Informal Learning: Are the struggles worth it?

September 14, 2022

This semester, I started my internship not knowing I would be asked to  teach via Zoom. While I had taught via Zoom before, this situation was a lot different. I was asked to teach coding via zoom to k-2nd graders and 2-5th graders (2 separate groups) in an after-school program. Never had I coded anything in my life before this experience. With the set-up of the classroom, I joined the class via zoom where I was projected in front of a cafeteria and every student had their individual devices. When I first heard of this set up, I could only think of the failures I would endure for the 6 weeks I would be teaching. 

I will not lie to you, I struggled with these class sessions. I doubted my abilities to help these students learn and get them excited to learn. Like many educators, I taught myself the lessons shortly prior to teaching the students. In the first week or two, I left the Zoom session feeling defeated and wondering if I was even making an impact on the students’ lives. It felt as if I were just there to fill their time in the after-school program.  

Nevertheless, I continued to persevere. I came back each session excited to see the students and excited to code, hoping that my energy would brush off on them and create excitement for coding. It took trial and error to find the best ways to communicate to direct them through the tasks at hand.  

Without even noticing the changes, the students and I eventually got into the same groove and knew what to expect from each other. Even with sessions skipped due to testing, holidays, or school breaks, the students remembered what we were learning in our time together. I would start each session asking how their day was and what we did last session. Our connection grew without even noticing. 

As each session passed, more and more students remembered what we did in the previous session. You could hear the excitement in their voice as they yelled out that we were coding Pac-Man on Monday, or how we were coding the owl to talk to us. Hearing the excitement in their voices as we began our lessons restored my hope that they understood what we were doing. By week 4, 5, and 6, they stayed engaged for longer and less kids got sidetracked by activities going on elsewhere in the cafeteria or school. In those last sessions together, I asked the students what they would tell a parent or guardian what we were doing in our after-school time together. They immediately shared statements that defined coding in their own words, exactly what we had been doing together. In that moment, I realized my students were learning a lot more than I was aware of. 

This made me reflect on my struggles over those six weeks and on the outcomes, I saw at the end of the program. I realized that educators will always struggle with content, managing students, managing the classroom, and trying to ensure the students are learning through positive experiences whether they are teaching in person or via Zoom. In the moment, it can feel impossible to teach. You may wonder if your skills are enough to create a positive difference in students’ lives. It made me wonder, Are the struggles we face as educators worth it? If the students are not engaging with the content or activities, should we continue with said instruction or should we move on to a different topic? 

I cannot answer these questions for you, but I learned a lot from this experience.  I now believe that the end results of the students being even half-way engaged with the materials are 100% worth the struggles of teaching. You may not always notice when a student is engaging with the material.  You could be planting a seed for a future passion. While we, as educators, are struggling with the materials or engaging students, they may be having a lot of fun with the content and learning more than we notice. With perseverance and different techniques, we may just see the change we were hoping for or proof through student actions that they are in fact learning. I did.