COVID-19 has turned life upside down in all areas, but perhaps the biggest disruption has been traditional classroom learning. When the pandemic broke out, teachers carried the heavy burden of developing functional, virtual classrooms as they faced the harsh reality that many families were struggling with illness, loss of income, and even loss of life.
“You had to balance your desire for integrity for the course with empathy for the students,” said Andrea Gumble, MA ’96, EdD ’14, an English teacher at Chenango Forks High School. “It was about what you could do to help students study when you didn’t know what was going on in someone’s house.”
“March and April were very tough,” says Donna Geetter, MAT ’09, English teacher at Johnson City High School. “I really missed the exchange with my students. I’m a pathological extrovert and it was hard not to get input from my students every day. “
Kelli Krieger, MAT ’02, MA ’03, also missed her connections with the students so she decided to reach out to them old-school style.
“I wrote them letters,” says Krieger, who teaches English at Union-Endicott High School. “I would say 95% of the students wrote back at least once and the letters weren’t about academics at all. A girl sent me her favorite tea. Another sent me a picture she had drawn of the class. It was a lifeline. It was good for me and it was good for her. “
By autumn, all three had found ways to enable learning in the “new normal”. One improvement was to become more familiar with logistics like teaching hybrid classes (synchronous, asynchronous, face-to-face, and remote). Everyone agreed that the knowledge gained went far beyond the competence in dealing with various educational technologies.
“COVID was the impetus to reassess education,” says Krieger. “Online and face-to-face lessons are fundamentally different. Online is not suitable for daily meetings. My seniors and I meet more like a college class, twice a week for an hour and a half. [This] can be difficult for teachers who are reluctant to accept change, but I have chosen to see it positively. “
“Adaptation means one of two things: you change your behavior or you change your expectations,” says Geetter, who made the decision The Great Gatsby wouldn’t work for her tenth graders this year because it takes a lot of discussion and guidance from her. Instead, she assigned them The absolutely true diary of a part-time Indian, a coming-of-age story that they could read on their own. Since the book was written by a non-white author, it also fulfills Geetter’s goal of diversifying authors.
“Next year – or whenever things are back to normal – I could just add this along with The Great Gatsby, “She says.” That way you have a book that you can read by yourself while we read The Great Gatsby together.”
And Gumble found a solution to one of the challenges of teaching English classes through Zoom: losing the student’s voice.
“They really don’t talk about zoom that much, so I’ve been working on establishing a digital voice and using discussion boards to cultivate that voice,” says Gumble. “They were rated after proofreading and insightful responses. There is also a freedom behind the screen and they often volunteer their jobs to be shared. It’s become a great way to teach writing that I would never have thought of if it hadn’t happened. “
Gumble says the lesson for all teachers is to teach People not the subject. “What does the whole child look like? How do you help this person first compared to the topic? What are the problems that make you successful? “
Answering these questions has become a more complicated question in the age of COVID. The virus has exposed and exacerbated the stumbling blocks that children from vulnerable populations have always experienced.
“The injustices have become blatant. We always worry that children will fall through the cracks, but now the cracks are just huge, ”says Geetter. “Some have to take part in housekeeping or take care of a younger sibling. There are problems with the internet connection. Then there are only support problems, such as not having a room of your own in which you can take part in lessons undisturbed. “
“If ever there was a time to extend the grace period, this is the year,” Geetter adds, but the Johnson City Central School District has found ways to hold students accountable while showing compassion for their circumstances .
“We don’t give zeros on any task except for important assessments,” she says. “We can give a student a 50 if they don’t turn in an assignment because that isn’t insurmountable for the student. Students can also go back anytime and work with a teacher to get their credit back from a neighborhood where they were unsuccessful. “
All three teachers shared a common lesson that evaluating students’ learning and ensuring success means digging deeper than a grade; and that should remain the standard, regardless of whether the classroom is a physical or a virtual room.