COVID-19 has left school districts scrambling to provide education and keep kids safe since March. The worldwide pandemic shut down in-person classes for the end of the 2019-2020 school year, and districts worked all summer to come up with a plan for 2020-21.

Those plans have varied from district to district and state to state, ranging from all virtual to all in-person and a combination of the two. But which is better? What are the differences? And what do the teachers think?

The biggest difference is that educators can’t see if a student is struggling when they’re online, teachers say.

“Since I cannot see the students in person and they cannot see me in person, the students are not as connected, which means they are less connected to the concepts and less motivated to do well,” explained a seventh-grade math teacher. “I have high expectations for my students, and it is quite difficult to constantly communicate my expectations the way I do in class.”

And if a kid is frustrated in class, teachers can see it, said a fifth-grade science teacher.

“We aren’t able to give immediate feedback one on one and we cannot see all the kids at one time on Google meet,” she said. “So, it’s harder to see their facial expressions to see if they are getting it. We are not able to give that pat on the back or gentle reminder to stay on task.”

Taking classes online can lead to distractions at home (like siblings or grandparents) or kids may have to go to work with their parents, which can also be distracting. Some students may be at home alone and not have the time management skills to get their work done.

Teachers are working even harder to engage their students, with some rehearsing and recording their lessons so that students and their caregivers can watch and re-watch the information. Teachers then map out time to be available to answer questions.

Virtual learning does have advantages, the teachers say. With smaller in-person classes, behavior issues have decreased and grading can be quicker for online classes if the platforms are set up to automatically score papers.

With online classes, students can often watch the lessons more than once, in case they missed something the first time. And if the lessons are recorded, they can watch according to their or their parents’ schedules. Kids can also learn in different places, like their grandparents’ or babysitters’ homes or even on vacation.

And, of course, by staying home the threat that they will get COVID-19 is decreased.

For teachers, not having to drive into work through traffic and having quiet time to plan can be positives of online learning.

And teachers who are doing a combination of virtual and in-person classes need the time. Since they are teaching two different ways, it can mean twice as much work. While most teachers use technology in their classrooms, they now have to use twice as much.

“Simply put, teachers are drowning,” says the veteran seventh-grade teacher. “No one is doing OK, but as always, we are fighting the good fight and providing our all and our best to our students no matter where they are. We are in a real laugh-to-keep-from-crying situation and I still see one teacher in tears on a daily basis.”

The teachers see their online students struggling to keep up as well and their grades are suffering.

“The in-person kids are loving being at school,” the middle school teacher said. “They are all wearing their masks and keeping their distance as best they can.”