How do online lessons impact teacher-student relationships?
Updated: Dec 10, 2022
by Joanne Chang (Founder of Owl Academy)
In the course of my teaching career, I have mentored and counselled many troubled and depressed teens. I wish the previous statement isn't true but if you were to ask anyone who has been teaching for many years, they would say the same. I see this role as one of the most, if not the most, important ones I play as a teacher.
Occasionally, my students have told me straight up that they need help with personal issues, purportedly in the form of advice but if I listen closely enough, many just want to be heard. In the recent year and a half, many lessons have gone virtual and parents are concerned that this means teachers cannot form strong bonds with their students. I understand the reasoning behind this concern because the onus then falls on the teacher to go the extra mile to connect with students. However, if done right, our bonds with students can actually grow even stronger.
Why is it that online lessons can help teenage students engage more with not just the lessons but also their teachers?
With outspoken students, you can transplant them anywhere, even Mars, and I'm sure they'll still speak up. With reserved students, however, speaking in front of a group is nerve-racking, and that deters them from participating actively in class discussions.
The teenagers of today were born digital natives. No matter their disposition, they are comfortable with the use of digital devices, the mobile phone especially. What this translates to is greater participation in online lessons from reserved students. If teachers are flexible and allow these students to begin with typing their responses in the chat window instead of forcing the students to verbalise them, you'd be surprised how different these students can be. As the students grow accustomed to expressing themselves via text messages in front of a regular audience, the teacher can gradually step up expectations until the students are confident verbalising their ideas. Is this pure conjecture? No, I speak from experience.
Last year, when lessons first moved online due to the circuit breaker, I was extra worried about my shy students. I was afraid that they'd be lost in the shuffle and that I might not be able to draw them out of their shells on a virtual platform. What happened next was a really pleasant surprise. They started volunteering not just the answers to my questions but also their opinions! They were heard. They were included. They were appreciated.
Something else happened...
As I was concerned about how all the drastic changes caused by the pandemic would impact my students' mental and emotional well-being, I sought more opportunities to discuss ways to cope with life's challenges alongside the lesson content for the week and encouraged them to reach out to me if they needed someone to lean on.
I started receiving emails, some very long ones, from students who were feeling stressed, troubled, distressed, isolated and depressed. When the world was still normal, I did receive requests for guidance but nothing like this. Small wonder given that teenagers often feel more assured expressing their emotions from behind a screen. It is less daunting for them. As we can surely empathise, opening up is sometimes difficult to do even to someone we trust and have great affection for.
Ultimately, my experiences teaching online for this extended length of time have convinced me that online lessons work to not just benefit students academically but non-academically as well. With higher student engagement, students are more focused during lessons and realise their inputs are cherished by their teachers and peers. This leads to better academic and social-emotional outcomes. The virtual platform is a powerful tool teachers can wield to reach out to students of diverse dispositions, be they outspoken or reserved by nature. I believe that online lessons are the way forward for learners in many areas of learning.
* The caveat is that students with learning differences (e.g. ADHD) in the moderate to severe range work better in a physical classroom setting unless closely supervised by someone who is physically present with them.
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An introverted viewer of the video typed:
"I like online classes actually. Because of online classes, all my grades are A+ now."