How might teachers better serve students when they don’t want to turn their cameras on? Today on the show, I talk to three teachers about their wins and challenges with this aspect of virtual learning. I’m your host Celeste Kirsh and We are Teaching Tomorrow. 


I can’t quite pin down what has been the hardest part of online teaching this year. Some things that come to mind:

  • Hearing my children scream from downstairs while I try to pretend like everything is normal when I’m teaching my students
  • Not feeling like I have the time I need to be the teacher I am used to being
  • All the sitting and time in front of a screen
  • Missing my work friends and the doses of connection, whimsy, and stimulation


But something that I keep coming back to is teaching to a screen of icons. Making jokes and hearing nothing. Asking a student a question and getting radio silence. 


As a podcaster, I am used to just talking into a screen and getting a very delayed and sometimes non-existent response. But this is different. 


When people say that teachers have radically transformed how we do our jobs, this is a huge part of it. It’s not just learning new tech tools and relying less on delivering content either! Many of us became teachers because we thrive off relationships, making connections with students, getting through to the hard to reach young people, and building community. We are now trying to do all those things when we can’t see our students or often even hear them! How do you build community when you can’t experience other human beings? 


I wanted to talk to some people about how they are fairing with having their students turn on their cameras to help comfort myself to know that I’m not alone, to get some ideas for how I might get better at this myself, but also to contemplate what is actually going on here. 


You might be thinking that isn’t the best question to ask at this time.

There are for sure more important concerns we should be figuring out in regards to virtual learning. 

Many people might have come to the opinion that nobody should be turning on their cameras right now (not even teachers!) and it’s oppressive to even think about asking students. 


But I do believe that this deserves some investigation. 


Signs are pointing to some form of hybrid learning being a thing next year in Ontario and whether we like it or not, some students will be learning at home in front of their screens. So even if everyone is vaccinated by Fall 2021 (fingers crossed), we are not going back to “normal”.


Students keeping their cameras off, despite teacher, parent, and admin encouragement and the despite availability of concealed backgrounds should be telling us something: Is this a sign of deeper student unwellness? Is this a way of our students exerting some form of control in this terrible situation that nobody asked for? Are we asking too much of our students from a developmental lens that needs significant tech updating to better suit the age and stage of our learners? Or in the lead up to distance learning have  we completely missed what fosters truly engaged learners rather than compliant and obedient ones? 


As TESS WILKINSON-RYAN writes in her September 2020 article in the Atlantic, “The system does not work without their cooperation, and educators who want to meet students halfway need to understand what is happening to them.”


We are not going to fully understand what is happening to our students in the span of this podcast episode. The impacts of what is happening right now in education are going to be felt for a very long time. But I want to look at these questions in the hopes that we might find something new or better know what is actually happening here to learn, to grow, and to make school better for our students even when not mitigate by a screen.


I was able to talk to a few teachers about this and their experiences varied. Some have had classes and days that they got all their students to turn their cameras on without any prompting, persuading, or pleading…and others teachers have gotten very little buy in and their victories were few and scattered.

To listen to the full episode, click on the Soundcloud link.

Stuff Mentioned in the Show:


About the Author
Passionate and curious about technology, smiles, special education, differentiated instruction, forests, graphic novels, accessibility, anti-oppression, and warm beverages. Can often be found laughing with young people and improvising songs on the spot. @teach_tomorrow

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