“Hey Joe, I wanted to remind you that starting next Monday you will be expected to teach from home. The lesson material is in your inbox along with the list of pupils that are expected to follow them. We are sure it will take some adjustments, but we trust that by working together we can make the best of the current situation. If you have any questions, feel free to let us know.”
Basically, that is the scenario many teachers across the globe have found themselves in—or are about to find themselves in—because of the broad shelter-in-place orders now in effect to limit the spread of coronavirus. And we still don't know how long this could all last. In fact, teaching from home might become a part of the new normal when the new school year starts after the summer.
We have covered some of the perils that come with working from home but teaching from home poses some extra hurdles. Not only are you entertaining a demanding audience, you are working with sensitive data about children. As indicated, we have already handed our readers some general tips for working from home (WFH), but collaborating with co-workers and teaching children are two different beasts altogether. Let us go over some pointers that are specific for teaching from home.
Get your house prepped for video calls
You probably already know that there are some children in your class that notice everything, especially if it is outside of the scope of the lesson. To limit the number of distractions you can:
- Take a good look at the background. Is there anything that could possibly get more attention than the subject at hand? In some of the software packages you can choose a virtual background if you would rather not display your real surroundings.
- Make sure everyone in your household knows when not to disturb you. Ideally you’ll be in a separate room with a warning sign at the door when you are working, so the people in your household know when not to burst in.
Optimize your lessons
Teaching from home is a different craft then teaching in front of the class, but you probably already knew that. Some things you can use to your advantage when working from home:
- Stream what you can. You can broadcast or upload a prepared lesson or part thereof. After viewing you can discuss it with the students. It relieves the stress of “performing live” and it’s easier on your internet connection since it uses less bandwidth than a conference call.
- Don’t go overboard with the prepared lessons. Your students learn more when they are part of a discussion or otherwise engaged in the subject matter.
- Virtual classes, virtual breaks. It is easy to forget that your students need a break now and then just as they would in the real life classroom, but allowing them to move away from the computer will cause disruptions that are longer then you intended. Show some funny video or discuss a lighthearted theme as a virtual break.
Adjust your teaching to the circumstances
Decide on the most important learning goals as you may not achieve all the goals you would have reached by teaching in person and strive to at least meet those minimum requirements. Everything extra should be considered a bonus.
Looking after individual students that are falling behind is harder when you are teaching from home. The direct human contact is an important factor in how well we are able to pick up whether a student is struggling. And it’s hard be patient rather than telling them what the answer is because we have at least 20 other students that need our help as well. Encourage those that are struggling and give them the time to come up with their own answers.
Teaching from home: technology
It is not very likely that you will have the luxury of choosing your own tools and software. Chances are you will have to make do with what you get.
Familiarize yourself with the technology before you jump in at the deep end. Utilizing the teaching tools could become a nightmare if you have to figure out how everything works on the fly.
Once you are familiar with the software and hardware it is a lot easier to take advantage of the things the technology has to offer.
Teaching from home: privacy and compliance
It is hard to give general guidelines when it comes to aligning with all the different privacy and compliance guidelines. In some countries it would be against privacy regulations if students can hear their classmates in a video conference call, even if they are asking a question about the lessons. Make sure you are aware of your local rules and regulations, so you don’t get caught off-guard.
Handle data and access with care
The key here is to avoid unauthorized views of confidential information. Here are a few ways to shore up physical security while WFH:
- If you need to leave your home for supplies or other reasons, make sure your work devices are inaccessible.
- Should you be living with a roommate or young children, be sure to lock your computer even when you step away for just a bit. Don’t tempt others in your household by leaving information accessible. This is true even for the workplace, so it is imperative for WFH.
- If you can’t carve out a separate workspace in your home, be sure to collect your devices at the end of your workday and store them someplace out of sight.
- Access to a computer’s desktop should at least be password protected, and the password should be strong. Even if the entire machine is stolen, a strong, mandatory password will keep the thief from easily accessing sensitive school information.
- Encryption also helps protect information on stolen or compromised computers. Check whether data encryption is active on your work machine. Not sure? Ask your IT department whether you have it, and if they think it’s necessary.
- If you’re connecting your work computer to your home network, make sure you don’t make it visible to other computers in the network. If you have to add it to the HomeGroup, then make sure the option to share files is off.
- Secure your home Wi-Fi with a strong password and do the same for access to the settings on your home router. Be sure to change the default password it came with!
Teaching from home: security
Whether you are going to use your own laptop or one provided by your school, make sure to keep the data safe. It is important to realize that you will likely be storing sensitive information about your students on a system that is connected to your home network and maybe even on your personal device.
And last but not least, familiarize yourself with the security settings of the software you are going to use. We have an extensive guide for Zoom that can also serve as a set of directions for other similar software packages. You definitely don’t want your classes to be interrupted by Zoombombers.
Stay safe, everyone!