English teacher at the Gymnasium of the Moscow State University and School No. 1535, spoke about this.

Distance Learning and Education Problems

Irina Alekseevna Petrushchenkova

I believe that distance learning brought to light all the unresolved problems that existed at that time in education (and added new ones, of course): senseless attempts to totally control everyone, including those who do not need to be controlled, unwillingness to revise programs and schedules (because, obviously, it’s all temporarily), the inability of teachers (in particular, due to their lack of time) to adapt to new conditions, the lack of independence of teenagers and their inability to study, and the lack of trust between children and their parents…

In my opinion, it is essential to help those who ask for help and need it, but not everyone at random. There are teachers who have adjusted the remote learning process, as it is convenient for them, and they do not need help.

But for some reason the Department of Education suddenly decided to help everyone with the Microsoft Teams platform, which is not fully developed, at least in combination with the school’s record book.

Imagine an old woman standing on this side of the road, because she has business there, but suddenly people come to her and say, “Let me help you cross the road.” She replies, “Thank you, but I have nothing to do there, I don’t need to go there.” “No, you will definitely be better there,” they tell her and drag her across the road. So now this old woman stands there and does not know what to do there, and those who dragged her to the other side do not know what to do with her either. This is the kind of situation Russian teachers find themselves in: they have more or less established a whole system for themselves, but now they are forced to work in another system.”

Why Microsoft Teams Isn’t Right for Me

In ‘peaceful time’, as an English teacher, I gave a lot of additional materials. Now I just stopped giving extra materials and adjust to the schedule. A foreign language is a fairly flexible subject in this regard. So we have time for everything, and not due to the fact that we give the children too much, but because we do not give something. For example, we will not read some text, what’s the harm?

Microsoft Teams is front-end only. It turns out that you have a group sitting, and you have responses in turn, so each individual child speaks very little during the lesson, because there is no time. I need a pair work, and it is not so important what they say there: if they speak a foreign language, the language remains with them. In ZOOM there is such an opportunity, there they communicate more.

As an English teacher, this platform is not suitable for me. I refused it, because if the children do not communicate, they forget the language very quickly. After two lessons, I asked the children, “So, what do you think?” They said, “No, let’s go back to ZOOM.” We returned to ZOOM, and so far no one pushes me and forces me to use what is inconvenient for me.

Another great tool for organizing learning is Google Classroom. You can upload homework there, children attach their work in one place, instead of sending it to different chat rooms in WhatsApp, etc. This saves a lot of nerves for both the teacher and the child. Everyone needs certainty. Google Classroom is a solid tool in this regard. My students and I have established a system there, they attach homework to each lesson there. I do not check everything there, but I check the presence of the completed tasks, and then we discuss it all during the lesson.

And this system suits me, but Microsoft Teams does not yet. But in any case, one needs a flexible attitude towards the choice of platforms for work, and if the process is more or less smooth, there is no need to force teachers to choose one tool.

In order to make full-fledged distance education, you have to sit for several months and think about how to build it, and not like this, ‘hey, guys, let’s switch to the distance learning tomorrow’.”

Thinking, looking for solutions, making tools, and not testing it on children, as it is now.

Microsoft Teams is not performing well today, but it might work better tomorrow.” Guys, if it does not work well today, it means you don’t need to use it, you don’t need to stress the children and demotivate them.”

Many people dislike Moscow Electronic School (MES) materials

Some schools are forced to attach MES materials to assignments. From my point of view, these are not always high-quality materials.

It’s easier for me to do an exercise in Google Forms in 10 minutes than to find what works for me in the MES. Maybe there is something good there, but finding it takes a lot of effort.

But everyone is silent, and the situation remains the same. This is called “the mice pricked themselves and cried, but they still ate the cactus”: the parents see that their children are doing some nonsense in the MES, post it all on social networks and discuss it with others, but do not go to the director in order to change it.

Here, too, I believe that parents should be more active. If they do not like the tasks that their child performs at the MES, let them try to convey this position to someone, especially since these tasks, again, involve working on a computer, and I do not understand at all where the logic is: on the one hand, we are told that children need to use the Internet less, and on the other hand, they are forced to do it more.”

If there is too much homework, tell the teacher about it.

I believe that the position that “all of this is just temporary, it is not for long” is very shaky and unsafe. And cutting the tail in parts, that is, extending distance learning once every two weeks [due to the pandemic – Tr], instead of immediately admitting that this is for a long time is worse than the sad certainty.

After all, if starting from early autumn, it was clear that this form is going to last for at least half of the academic year, it would be necessary to urgently revise the programs and the requirements. But this, unfortunately, did not happen.

As a result, everyone is trying to study as if everything remains the same and literally tomorrow we will leave the remote form and get back to normal. But this is not the case, and it is impossible to fit a standard program into the possibilities of distance learning without special training and tools. As a result, children are overwhelmed, and the learning efficiency is often lower than usual.

And I do not really understand the parents, whose children are now hunched over their computers from morning till night and lose their sight. Relatively speaking, the problems of your children with their health will then be solved by you, the parents, and not by us, the teachers. And now you are the one to prioritize.

What practical steps are you taking to keep your children healthy? You can say as much as you like that none of the teachers thinks about the children’s eyes and back, but are you ready to talk constructively about this with the teachers and school administrators? With the Department of Education?

If, for example, a child is doing an assignment in Russian for three hours, then the parents should call and tell the teacher about it. Everyone needs to cooperate now. Ideally, if a child says: “Mom, I can’t finish my homework,” she won’t do it instead of her son or daughter, but will tell the teacher: “This is too much for us.”

In general, according to the norms, we cannot ask children to do more than we discussed during the lesson.

If the child does his homework longer than the lesson lasts, something is wrong.

Maybe it’s time to get back to the norms now? But parents are afraid to raise this topic, they do not want to provoke a conflict, although I would be more worried about their child’s eyesight and spine.”

Wisdom is expected from teachers, but it is hard for them too

It seems to me that now we definitely need some kind of feedback, constantly. You can’t expect everything to work out by itself.

Now everyone is at a loss, including the teachers. But they are expected to have a solid understanding of how it should be, as well as to have tolerance, wisdom, flexibility, knowledge of what happens to each child, and so on.

I always find it funny when society requires teachers to be heavenly angels, moreover, charismatic, erudite and versatile. In these situations, I always want to ask, “What do you think, how many such people are there in general in a society in percentage terms?” The same number are among teachers.

It can be very offensive to read something like “how will they compensate us for the lack of knowledge?” and “because of them, children sit at the computer for the whole day.” I am very interested in why teachers should compensate someone for something, bear an increased load and double responsibility and be guilty of something? After all, we are not in the best position together, and there is no need to look for the guilty. COVID-19 is to blame.

This is unpleasant, but on average people are very consumerist about teachers. It was like this before the epidemic, but now it is especially noticeable.”

Support Your Child

Parents need to understand that this year children will receive less knowledge than usual. Although, I’m sure, if you ask your parents if they are ready for this, almost everyone will answer: “No.”

But look at your child, at his condition and make a decision for yourself. In an effort to pass the program under these conditions, some teachers now give a lot of homework, and children have to do it. I believe this is wrong, because schoolchildren must still walk, move, communicate and rest their eyes from the screen. Their health is the main thing.

And it is certainly not the time to fight for high performance and get into an accusing position. Indeed, in any situation, not only with distance learning, the child must understand that he has a safe haven – his family. This is even more important today than before.

I have already said that in today’s situation all the shortcomings of the education system have come to light, with which earlier it was possible to exist at least. But the same can be said about parent and child relationships: now is the time when they can significantly ruin your life.

After all, if earlier the parent and child (teenager!) relationships were reduced to a joint dinner in the evening and some conflicts simply did not have time to develop, now many families spend the whole day in the same apartment and can no longer stand each other. And they should think: why is this happening, what have they missed?

And if you used to automatically take the side of the school, because it knew better how education had to be, now it does not know, and the child needs to be protected.”

If schools open, teachers will get sick and die

Some parents are against distance education in general and want to return to the previous form of education. But this is not a solution to the problem.

The coronavirus has not gone anywhere, the situation with the incidence is now really difficult. Teachers work with a large number of people who can actually infect them. There are many elderly people with chronic diseases among the teachers. If schools open now, teachers will get ill, and it is quite possible that some of them will die. These parents, who are protesting, are they ready to take this sin on their souls?

We have an opportunity to study remotely. Another thing is that the system has not been worked out. It was impossible to prepare for the distance education in the spring. But it would have passed easier if we all worked together on the problems in our school education.

A year ago my colleagues and I talked about the fact that we, adults, haven’t taught children the most important thing: to study, to seek information, and to be independent. This is very bad.

The funny thing is that the current situation suggests that parents are also not very independent, because almost all outraged parental cries boil down to “when will they give us?…”. It seems to me that everyone should come to terms: in the near future we will not be given anything of what we want.

Now there are a lot of sources of information. Children can perfectly search for something themselves. But for this they must have some degree of freedom, because if they have to constantly sit from morning till night and do some tasks, when will they have time to do this?

Parents definitely need to intervene, and to start with small things that do not suit them, with some specific things, with little things, and not immediately demand the global and the impossible. Perhaps this is a more difficult path than going to rallies against the distant education. This story does not require any responsibility from the parents.

I believe that distance education is necessary now, because it is better than no education.”

Translated by pravmir.com

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