Educator Voices: What school means to these teachers and parents during COVID

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Sean Winningham’s son, Riley, discusses how much he misses and loves his teacher. Courtesy: Sean Winningham

Educator Voices: Sean Winningham, online instructional designer, Indianapolis, Indiana

My wife and I both work in the field of online education, so when our son’s school closed to help curb the spread of COVID-19, we were probably more prepared than most to make the transition to teaching and learning remotely. It’s still an incredible challenge. We initially created a schedule at home to make it work, but eventually, we realized that having a daily checklist was better because it allows flexibility for when our son would complete those tasks.

 

"Our son’s school and the township have also gone above and beyond to try to make sure everyone had the resources they needed while staying safe."

 

During the first week, our son’s teacher sent daily messages, a video message and then sent out a video meeting link to the class so she could read to them. The school and township have also gone above and beyond to try to make sure everyone had the resources they needed while staying safe. They’ve provided lunch pick up stations for those families who need it (including spring break) and have constantly been reaching out every day.

All in all – our son has been loving it. He enjoys doing his work (especially when he’s doing it in “daddy’s office”), but does talk about how he misses his teacher and classmates. As a way to show our son’s teacher what he did during his first week, we put together a short video for her (see video above!). She was moved to tears and shared it out on social media.

 

 

Educator Voices: Nicholas Ferroni, high school history teacher, Union High School, Union, New Jersey

This pandemic has revealed a lot about what schools and teachers do and are willing to do for their students. It has revealed to many students that schools are so much more than just buildings and that teachers are undervalued and underappreciated. Overnight, literally in some cases, teachers had to transition to online learning which is difficult for even the most tech-savvy educator, but we somehow are making it work.

This is no vacation. We are putting in more hours now than we do normally, and that says a lot, because we already work overtime without pay. We are always losing sleep worrying about our students and their families–more so than normal. I believe, and I hope that most educators would agree, that academics (though very important) are secondary right now to our students’ mental and emotional health, and their family’s health and security.

We are all in this together, and it is inspiring to see the lengths that teachers and school districts are going to in order to ensure that their students are safe and healthy. A good reminder of how much they are missed.

 


 

Educator Voices: Kelly Henkel, social studies teacher, Lake Zurich High School, Lake Zurich, Illinois

The past several weeks have challenged me professionally. On March 12th, my district cancelled school for the following week leading into spring break. My teacher “spider sense” was tingling several days before this, so I had constructed a calendar to better prepare my students for what might happen if school were cancelled.

My students and I practiced a virtual meeting, video submissions on a new platform, and eLearning assignments in preparation for what might happen. I have been so proud of my students’ ability to adapt to the situation and continue their learning process throughout our school closure. They are handling it better than I could have hoped. In the past few weeks of elearning, here is what I suggest to other educators:

  1. Include your face in the eLearning. I started making video sub plans last year. After I overheard a student say, “I like being able to see Mr. Henkel’s face on the sub plan. It makes me feel better,” I decided to continue the format with eLearning. I now include a Bitmoji because I can’t include my usual classroom humor.
  2. Check in on your students. One of my last eLearning assignments was for my students to check in and tell me how they were doing. Most were doing just fine, but I did have a student who needed a video conference to discuss some anxieties they experienced during eLearning. We have to remember that there is a social-emotional component of school that students will not be receiving. Teachers can help find ways to fill the void.
  3. Grades are not the goal. We are trying to provide learning experiences for students that we cannot see face to face every day. It isn’t going to be perfect and that is fine. Making distance learning about entering a grade into a gradebook shouldn’t be the focus. Educators have a chance to make the lives of students better during a highly uncertain time. We should rise to the occasion.

Today eLearning for my five-year-old son began. His kindergarten teacher is the BEST EVER. He loves her. My wife and I love her. She is the reason he has grown so much this year. My wife and I are worried that the progress he has experienced will fade, because he does not get to see his teacher every day.

 

"We are also worried because I have eLearning responsibilities with my students, and so does my wife with her students…Did I mention we also have a rambunctious 19-month-old son at home with us?"

 

We are also worried because my wife and I have eLearning responsibilities with our own students. My wife is an occupational therapist for an early childhood elementary school and she needs to be able to meet with students and their parents in order to assess their progress. Did I mention we also have a rambunctious 19-month-old son at home with us? As parents, we have quickly learned the following:

  1. Trust your student’s teacher. My wife and I struggled through an hour of work with our son today. My son’s teacher does this every day for two and a half hours with twenty students. Oh, and she makes it look so easy. Trust that your student’s teacher knows what works and what doesn’t. Trust that they have backup plans and reach out when you need one. You don’t have to be the expert!
  2. We can’t do it all. We likely aren’t going to be great educators and parents at the same time. Keep your expectations grounded in reality. eLearning needs to get your student through the “end” of the school year, not go on Pinterest.
  3. Schedule time for the kids and time for work. Our work time got away from us really quickly when eLearning began, and our own children started to take a backseat to work. We decided that we were going to have family time every day as well as take walks, play games, dance and eat meals together.
  4. Keep perspective. We are in the middle of a national health crisis. Protecting your family and your own well being is more important than any eLearning assignment. Your student’s teacher believes the same.

 


 

Educator Voices: Tynetta Harris, English Language Arts teacher, Henry Snyder High School, Jersey City, New Jersey

The past several weeks have been hard on everyone. For good reason, people all over the country were placed under quarantine and educators were tasked with continuing to plan, prepare and provide meaningful education opportunities for their students outside of the classroom walls.

We knew transitioning to remote learning would be a challenge, but the transition has been made much easier for our students because we have been teaching them real-world skills to adapt to unexpected challenges. In addition to teaching curriculum, our teachers guide students to build habits – like curiosity, resilience, and a sense of purpose – that help them thrive throughout their lives.

 

"We knew we had to work diligently and come together as a community to provide quality remote education to our students during this time."

 

Though our teaching style was not originally intended to provide remote learning prior to this crisis, we have found that our students are well-prepared to adjust and self-direct their learning in a remote classroom experience. We’ve focused throughout the school year on teaching our students how to set goals and actively incorporate feedback. Distance learning has been an opportunity for our students to demonstrate their ability to be scholars and for us as educators to expand our teaching skills.

We also use the Remind app to communicate with our students and families throughout the year, and will continue to utilize this tool as we teach remotely. Teachers are able to share information, resources and have open communication at all times. In addition, students and parents and guardians are able to reach out to the teacher, or each other, for additional support and to submit work for feedback and guidance. Each student in our district is given an email address and our students, as well as their parents and guardians, are able to email us directly.

 

"Distance learning has been an opportunity for our students to demonstrate their ability to be scholars and for us as educators to expand our teaching skills."

 

We understand that a sense of community is a big part of school, so we created accounts with Zoom and each selected a day to conduct a video conference with any students who may need additional support or if they just wanted to log in to say “hello.” These are hard times for students and families. Despite the circumstances, teachers are dedicated to ensuring students continue to have access to quality education beyond the four walls of the classroom.

 

Explore free online resources for parents, educators and students.

 

educator voices: learn more about parent resources for school closures

 

Educator Voices: Debra Netkin, first grade teacher, San Francisco Unified School District, California

Hello Friends. Apologies for not answering your emails or calls or chats or zooms. This was my sentiment the first couple of weeks on quarantine, stuck deep down in a rabbit hole of digitally force-fed re-education camps for us old fangled classroom teachers. In the snap of a finger, this good old obsolete Ms. Crabtree was magically transformed into a crispy, new and improved, keystroking, Zoom wielding, state of the art, online efficiency genius and professional at her craft.

 

"In the snap of a finger, this good old obsolete Ms. Crabtree was magically transformed into a crispy, new and improved, keystroking, Zoom wielding, state of the art, online efficiency genius and professional at her craft."

 

I want to do well. I love teaching. I miss the kids very much. So I embarked on the ship of an instant pandemic teacher. I have learned to stream and Zoom and Google Hangout and upload and download. Weeks of creating, linking, learning, searching, researching, copying, posting, unposting, pasting, un-pasting, deleting, creating worksheets, eyestrain, headaches, fielding hundreds of emails, phone chatting with bewildered teacher friends while sharing tips, connecting parents to Google Classroom, trying to connect them again when it still didn’t work, asking admin for help, searching for links and Google translating what links I found into Chinese and Vietnamese, connecting parents to Epic Books and the list goes on.

Eyestrain. Exquisite headaches. One migraine. All set in.

During webinars, I asked my question in the “chat” feature on the side of the screen: How can first grade teachers use this? “I don’t know,” another teacher responded.

I conducted one practice Zoom class early on with my students – not all there yet – but twelve managed to appear on my screen like the Brady Bunch trailer. They stared at me like I was Mr. Rogers, waiting. I am attempting to be upbeat while compensating for the loss of the aliveness in my beloved castle of creativity, Room 33. But the Zoom class experience is nothing like the wild and delightful and freshly scrubbed group smiling at me on the rug each morning, ready to test the boundaries.

 

"I am attempting to be upbeat while compensating for the loss of the aliveness in my beloved castle of creativity, Room 33."

 

Am PRAYING, in my agnostic little way, and am keeping my fingers crossed that the worst is over. My apartment is flooded with my paintings, but my “weekly schedule at a glance” is my most recent masterpiece. I am proud of it. I admire with affection the links for which I, alone, spent hours connecting, creating or nestling them in little homes somewhere in the world of Google.

Maybe I can start that children’s book I’ve been dreaming about.

In quarantine from my cave with native flute and candlelight on Guerrero Street,
Debz out xxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxxx

by Tim Smyth, social studies teacher, Wissahickon High School, Ambler, Pennsylvania

When school began to close, I spent my day emailing back and forth with students. I did this all night and weekend as well. Sharing jokes, stories, concerns and yes, some discussion about learning. Students were genuinely concerned about me and my son who is immune compromised.

 

"The moment of absolute joy when my daughter got to see and talk to her 4th grade teacher on Zoom made me cry."

 

Don’t dare tell me that the silver lining of this quarantine is that educators will finally change and education will catch up with tech. Education hasn’t fundamentally changed – it’s about forming relationships, instilling worth and being human. We do so much for one another. I miss my students! The hugs, jokes, even the eye rolls. The moment of absolute joy when my daughter got to see and talk to her 4th grade teacher on Zoom made me cry. Her teacher was so excited to see her kids. This wouldn’t have happened without a year of forming relationships.


This blog was originally published by PBS NewsHour Extra and can be found here.