Lambton teachers say at home learning has been an ‘steep uphill climb’ for everyone

    Kaden Fulcher talks with students at Lambton Centennial School.

    It’s 10:30 and little faces are still popping up on the screen.

    The Grade 5/6 class from Lambton Centennial School is getting together virtually to hear from local hockey star Kaden Fulcher. It’s just one of the guests teachers Steve McGrail and Nicole Urbanowicz have lined up to engage their students as they learn at home. Engaging the kids seems to be a tough task. Some students are ready to listen others are texting friends through the video conferencing program. Some are still in pyjamas.

    The province asked school boards to pivot to at home learning in early May. This week, Education Minister Stephen Lecce is set to announce whether students will return to school or continue their online adventure. McGrail says the at-home learning forced upon them by the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic has been challenging.

    “It’s been a steep uphill climb, not only for teachers but parents and the kids at home.”
    McGrail says there are internet issues which mean some students have good service and others have problems dialing in. Everyone is using different devices – from phones to iPads – making it difficult to give tech help when needed. “It’s a huge learning curve for everyone to get around.”

    McGrail and Urbanowicz says it took most people a month to get the hang of the online platforms.

    “This has been basically brand new,” says Urbanowicz. And for teachers, it has been labour intensive. “I’m normally half time; now I;m working all day, talking to the kids, marking their work; it is definitely different.”

    McGrail agrees. “It never stops; you have to tell yourself; ‘Okay, I’m done for the day.”
    Often teachers work into the evening because that’s when the students can be online. With some parents working from home, their classroom work has to be done after parent’s paid work is complete.

    “Some kids can’t make it because they can’t get connected because mom is on the computer,” Urbanowicz says. Often, students with poor internet link in only to be “booted off” again.

    Aside from the technology and timing issues, McGrail says students simply aren’t as engaged when class is online. “The first week the kids weren’t very talkative – you would say something and it would be crickets.”

    That’s why the teaching duo has been bringing in guests to capture the student’s attention.

    McGrail says some students have been excelling with the at home learning, completing all the tasks set out for them. Others, the kids who like school because they can be with their friends, are having a tough time. “A lot of kids are social and they need that face-to-face and one-on-one,” he says.

    “Certain kids you know are struggling; they will just hang around to chat when the class ends,” says Urbanowicz. “They’re having a tough time being home every day, all day.”
    And others are home alone while parents work which means McGrail and Urbanowicz are sometimes calling to see if they’ll be joining the class.

    Before COVID-19 moved learning online, the education minister was pushing the idea during contract negotiations. McGrail and Urbanowicz says the at-home learning is showing there are real weaknesses. But both feel it could benefit some students.

    “There is a place for it,” says McGrail “and there is a certain type of student that could handle it, but it doesn’t replace in class instruction. It’s not nearly as good as what we can provide in the classroom.”

    “The social aspect is still so key for those kids as they’re growing up,” says Urbanowicz noting even when it is done in other jurisdictions, online is only part of the class.
    “Full online learning is not good for anyone.”