Hybrid Instruction Is An Absolute Mess
I tell one student to put their phone away. I tell another who has his head down to wake up. On the computer, I have to specify I’m talking to one student instead of another, but of whom look up when I say their similar-sounding names. The wi-fi drops and I get kicked out of Zoom. Students tell me I’m frozen and they can’t hear me. We spend the next 10 minutes figuring out how to get back on Zoom to not waste instructional time.
Welcome, my friends, to a day of hybrid instruction.
I don’t mind teaching fully in-person, and I don’t mind teaching fully virtual. But having the expectation for teachers to do both is crazy. And the guidance for what constitutes hybrid instruction is changing rapidly as CDC and public health guidelines change. Teaching in person and teaching virtually at the same time means I walk around the room checking on my students in person, making sure they’re on task and giving them much-needed support. However, this compromises the quality of instruction and the help each student attending virtually receives.
My state is pushing for the option for full-in-person classes this fall, as well as maintaining a virtual option. But the fact that there’s an option means many students will come in person, while others will remain virtual. I am all for giving students and families choices for what works best for them during this tumultuous time, especially students and parents with health concerns.
But I am also for a division of labor — having teachers teach in-person and virtual, simultaneously, is an unfair ask and asking for miracles, and not fair to students either. In-person and virtual students are not getting the attention and quality instruction they need from a teacher who has to juggle a hundred things. Lola Duffort says “hybrid learning is less effective and twice the work,” a sentiment I completely resonate with. In the classroom, this means teachers have to engage in a million responsibilities.
For me, hybrid has been a nightmare. It’s asking me to be simultaneously in charge of classroom management and virtual learning. I can’t imagine what it’s like for my colleagues at the middle and elementary school level, but imagine what it’s like to make kids behave and learn in person, as well as making sure kids on the computer get the best education possible. Yeah, it’s pretty much impossible.
Even if you think teacher’s unions have been overplaying their hands and have been a huge barrier to reopening schools (I disagree, but I think it’s a valid complaint), hybrid instruction does no justice to students either. Every class period, I have to leave the computer to give attention to the kids in person who need more help. This means the kids on their computers are getting lower-quality instruction. This also means the kids in person are getting lower-quality instruction.
Hybrid instruction might seem like a good compromise, but it is not. Yes, there is a minority of students who benefit from virtual learning. They should most certainly get the option to keep doing virtual if needed, and in this next school year of transition during the pandemic, school systems will have a lot of pressure to be flexible and accommodate preferences.
But hybrid instruction is not the solution. Teachers should be either all-in on virtual learning or all-in on in-person learning to do the biggest service to students. Having the division of labor means students have teachers fully committed to giving them the most support and attention. According to Daniel Zweig at WIRED, hybrid instruction has been the most dangerous. Despite public health concerns ameliorating with an increasing rate of vaccinations, hybrid instruction is seen as the best possible middle ground.
One principal in Oakland says remote learning is “[not] the best way,” but a barrier to the division of labor is not having enough staff members to include fully remote teachers and workers.
So what’s the solution? Bree Dusseault at the University of Washington Center for Reinventing Public Education says hybrid teaching can be “a best of both worlds, or a worst of both realities.” With more families of color opting to keep their kids fully remote, what schools need to address the opportunity and equity gap is more resources and funding for full-time virtual teachers and full-time in-person teachers. Otherwise, the exacerbating educational gaps from the pandemic will only get worse.