Our experience of distance teaching

Ruth Reches, Director, Sholom Aleichem ORT School, Vilnius

 From the very beginning of the distance teaching online, both teachers and students have faced a range of difficulties.

Since the beginning of the quarantine, we started actively preparing for it – our teachers immediately started attending special courses on various distance learning programs, started collecting materials which they could share with their colleagues and students. Our school’s IT specialists prepared seminars intended to help our teachers learn more about teaching online and using various applications. Our young colleagues helped the older ones. As not all of our teachers and students were adequately connected before the quarantine started, the ORT organization successfully helped us all integrate by loaning the computers and accessories to those who needed them.

It’s important to mention that the distance teaching has caused difficulties for parents of students, especially of primary classes. Many families raise more than one child, not all of them had the opportunity to provide their children with a suitable place for having lessons and learning. In addition, many of the parents themselves were working from home, which caused a lot of inconvenience to family members in sharing their home space.

Our school successfully organized assistance for these children – after lessons students had the opportunity to connect with teaching assistants who helped the students to do their work, and learn more about the current material being covered. If students or their parents faced emotional difficulties, they were able to apply to our school psychologist and social worker. The school librarian organized the “Fun Library” – each day she would read books for students via the internet.

Working during the quarantine was of great importance for the development of students’ independence. The younger children who didn’t have enough motivation to learn received a lot of help from their parents. Older kids started to feel like real students when their learning outcomes were dependent mainly on their own awareness and effort. It was a great experience, and sure to help them in their future careers.

We are a Jewish school, and it was very important for us to support each other and keep the unity of the school community as well as the continuity of Jewish traditions even during the quarantine. On Fridays, every family celebrated the Sabbath at home and would send pictures to share with the others, most of the pictures were shared on the school’s Facebook account. The whole school community celebrated Israel’s Independence Day, Jerusalem Day, commemorated the Day of Yom Hazikaron via Zoom. During the Holocaust Remembrance Day, parents, students, and their teachers shared photos with daffodils symbolizing the Warsaw ghetto uprising. During the Shavuot, children cooked food from dairy products at home and everyone shared photos of the food they had prepared. In this way everyone could feel inseparable from the Jewish faith and the school community.

The quarantine forced us educators to re-evaluate our professional skills. Even though it stopped natural communication, the quarantine has also brought a positive impact on the whole community. Parents had the opportunity to spend more time with their children and became more actively involved in the process of educating their children, learning about who their children are, not simply as their own children, but as students. In other words – their parents have become their teachers’ assistants and thus they were able to understand the peculiarities and difficulties of the teachers’ work. It will allow for greater respect for the work of the teacher and increase the prestige of the teaching profession.