June 2021

A Whole New World of Teaching

A Whole New World of Teaching

By: Kay Walling, guest writer High school ELA, Texas

To say the 2020-2021 school year was different is like saying lava is hot. This year started with all students participating in online learning. While teachers and staff were in the school building, students were at home. Our district was lucky in that we began our one-to-one initiative four years ago. When the pandemic hit, our students already had their laptops. What students, parents, and teachers did not have was a firm grasp of the demands of online learning. 

Online learning demands self-discipline. Most high school students do not have the self-discipline required to sit in front of a computer for eight hours doing classwork. It is far too easy to open the Google Meeting, turn off the sound, and turn on something else. Students were texting friends, playing video games, and watching television instead of listening and participating in discussions. Time allotted for completing an assignment was used for anything but completing the assignment.  

I had to become a different kind of teacher.   

  • First, I had to find engaging online activities. I found a number of applications that use gamification to attract students’ attention in competitive, fun ways.  

  • Second, I had to allow students to work at their own pace. Self-pacing is a distinct advantage of digital learning, but it requires the teacher to create lessons a student can easily review.  Luckily, there are many applications that allow the teacher to record a presentation. There are also applications, like MI Write, that provide students with directed feedback and mini-lessons. The fact that I could not be physically present to give one-on-one feedback did not hamper my students from getting the assistance they needed.  

  • Third, I had to exponentially increase my communication with students and parents. 

Our school district uses Google Classroom, and I used its features to rapidly provide feedback to students.  For example, after I posted an assignment grade in Google Classroom, I emailed a reminder to all the students who had not submitted the assignment. I emailed every parent a progress report each week using our student information system. The progress report not only included the grade for each assignment, but it also listed any missing assignments. I created a Google Voice account with a local telephone number for parents.  This kept my personal phone number private and still provided voice and text access for parents.  I found texting parents got better results than leaving a voice mail message.  Generally, within five minutes of sending a text message, the student would say “Miss, why did you text my mother?”  

Creating digital lessons was initially more work, but they are now part of my teacher toolbox. Increased communication was initially more work, but I plan to continue the reminder emails to students, the weekly progress reports to parents, and the text messages. The challenges created by online learning created new opportunities for me to become a more effective and flexible teacher. 

Parents and the Pandemic, Part 2

Parents and the Pandemic, Part 2

 

As we get closer to the end of the 2020-21 school year, we recognize so much resiliency in both teachers and students. This has, without a doubt, been one of the strangest and most challenging school years we've seen in living history! And yet, we just keep rolling with the punches. No one shows this more than parents of school-aged children. You all have had front row seats to the ups and downs of virtual school, made plans and rescheduled plans, and had to adjust many times to the decisions of school districts as recommendations have fluctuated according to the ebb and flow of coronavirus cases and infections.

Here we have the last few parents we interviewed near the end of 2020 to see how they have been hanging on and surviving with their kids. 

"We could have folded, and many times, we wanted to, but we're still here!" -Rebecca

The best part of this year for Tonya is that they have been able to travel to the lake and the beach together as a family since school has been remote. Despite loving the quality time spent with her kids, she knows "100% they need to be in school to learn and socialize." The biggest challenge has been keeping them focused and motivated, logged into their Zoom meetings, and doing the work, all while she's working from home, doing her own job. "It's a nightmare for these kids to do remote learning. They struggle with paying attention and not having human interaction. Their mental health is being affected. We are not fans of this school year."  

Under a palm tree

Similarly, Missy has had a hard time with four kids in school, two of whom have IEPs who are not getting the services and time they need. She also takes care of additional kids who are in school and require attention. The hardest part is that she's having to learn how to do things differently, how to become a teacher on top of her parenting role, and it's frustrating, to say the least. "Kids are different with their teachers than they are with their parents. Even on Zoom, I see how polite they are with their teachers, but they are not like that with me!" And like many other parents and kids, the silver lining here is the flexibility that wouldn't be as available with in-person learning.  

Sunshine

Rebecca's general experience with school this year paints a brighter picture. "Everyone is learning as they go and it really seems to humble everyone. I definitely [liked] it better [when] my elementary school child [went] back [to] face-to-face learning, five days a week." As a mom of three, ages 16, 11, and 3, she now sees school days as a much-needed and welcomed break after many months of virtual learning. Her biggest challenge has not been school at all, but the financial struggles that resulted from the shutdown. However, with a positive disposition, Rebecca is choosing gratitude. She said, "We could have folded, and many times, we wanted to, but we're still here! 2020 [was] interesting to say the least, but it could always be worse!"  

Have a drink

Kara is a mom of two, a 3rd grader and a high school senior, and says that this year has been "fine for the most part." She loves being home and available to help them two days a week, but her biggest challenge also occurs on those days because her 3rd grader tends to act silly and always wants her attention. He has to be reminded frequently to stay focused. Kara's daughter helps her little brother on the days that Kara is at work. The main takeaway from 2020 for this mom is patience.  

summer is here

Boy, don't we all need a little more patience! As we roll into summer and things seem to be opening back up, we hope that parents are able to find a little peace and quiet to rest and recharge from this challenging year! Know that while we're still not out of the woods yet with coronavirus still hanging around, there is a light at the end of the tunnel and it's bright and beautiful. Thank you for your persistence and support of your children in pursuit of their education and know that we are always here for you, too!