By Joe Rector

Virtual learning is in full use now. From elementary school to college, students are adapting to this new style of education. Some students and parents like the system while others declare it’s the worst possible solution for educating the young while Covid-19 rages. Schools and systems counter that each student has a choice between this new presentation of material and the well-worn classroom setting. With the number of pandemic cases and deaths surging, I’m not so sure the classroom is the safest place for a child, regardless of what politicians say.
As a student, I’m sure my successes in a virtual setting would have been limited. Back in the day, my best learning came through visual sources. Memorizing the multiplication tables or spelling words or some poem came easier when I could see those things. It was as though the material poured out through my left hand and into the pencil I used. Then I saw it and took a mental picture of it until those numbers or words were clearly in focus in my mind.
Is it possible to visually learn in virtual classrooms? Do students make a connection with a room in which they aren’t present? I have no doubt that in today’s world I would have been diagnosed with ADHD. I never could sit still, and my attention span was less than a few seconds. Looking at the blackboard and copying material from it helped to keep me focused. It also gave me material to review that was personally written. I’d have never made it if teachers passed out endless handouts and presented mind-numbing powerpoint slides.
Over the past months, I’ve watched Stephen Colbert, Jimmy Fallon, and Bill Maher virtual shows. They have struggled mightily to be funny. The fact is that they need audiences to give feedback. Without them, jokes fall flat, and the comedians’ timings are off. At times, the lack of folks laughing makes for painful shows and monologues.
My success would have been terrible as a virtual teacher. I’ve always declared that many teachers are frustrated actors or entertainers. We, too, require audiences to perform our best. The most rewarding thing about teaching is the interactions with students. Watching as they finally grasp a concept or as they develop their own voices in a discussion of a topic is best done in person. I also would struggle with a virtual classroom because it’s static. My style always included movement.
Walking back and forth in front of the classroom or between aisles felt natural. Standing still and reading notes without ad-libbing would have bored students and me as well. As I’ve said before, I’m old school. That goes for teaching classes as well. Nothing was better than a whiteboard and a new dry erase marker.
Students shouldn’t have to lose the most important part of education: socialization. A person might be a brilliant mathematician, but his life won’t be complete if he has no idea how to get along with other people. Perhaps in the new year, we Americans will be wiser and will do the things necessary to end this plague. Until a vaccine is available, the best we can do is wear a mask.
Help your children as much as possible in school. If nothing else, discover just how much more difficult it is now as compared to when you were in a classroom. Insist that they finish all work before moving to video games or outside activities. Most of all, talk with them and listen to them. This whole situation is worse for them. The effects might well last for the rest of their lives. Hang in there, folks. We can get through this.