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'I'm a teacher and my students are unmotivated and apathetic. I blame remote learning.'

I am seeing a crisis with my Year 8 language class, and I blame remote learning

I am a secondary school teacher, teaching in an independent P-12 setting in Victoria. My area is foreign languages.

There was a lot of press last year about the effects of remote learning on Year 12 students during the lockdowns that Australia, particularly Melbourne, experienced. 

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However, as someone who is teaching in 2021, I think a significant and somewhat overlooked impact was had on students between Grades 5 to Year 8. 

My remote learning experience, as a teacher, was fairly positive. 

I had language classes at a range of year levels between Grade 5 and VCE, and students took to the online model of schooling with differing levels of success. 

I found that with senior secondary students there was generally a level of maturity and self-motivation that enabled them to stay on track. 

Two of my classes were working ahead of schedule, without the regular interruptions of the school year. 

Yes, there were days where students would look flat and sad, even evident through the grainy thumbnail of their face on my screen. 

However, having conversations one-to-one with my senior homeroom, there were many students who actually really enjoyed the online model and were not just surviving, but thriving. 

The Year 12s missed out on a number of experiences- their last athletics carnival, their valedictory dinner- but I think that they managed the year quite well in a number of cases. 

I was happy to receive emails earlier this year from graduates of 2020 letting me know of the courses they had gained entry to.

Fast forward to February 2021.

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I have a class of Year 8 students in front of me. As I go through pre-testing in the first few weeks, I can see where remote learning has fallen down. 

The students in front of me are unmotivated, apathetic and struggling. I am trying my best to enthuse them, but there are significant gaps in knowledge, and they seem to have given up before we have even started.

My theory is that these students logged on during remote learning, but were passive. 

Unless asked specifically to submit something, they were watching (or half-watching) lessons and not engaging at all. 

They returned to school in Term 4, and with exams not weighted as much as usual, they were able to fly under the radar.

This is through no fault of the student, parent, and to an extent, the teacher either. 

Year 7s of 2020- new to secondary school, some of them new to homework, still trying to find their social groups- did not have the maturity to be able to self-motivate during the nearly two full terms at home. 

Parents could check in, see their child is staring at a screen and assume the child is on task. 

However, with phones within reaching distance, how could they possibly stay engaged for a whole lesson without being asked to contribute something? 

As a university student, I struggled to watch online lectures without getting distracted by what was happening at home. What chance did a 12-year-old have?

On my end, I tried a number of different techniques to engage students in 2020. 

We did Google forms, Kahoots (online quizzes), typing in the chat, breakout rooms, submitting written work via our school LMS and various other ways to get involved. 

But there were still students who didn’t- wouldn’t, couldn’t- engage. Remote learning required students to be active, but the ones who remained passive have struggled to progress.

I hope that the teachers of 2021 are trying their best with our Years 8s, and other affected students. These students deserve a fresh start, and teachers who recognise the struggles of 2020 and who believe in them.

Annie is a language teacher in Victoria. She loves travel (well, used to), eating out and social netball. She's desperately trying to reduce the screen time on her phone.

Feature Image: Getty.