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The Most Effective Tool in Your Teacher’s Toolbox for Teaching During a Pandemic

Why empathy and understanding is crucial to helping students succeed during virtual education in the current pandemic

Empathy While Teaching Online

During this pandemic, almost everyone’s life has changed. Although everyone is impacted in a different way, one of the common threads has been the change in education.

I teach English to students in China. Midway through January, I saw them begin to undergo this change. Their brick and mortar schools were closed; eventually, many transitioned to online education.

I teach these kids on an online platform – they’re pretty familiar with learning in an online setting. But, after weeks turned into months, there were some definite changes in my students.

Some had difficulty learning or concentrating. Some (even “star” students) had an increase in mild behavior issues. Multiple students complained about their online classes. They were frustrated with what their life and education had become.

Now, many schools in the US have followed suit. A few days ago, my state announced the brick and mortar schools would remain closed for the duration of the school year. Teachers must now also figure out ways to not only provide review and enrichment but also to teach new concepts.

The requirements for students, teachers, and parents are constantly changing. But the one thing everyone needs in this time of uncertainty and constant change is empathy and understanding.

For Students

Your students are grieving. They are grieving the loss of their regular life. They cannot go outside and play. They cannot see their friends. Some of them are losing milestone moments: graduation, prom. They have probably never experienced something as lifechanging as this situation.

Some people have tried to compare this generation’s loss to other generations’ losses. No, they’re not being shipped off to war. That doesn’t mean their situation is unimportant. Let them grieve. Show them that you understand what they are going through. It’s important that they feel acknowledged and heard. Don’t just dismiss their feelings.

The way they learn is changing rapidly. They may know how to be successful in the classroom. They may not have fully developed the skills to be successful in the online classroom. Even adult learners struggle with online learning sometimes.

As a teacher, you design each lesson to meet the needs of a diverse group of learners. In a classroom, you can incorporate different modalities of learning. This can be more difficult to do in an online setting. Do your best. But understand that your students may not do as well as easily. They may struggle simply because of this change in learning.

They may also face less support than at other times. The school is a support system for many students. With them being at home, that support system is a little different. Parents are trying their best. But, they may not be able to give their full attention during their children’s schoolwork. These kids may also face a difficult home life every day. Being constantly stuck in that situation can be detrimental in many ways.

Be understanding of their need for support and possible lack of it.

For Parents

Ideally, parents would be able to keep on top of their kids while they complete online education. They would ensure the student completes all tasks and provides support for their school work. That’s not always feasible during the world situation.

Parents are also facing great uncertainty. They are having difficulty helping their children learn.

They may have lost their job or have seen a decrease in income. This can lead to worry and stress that unfortunately can affect their children.

Or maybe they have a job, but they are an essential worker – scared of putting their child at risk and maybe not present when the child is learning.

Even in better situations, parents just can’t do it. If you’re working from home, it’s hard to do that and help your child with their work. If you have multiple children, it gets even harder. You may even be in this situation as both a parent and a teacher.

Remember to have empathy for the parents too. They’re doing their best, but it’s hard.

For Yourself and Your Coworkers

You need to give yourself some grace in this situation too.

This whole thing is new. This is probably not what you were trained for or what you have experience in. At minimum, it’s different and rapidly changing.

Take everything step by step. Figure out what you need to meet your students’ needs as best as possible. Look for resources and learn along the way. Share what you find out and ask for help when you need it. You don’t need to be perfect right off the bat. You’ll figure out what works and what doesn’t.

Have empathy and understanding with your students, their parents, your coworkers, and yourself. We’re all in this together and understanding each other will make it easier.

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