Staying sane while teaching virtually

Almost every week for the last 2 years, I’ve been teaching in a live virtual classroom. Here are some things I’ve learned.

  • Test your equipment ahead of time

Obviously you’ve already tested the software and hardware to see if you can use it all and where the buttons are. That’s not what I mean. I’m saying that you should really know what it’s like to be on camera, to see yourself on camera while you’re speaking. It’s not at all like speaking in an in-person classroom.

You may feel self-conscious if you don’t often see yourself talk. It’s like when you see a video of yourself. (I don’t sound like that, do I?) It’ll feel awkward in the beginning, like you’re talking to yourself. You might notice yourself saying something or doing something repeatedly, which might make you to feel more stressed, which could cause you to do that thing even more, which’ll make you more stressed, and …. If you feel yourself going there, you have to take a breath and calm down. Slow your speech. Take a break.

You may not be able to see your students’ faces or their reaction to what you’re saying. Even when you ask them to react in the chat most of them likely will not. You don’t know if you’re talking to yourself or to students who are really paying attention but too shy to type anything in the chat. This is very different from an in-person classroom where non-verbal communication speaks volumes.

Try getting a reaction from students relatively frequently. “Give me a plus if that makes sense and you’re ready to move on. Give me a minus if you want me to explain it again.” Don’t give them the third option of abstention. It won’t be a substitute to seeing their eyes light up, but it might help a bit.

  • Have a “going to work” ritual

Even if you’re teaching from home, get showered and dressed as you would if you were going to campus. Go get a coffee, if that’s something you used to do every day. You need to psych yourself up before teaching. You may not think you need to do this, but it’ll make a difference in your level of concentration. You need to create some artificial signal so you can leave your “home stuff” at the door and get into prof mode before going on screen.

  • Take frequent breaks and move around

Ever see a student pass out while you’re teaching? It’s annoying because they fell asleep while you were looking right at them. Well, with nobody looking at them, it’s a lot easier for them to drift off to dreamland or get distracted. Virtual classes require more mental breaks than in-person classes. You’ll need to work that into your teaching.

And when you take those breaks, YOU (and the students too) should get up and stretch, walk around. Don’t just sit through the break even if you have some emails to check. They can wait. You’re used to teaching while standing at a podium or walking around. Your physical body exerts energy to be able to do that, blood is rushing and moving oxygen. It will make a difference in the way you speak and think.

  • Make time to chat with your colleagues

If you’re used to making small talk with the administrative staff or catching up with friends in the mail room, you’re more social that you may give yourself credit for. And it’s going to be important to continue to maintain some of that social life to keep yourself happy. You may not feel it in the first 2 or 3 weeks. But sooner than later, you may find your anxiety levels increase, your ability to focus decrease, or other mild symptoms of depression start to appear. Schedule online tea time with some of your colleagues at least once a week so you can meet your social quota for the week.

  • Don’t forget we’re ALL going through this

And finally, as difficult as it is for you to get through this transition, it’s no cake walk for your students either. They need to keep their sanity as well. READ THIS BLOG and remember that we’re all under a lot of stress right now.

Also, you may think that being extra flexible is showing kindness or understanding to your students. It may not work out that way for some students. In this confusing time, I suggest that you not give them more options, more uncertainty. Set well-defined boundaries so that at least this part of their life has stability. Any student who cannot fulfill any part of your requirements will come to you in private, as usual, and you may show mercy to them then on a case-by-case basis.

There are many sources being shared for how to deliver an online course. Read them, learn from them. Here, I want to emphasize that it’s important to take care of yourself, too, now. There are others who will surely benefit from your guidance.