Teaching in the COVID Era–Posts from the End of the 2019-2020 School Year

Teaching in the COVID Era–Posts from the End of the 2019-2020 School Year

As educators, we are living in unprecedented times. The closing of schools throughout the United States has forced us, ready or not, to alternative ways of teaching and learning. We are now in the midst of an experiment that was unimaginable at the end of February. As trying as these times are, we have an opportunity to gain great insights into the complexities of remote delivery of instruction. Take a few moments to share what you are experiencing about teaching and learning during this time.

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Robin
Robin
6 months ago

Wendy, I enjoyed reading your post and it raised a number of issues I am grappling with at the moment. First, as a parent, I have noticed how my 10 year old daughter is struggling with online learning. She is a good student and enjoys school. However, online learning has been a continual source of frustration for her. My husband and I have tried to discuss the situation with her and to offer possible ideas for dealing with the frustration but these efforts have not been successful in diminishing her frustration. When I read your post, it reminded me that her teachers, like you, highly value the relationships they develop with students and I believe these relationships are vital in allowing the students to develop, learn and feel valued. I believe my daughter is greatly missing these relationships and without them I imagine to her, the online lessons feel decontextualized and abstract. Second, as a teacher, I have also experienced frustration in my work with graduate students during the pandemic. My main goal as an educator is to work in collaboration with my graduate students to understand their professional aspirations and then to provide opportunities for them to acquire the knowledge, skills, and experiences necessary to fulfill their commitment to becoming dedicated professionals. I believe that I can best achieve this goal by building trusting relationships with students and without these relationships collaboration and authentic learning are not possible. Unfortunately, I have not found the online mode of teaching conducive to developing relationships—in the classroom, I can engage students in dialogue while we work through various activities and this dialogue informs my understanding of their perceptions and possible roadblocks they are encountering in their learning. Sometimes I notice a perplexed look or a change in body language that suggest some significance and I can follow up on what these non-verbal messages might mean. I have not been able to do this in an online platform. Moreover, activities that have worked successfully in a traditional classroom have not worked well for me in an online platform. I have read various resources about online learning and some suggest that it is possible to achieve what occurs in a traditional classroom. Perhaps, over time, I may develop a more sophisticated understanding of online learning but similar to Wendy, I am overwhelmed by the resources and trying to balance my work with my daughter’s online learning. Wendy’s post reminds me to persist in the struggle and to continue working with colleagues to find successes.

Maria Piantanida
6 months ago
Reply to  Robin

Robin, Thanks for the post. What is coming through in all of the posts so far is the value placed on face-to-face classroom interactions by thoughtful teachers. It is interesting to think about how our social media savvy children may also be missing the in person relationships. Good luck with the tough balancing act. Maria

Wendy Milne
Wendy Milne
6 months ago
Reply to  Robin

Hi Pat! I wonder, too, if your daughter isn’t frustrated by the lack of a schedule. In the old days…when we were teaching in a school!…a schedule could be a source of frustration for specialty area teachers. In some cases, 45 minuter per class was not enough and, in some cases, it was too long. Now I miss a schedule and find myself jumping from task to task, never fully finishing one of them. I’m an adult so I have to imagine the change of schedule is extremely difficult for her. As an educator yourself, I assume you have worked hard to set up a schedule. I think of all the parents/guardians who have no education background and are working from home themselves. Have they established a schedule? While lots of thoughts in education downplay or even suggest the typical school schedule is antiquated, I now wonder about its benefits….

Wendy Milne
Wendy Milne
6 months ago
Reply to  Wendy Milne

Ahhhh so sorry Robin!!! Told you my mind is in a million places and I can’t even get your name right. Apologies!

Wendy Milne
Wendy Milne
6 months ago

“A month and half into teaching art virtually to elementary age students” – May 1, 2020
I rarely used technology in teaching my elementary students Art. I’ve found they appreciate using a variety of art supplies because many have none at home. For children it seems to me the thrill of working on a computer is not as exciting as it used to be Using clay, paint and markers is a novel experience for many.
So…technology, for me, was exactly that – for me– not as a way to teach my students. I now find myself learning how to use all the forms of Google I can possibly handle. I’m overwhelmed with the amount of resources that are out there and the number of ways I can share this with my students. Sure, numerous resources and ways to disseminate are wonderful and I’m thankful they exist. But…It’s simply exhausting. Even now, trying to write this, my head is going in a thousand directions as I struggle to stop reading emails, texts or checking to see if someone turned in a Google Assignment.
Today, sitting and sitting and sitting at my desk, I realized I’ve been sending out lessons for a month with written directions and pictures. I include YouTube videos, links to videos, fun activities to get the kids outside making art, etc. BUT the main focus of our lessons is having the children read the instructions to make the art and then send me a photo of the art. Ninety percent of this lesson is in words. These are elementary children, often with no adult who has the time to read the directions to them. No wonder I keep getting messages from kids asking me what to do. ‘So let’s learn Screencastify,’ I say to myself. I’ve been avoiding taking on another new aspect of technology but my students need more than just words on a document. I struggled, but finally learned, how to do a basic recording of myself so the kids can hear me and see me point out all the things they can do for their artwork.
…..Honestly, at this moment, I do not wish to write about my students. I miss them. I miss hearing them talk about their art. I miss seeing them making art. I miss them and to write about it more is too hard at this time. I miss them.
There are, oddly, some bright sides of this -the other elementary art teachers with whom I teach, along with some colleagues in my building! In the past, we rarely met or planned together. Now there is hardly a day that goes by that we are not in communication with one another, sharing our struggles, frustrations, and sometimes, successes! It is through these friends, not my district, that I have learned how to use the all of the technology that I did.
And, it is through these friends that I am surviving.
This is where I need to end. Perhaps, some more scholarly thinking on this in the future… but, for now I say, “Thanks, friends!” Wendy Milne, Visual/not-so-visual now Art Teacher

Topic
teaching art virtually!
Maria Piantanida
6 months ago
Reply to  Wendy Milne

Wendy,

Thank you for your thoughtful and heartfelt response. I can see through the frustration to the unfailing dedication you bring to your work and your students. I’ve been struggling just to get into Zoom meetings (which I seem to screw up in one way or another everytime I try to log-in). So your pursuit of technology to keep art alive for children is awesome. The collaboration with your colleagues is inspiring as is the initiative you’ve all taken to learn what you need to–with or without district help. For the last few years. I hope you and your colleagues will find a few minutes to post updates. What you’re learning is so valuable that it is worthwhile to share. Maria

Wendy Milne
Wendy Milne
6 months ago

Maria- re-reading my above post I hear lots of rambling, somewhat unconnected thoughts. As I said to Pat, I am finding it difficult to stay on one task until completion. I am grateful to you for encouraging me to post here because it has given me a moment to reflect on my experiences and reduce the anxiety I have been experiencing. As you know, creating art provides me with ways to reflect on my teaching …and life…better, and sometimes more painfully, than through words. Since the moment I posted I immediately began to think of ways I would represent this through my art. Before doing so, I’d like to share a little bit of the inspiration for the upcoming art piece….
School closed for two weeks: – no real work being done, just busy work…I avoided setting up my office space and chose to sit on the floor with my laptop. I think I was convinced we would be returning to work in two weeks.
School closure extended two more weeks: Set up my office…..still in a stupor
School closed for the rest of the year: Brought weights into my office. Set up a way to stand at my desk instead of sit. Brought in an exercise ball to sit on while working. By mid-April, the weights and ball were in the corner.
Third Week of April: Finally set up an art studio. Without thinking about it, I set it up in a different room, though I had space in my office. For me, the computer, desk and printer represented my “work” space. The studio meant to be a place of joy, peace, calm. I don’t even take my phone into the studio space.
Despite setting up the studio, I am not in it as much as I hoped. I created a few simplistic pieces as examples for my students’ projects and started a piece which has now been tossed away. I mentioned earlier, examining my thoughts and feelings through art can be painful and I suspect, this is the reason I am avoiding it. However, a preliminary sketch was produced last night so I am hopeful it will be developed into something I can share.
Thanks for providing this avenue Maria! I hope the other participants are also gaining some peace from sharing.

Jed Kalp
Jed Kalp
6 months ago
Reply to  Wendy Milne

As a colleague of Wendy, I am very proud of the new things that she is trying. It could have been easy to say, “Art can’t be done online.” I am a Technology teacher, so a lot of this comes easy to me and I was actually doing most of this in my traditional classroom setting. The biggest thing that I am noticing with this new online format, I am having students excelling that were not in a traditional classroom setting. As we move forward, I would like to see teachers use blended learning to let these kids shine. I will be the first to tell you that technology is great, but it is not the answer to everything. However, there should be a good mix in the educational world. I hope teachers continue to try new things. Stay strong, we will get back to normal sooner than later.

Maria Piantanida
Maria Piantanida
6 months ago
Reply to  Jed Kalp

Jed, Thank you so much for taking the time to post your thoughts. I am very interested in your observation that some students are excelling in the on-line environment who had struggled in the traditional classroom setting. Would you be willing to add some additional thoughts about what you see as making a difference for these students? Maria

Jed Kalp
Jed Kalp
6 months ago

Maria,

The biggest area that I notice a difference is in the kid’s work. I feel like in the classroom setting it was a fight to get these kids to do their work or their work was subpar. Now once we switched to an online setting, they are one of the first kids done and the project is solid. They are sticking out big time. We use PBIS for our reward system, so I have been trying to get these kids yellow stars to recognize their hard work. Why such the difference? It could be that they struggle with the peer to peer interaction. They could be anxious or maybe they are acting out to get the attention of their peers which interferes with their work. Maybe it is they can now work at their own pace. They are not rushed to get it done in a 45 minute period. It is interesting to see these kids make a huge change.

Maria Piantanida
6 months ago
Reply to  Jed Kalp

Jed, Thanks for the additional insights. I came back to read your post after I read Robin’s below. I hope that the experiences of educators and parents will give us more nuanced ways of blending classroom instruction with technology. I also hope that parents are better understanding the importance of classroom relationships in learning. Maria

Wendy Milne
Wendy Milne
6 months ago
Reply to  Jed Kalp

As part of the elementary specialists, Jed and I teach about 600 students/week. During the virtual learning we are finding ourselves responding to these 600 students via emails or Google responses. As one might imagine this is time-consuming and often redundant. In my earlier post I alluded to the fact that other teachers have been the ones to educate me in the use of technology. Jed has been the person to do most of the teaching for me-though I do TRY to figure it out myself before contacting him. What Jed does not mention in his post is how many teachers he is also teaching in addition to our 600 students. Our district has people on staff to handle the technology break-downs, connections, etc. but it does not have a specific, paid position for teacher training. Many teachers–from our own building and other buildings– reach out to Jed on a daily basis, perhaps, not realizing the amount of people who are doing the same thing. So Jed’s role(s) have become teacher of students, teacher of teachers, and teacher of his own three children.

Clare
Clare
5 months ago
Reply to  Wendy Milne

Hi Wendy! I really enjoyed reading your thoughts on teaching during COVID. I am inspired by your insight, authenticity, and optimism in these times. I am not a teacher myself, although I am currently studying education. However, I work at a preschool, and as parents come to pick up their kids, I have been hearing an earful from parents about the craziness of online school. Not only is it exhausting for the parents though, it seems impossible for teachers. I applaud you guys big time! It is another story for middle and high schoolers who, for the most part, are capable of managing their own virtual technology. But for elementary-aged students, I don’t know how you can have many expectations at all. As you mentioned, the constant links, emails, online submissions, and questions from students with no parental guidance seem completely overwhelming. I am glad to hear that you have friends who are supporting you during this time. I love that mentioned how much you miss your students, and I am SURE that they miss you too. I am hoping you get to see them soon. These are trying times, but your post shows your dedication, and I know you will make it through.

Allyson Kuntz
Allyson Kuntz
3 months ago
Reply to  Wendy Milne

Hi Wendy,
I am a senior education major, and my heart and prayers have been with all of the teachers working through this difficult time. Your ability to adapt to the current situation is amazing. Just like many of the other subjects and the tools they may require, I can see how difficult it may be to teach art to students online due to the possible lack of tools at the students’ home. Not only that, but you’re teaching ART to ELEMENTARY students! I can only imagine how hard it has been trying to instruct them on their projects. I LOVE that you started making video instructions. So many of the students probably find that helpful. Maybe doing a “step by step” tutorial video of a simple craft using household items (with multiple options in case of students not having one or the other) would be fun. For example, making butterflies out of paper plates, paper, or plastic cups. Pinterest is full of DIY activities! 🙂
I hope teaching art virtually has gotten a little easier!
Allyson

Chase Simons
Chase Simons
6 months ago

Wendy shared your blog post with me, and I thought it would be great to add my own experiences. As Wendy and Jed will attest to, I like to consider myself pretty savvy and confident when it comes to technology. I incorporate as much technology into my lessons without it beginning to feel “too” technologically heavy and losing its instructional value. The shift to online learning, albeit shocking when first told, has not been a negative experience for me all-in-all. I miss seeing my students tremendously, but I have found new ways to stay in contact with this wonderful group of kindergartners I have this year. They send videos and pictures to me, which I post onto our Google Classroom homepage. I record myself teaching the reading and phonics lessons, and I screencast my mathematics Google Slides that a colleague had created. I frequently contact families to hear how things are going, and I made contact with my students through comments on their Google Classroom assignments. It is far from the personal touch that we had before, but I am doing everything in my power to bring about a sort of normalcy for these little learners. The hardest part for me, besides not seeing the excitement on the faces of my five and six-year-olds, is not having face-to-face conversations with my colleagues like Wendy and Jed. It feels as though it was decades ago that we had left the building on March 13th with an optimistic mindset that we would be returning in two weeks. Although it is not been too difficult to transition to online learning for me, I can safely say that I am beyond ready to be back in the classroom. I am ready to say “good morning” to my students, give them a high-five for their great work, hear them read me a story, play with them at recess, and watch them interact with one another. I am sure that other educators can agree with my sentiments!

Emily Holsinger
Emily Holsinger
6 months ago
Reply to  Chase Simons

Agreed, Chase!

Maria Piantanida
Maria Piantanida
6 months ago
Reply to  Chase Simons

Chase, I’m inspired by the creative ways you are staying in touch with your young students. I’m also so impressed by the colleagiality among you, Wendy, Jed, and Emily. This is just the type of learning communities we hope to support through the Nexus website. I hope you will continue to check us out and add more thoughts over the coming days, weeks, months. I certainly shared your optimism about this being a short term break in our normal routines. Now as the experts talk about a prolonged new normal, I hoping that teachers like the four of you will help shape a vision of how we can create innovative and effective approaches to learning that may very well include recurring episodes of distance learning.

Wendy Milne
Wendy Milne
6 months ago
Reply to  Chase Simons

I have enjoyed watching Chase grow from Student Teacher in our building to the kindergarten teacher he is now. Chase is the youngest teacher in our school. I’ve been impressed with his natural ability to quickly establish a calm, respectful learning environment in his kindergarten rooms each year. Thinking about his close relationships with his students I was surprised to hear of his transition to virtual learning. I suppose I was thinking he would be devastated to lose his face-to-face interactions with his students. It was refreshing to hear his perspective. I believe those early in-school relationships with students..and communication with parents have helped him to transition to this new way of teaching.

Chase Simons
Chase Simons
6 months ago
Reply to  Wendy Milne

Thanks Wendy! I believe that strong relationships that I have with my students and their families have been incredibly helpful as we transitioned to virtual learning. Although it has been more seamless than I could have ever imagined, I am devastated that I can’t see their joyful faces each morning besides videos that are sent to me from their parents. Fingers crossed we can all come back together soon!

Emily Holsinger
Emily Holsinger
6 months ago

I am a reading specialist in the elementary setting (also with Wendy Milne.) My experiences with educating my students has always included a child holding the book in front of me and basing instruction through observation of what the child needs. I’ve had to go outside of my own comfort zone by scheduling times that I can virtually meet with my students so that I can continue to hear them read and properly prompt. While I can’t do this daily, I’ve found this to be the best way to continue this small group instruction. I’m constantly monitoring and adjusting my own activities to ensure that I’m educating the best that I can in this mode of crisis learning. When I’m not meeting with the students through google meet, I’m planning and assigning activities to review and reinforce what we’ve learned when together in my small classroom setting. I’ve video taped read-alouds and short lessons so that I can send to all of my students. I’m very thankful for the free resources available right now that I can share with my students. Knowing that we’re all in this together, gives me a sense of comfort in this time of need.

Topic
Virtual Reading
Maria Piantanida
Maria Piantanida
6 months ago

I Emily. Thanks for joining the conversation. I want to say “ditto” to everything I’ve written to Wendy, Jed, and Chase in response to your post. In addition, I want to say that the four of you exemplify the scholar-practitioner quality we call pedagogical wisdom. Each of you are drawing on your subject matter knowledge and your knowledge of your students to reach them from a distance. Your caring, creativity and wisdom shine through your comments.

Wendy Milne
Wendy Milne
6 months ago

The statement Emily used “We’re all in this together” has been thrown around quite a bit these days. In many cases I dismiss it, believing the way it’s being used is simply something to put on social media or use in television commercials. In Emily’s case, however, I fully agree. The bright spot of virtual learning seems to often be the closer connections we are making with colleagues. We are reaching out to each other to learn necessary technological issues but we are also reaching out to share our thoughts and feelings and simply sit together in front of a computer Zoom screen. I am now even looking forward to faculty meetings so I can see my colleagues. I have been experiencing anxiety and stress that I’ve not fully been able to explain. “Meeting” with people like Emily helped me to see I am not the only one with these thoughts and also to see other people are feeling quite differently. Seeking out a variety of perspectives has been helpful in pushing myself to (carefully) venture out into the world.
On a side note– Emily and I coach our Girls on The Run program and have continued to meet with our team through virtual meetings and workouts!
#GirlsOnTheRunIsSoMuchFun!

Maria Piantanida
Maria Piantanida
6 months ago
Reply to  Wendy Milne

Wendy, I totally agree with you. I’m getting tired of the constant barrage of “we’re in this together” messages. That you and your colleagues took the time to reach out and post your thoughts is so much more meaningful to me. It’s action, not just lip service.

Capitola
Capitola
6 months ago

As a Pre-K teacher the thing that has struck me over the past two months is how while many students and teachers are struggling with this format, others are thriving. Several of my students have made progress in areas that previously they struggled in. Since there are a myriad of factors that could be at play, how do we figure out what about this is working for them? Can that be used to either help other students who are struggling with the new format? How do we ensure their success continues when we are finally able to come together again?

Topic
Distance Learning
Maria Piantanida
6 months ago
Reply to  Capitola

Capi, Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I’m hoping that you, Jed and others will continue to describe how this on-line, distance learning in helping some students perform better. This seem like important insights to flesh out so that we can formulate better strategies for wedding technology with classroom instruction.

Meg Reister
Meg Reister
5 months ago

Greetings!

At Marilyn Llewellyn’s suggestion, I’m sharing information here regarding a study I’m currently running that seeks input from mothers who work in higher education as faculty or staff. I welcome you to complete the survey at the below link regarding being a working mama in higher education during COVID-19. Feel free to share with others you may know! Many thanks!

https://docs.google.com/forms/d/e/1FAIpQLSd95ZDihhymrqLeAnCbcyQxLZ0uJ1Tw4ub9RKpzO6ogskdoSA/viewform?usp=sf_link

Topic
Mother Scholars, work-life-balance, identity, scholar-practitioner
Meg Reister
Meg Reister
5 months ago

Sharing & Collaborating: Two Skills that Should be in Every Educator’s Toolbox!

By: Dr. Megan Reister & Dr. Heather Olson Beal

What does a secondary education professor in east Texas have in common with a professor of special education and early childhood education in east Ohio? Well, we both live in an eastern area of our states; more importantly, we were able to join together and participate in a unique collaboration due to COVID-19’s impact on the spring 2020 semester.

We both teach pre-service educators in teacher preparation programs at our universities. We work with both general and special education pre-service teachers in varying stages of their teacher preparation programs in all content areas and grade levels. Some of our students are on the brink of their student teaching semester, some are just starting their teacher preparation program journey, some are in the midst of growing their own professional development as pre-service teachers, and some are in-service teachers working on graduate degrees in education.

What brought us together? Well, through social media, we were able to connect and take part in the sharing of online professional development sessions with other teacher preparation programs across the world thanks to Heather’s organization. This sharing of professional development led to an exciting new collaboration among special and general education faculty and staff at several universities, a natural science museum, a 4-H County Extension office, and an elementary school.

The women who led the professional development sessions came from the following institutions: Stephen F. Austin State University (SFASU), University of Ottawa, University of South Carolina School of Medicine, Franciscan University of Steubenville, North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences at Whiteville, and the Institute of Agriculture and Natural Resources at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. In addition, two in-service teachers who are also graduate students at SFASU and an SFASU alumna who is now a middle school orchestra director also delivered sessions.

Never underestimate the power of sharing and collaborating!

Topic
Scholar-practitioner, COVID-19, collaboration, resources, guest speakers, teacher preparation program, pre-service educators, in-service educators, sharing
Maria Piantanida
Maria Piantanida
5 months ago
Reply to  Meg Reister

Megan and Heather, Thank you for sharing your example of cooperation and community. This is exactly the type of professional networks we hope to encourage through the Nexus. Although my primary passion is about Scholar-Practitioner Inquiry, I am extremely interested in special education. I have a granddaughter who is about to turn 25. She is now at the third residential program that promises to teach her independent living and social skills. None of these programs has been able to work effectively with her. She is reasonably intelligent, highly anxious, and capable of caring for herself. In an effort to “correct” two behavioral problems, these programs use a token economy reward system which has had no effect. In the meantime, they control her every waking moment with almost continuous surveillance by “mentors.” To me it seems pretty much like a prison. I’m sharing this, not because I want advice about her particular situation. What I’m interested in knowing is current theoretical and philsophical principles that are being taught to special education teachers and counselors. What is the current best thinking about ways in which individuals with behavioral quirks can be respected and helped to live in ways they find meaningful and rewarding. I’d like to think we have moved beyond labeling, pigeon-holing and behavioral manipulation. But what I’ve seen at 3 different, well regarded programs doesn’t give me much hope. I’d welcome your thoughts and those of others. Maria

Anna McDermott
Anna McDermott
5 months ago

As a college student studying Education, the thought of starting my teaching career in such an unprecedented time is intimidating. However, the teachers and my own professors that I’ve seen rise to occasion and completely revamp their curricula is incredible. I think that in times like these, the only thing that keeps teachers going is love for their students. Seeing the love and sacrifice of my own professors has made me want to always strive to be the best I can for my students. Since, like my future students, I had to deal with online learning this past semester, I have the privilege of understanding exactly how they feel. My Wifi never seemed to be good enough and my family was constantly distracting me. While this may be an intimidating time to begin teaching, I think the empathy I already have for my students is going to help me begin my career. If there is one thing that helped me feel more connected to my fellow classmates and professors during online classes, it was utilizing video resources such as FlipGrid. The ability to verbally articulate and share my thoughts with the rest of my class made all the difference in the world to me. If the time comes again for online learning, this is something I’ll be sure to introduce to my students.

Wendy Milne
Wendy Milne
5 months ago
Reply to  Anna McDermott

Anna- I’m so impressed that this did not send you running in another direction. We need new teachers like you! Keep practicing with all kinds of on-line formats. Most of the school districts will be using some kind of on-line learning to start (and maybe finish) the school year. Best of luck to you!

Maria
Maria
4 months ago
Reply to  Anna McDermott

Anna, I totally share Wendy’s sentiment. Your professors sound like wonderful role models and the empathy you’ve developed is one of the most valuable sensibilities one can bring to teaching. Thank you so much for sharing your experience. With teachers like you joining the profession, we can have shape an exciting “new normal” for post-pandemic education. Maria
PS: The possibility of unexpected technology glitches is one of the most anxiety producing aspects of teaching in an on=line environment. I keep thinking of students in rural areas where Internet access may be iffy at best. I wonder how they are coping. A friend of mine told me (in an somewhat critical way) that a teacher she knows just prepared printed packages for parents to pick up at school and take home to their children. At first, this seemed like an major case of technology avoidance. But then it occurred to me that her students live in a very rural and hilly area of PA. Maybe a packet of print material was the best “technology” to use.

Elizabeth Macdonald
Elizabeth Macdonald
5 months ago

This past semester I was finishing my senior year of high school. Now, I am planning to major in education next fall as I begin attending college. Ending my high school career in the midst of a pandemic was certaintly not what I expected or wanted. However, as someone who hopes to be a teacher someday, I am so amazed by and grateful for the way that my teachers responded to this crisis. From learning how to use Zoom, to changing our literature syllabus to only include books that were available for free online after our libraries closed, my teachers showed again and again how much they cared about my classmates and I through the work they put into teaching us despite all the obstacles they faced. I realize now more than ever that teaching is difficult and may require sacrifices. However, my experience as a student in this pandemic has instilled in me a desire to care for my future students just as my teachers have cared for me, no matter what difficulties I may face.

Wendy Milne
Wendy Milne
5 months ago

Elizabeth – as I just said to Ann above, we need teachers like you! Hold on to that enthusiasm. Best of luck in your first year. It’s great you posted here also and have already started to have conversations about education.

Maria
Maria
4 months ago

Elizabeth, I again say “ditto” to Wendy’s comment. As a former English major, I really appreciated your mentioning how your teacher switched to on-line accessible books. That has been a major lifesaver for me while our library is closed. I’ve read more in the months of social distancing than I did in the prior year. Without the downloadable library books, I’d be going bonkers. Best wishes as you embark on your teaching career.

Maddie Dichard
Maddie Dichard
5 months ago

I was reading the responses on this thread, and it initially seems like a comfort that many teachers/students experienced the same struggles and anxieties with the online classes, but at the same time, it lights a fire under us to find a way to improve and teach effectively online! As I prepare to finish my Bachelor’s degree in Education this coming school year, I am buzzing with “what if” questions, and realizing quickly that I am going to need a game plan for teaching students online, if need be. When COVID-19 sent me home from college, I watched as my sisters sat through painful lessons and even shed a few tears about the stressful and confusing schedule that was their new normal. I began to think about how I would teach online, and I came to the conclusion that teaching online needs to be “practically interactive.” This term “practically interactive” was born out of these considerations:
1. Students need to be directly engaged. There are distractions at home. There is no positive peer pressure at home. Students need to be individually pulled into the lesson so that although everyone is in their homes, there is still a strong sense of unity as a class.
2. Students have a screen, and whatever is at home, that’s it. Although giving out class materials is not impossible, making good use of technology tools, household items, and student creativity is more realistic.
3. We cannot be monopolizing the student’s whole day. Students need time to engage with their peers informally outside of class time. They also need opportunities to discuss with each other during class time. Finally, assignments need to be clear, relevant, and not too time-consuming or demanding in terms of parent help. I say this not to dismiss a parent’s role in their child’s education, but to acknowledge that parents work too, and that children need to be given manageable tasks for their learning level.
I am sure that I am very unaware of just how much planning and preparation this actually is, as I have yet to graduate, but I am feeling very grateful to have been given so many technology resources over the years. I know that teaching online will not be the easiest thing, and while I pray that school buildings will soon be filled again, I will also continue to prepare myself for the reality of teaching online. I have seen a lot of free resources, and teacher collaboration through this pandemic, and it fills me with hope and assurance that I will not be alone in my first year of teaching (possibly online).

Maria
Maria
4 months ago
Reply to  Maddie Dichard

Maddie,
Thank you for your post. I apologize for not responding sooner. I’m been consumed with trying to make an on-line course engaging. As you point out, this is really important in an on-line environment. Your observations of your sisters’ experiences is significant. For some students, the on-line evironment seems to work for them. For others, it is stressful. Your idea of suggesting materials that students might have in the home to use for instructional purposes challenges all of us to be creative. Thanks for your comments. I hope you’ll continue to visit our website. Maria

Mikayla
Mikayla
5 months ago

This blog was very interesting and I enjoy reading everyones experiences. Online learning was a challenge for me. I would rather be in a traditional classroom with objects/content that I would hold and feel. Reading online and not from an actual book was hard. I found myself getting distracted more. I have talked to many of my classmates and children that I coach about this change and we all had the same thoughts. The shift to online came very abruptly and it was difficult to adjust.

Maria
Maria
4 months ago
Reply to  Mikayla

Mikayla,
Thanks for you comments. The abruptness of the switch to an on-line environment made the adjustment so much more challenging. I recently saw a reference to an article that referred to “emergency remote education.” I’d been using the term “distance education,” but the term “emergency” really captures what so many teachers were plunged into. On one hand, commuting into campus and finding a place to park are always a hassle. But I’d gladly go back to that so I could be in a classroom with others. That’s the environment I find most conducive to my own learning. I hope the “new normal” allows for a creative balance between on-line and in-person classes. Hope you’ll continue to visit this website. Maria

Leticia C. Harshman
Leticia C. Harshman
4 months ago

Teaching and Learning in the Age of COVID-19

The Lion and the Mouse: A Commentary on the Ways the

Covid-19 Closure Has Impacted Education, Both Big and Small

Written by: Leticia Harshman, Teacher of High School Students, Mother of 2 Elementary Students

Inquiry: Share what you are experiencing about teaching and learning during this time

             Jerry Pinkey’s The Lion and The Mouse is a wordless adaptation of one of Aesop’s most beloved fables, where an unlikely pair learn that no act of kindness is ever wasted. This children’s book is unique in the sense that it tells the story (without any words, just illustrations) of a mouse who accidentally disturbs a lion from his rest, and the lion who makes a life-changing decision to release his prey. When the mouse remembers her debt, she frees the lion from a poacher’s trap, proving that sometimes, “even the king needs help and little friends may prove to be great friends,” (Pinkey 1).

This book was a gift given to me at my son’s baby shower a little over eight years ago. It was a gift that I found myself pulling from my home library shelves as soon as the school closures began to happen across the state on March 13. I selected this picture book, among other more advanced children’s books for my son Elijah, age 9, and my daughter Grace, age 7, to read when a break from home schoolwork would be needed. This book and others were to eventually join all of the other necessary school supplies in our dining room: the paper, both lined and unlined, two pink baskets of pencils, pens, and markers, scissors, glue, and an iPad. I was in the process of redesigning our dining room into a makeshift school room that weekend, fully preparing myself to now teach from home for the next duration of however long the school closures were going to last. The idea was to provide my two kids with a fun reading break from their school assignments I was going to be given via email from their two teachers. And so, this book, The Lion and the Mouse waited to be picked up when Momma (that’s me) would decide that a fun break from this new home-school environment could take place. I had imagined this would occur about 40 minutes into the assignments, a chance for my children to take a “brain break” if you will. However, this book ended up being the first one I turned to before the home-schooling even began. While sitting at the large dining room table, just the three of us, ready for “class” to begin, I showed the book to Elijah and Grace saying, “Check out this book; Elijah, you got this gift a long time ago when you were a baby, remember? Grace, we used to look at these pictures and tell the story, remember?”

They did not remember. 

“What do you mean,” Grace asked, “There’s no words.” 

“Yeah,” I said, “But there’s pictures. You have to be the one to tell the story.”

“How?” Grace asked. 

           Teaching my two kids, one in third grade, the other in first, during this Covid-19 closure for the past two months has been a lot like approaching Pinkey’s wordless adaptation of the Lion and the Mouse. There’s “no words,” for the story, just pictures, and it’s up to me to tell the story, but the question remains the same: In the words of my little 7-year-old Gracie, “How?”

           Yet, another question also comes to mind when I consider my experience while both teaching and learning to teach their assignments during this unique time—not just “How,” but “Why?” Why continue learning when the schools are closed and there’s no teacher to please, no students to compete against, no physical school building to attend?  

Interestingly enough, it was this question of why that my third grader Elijah proposed during one of our more challenging math assignments concerning area and perimeter—subject matter I hadn’t even thought about, or even needed to think about for over 30 years.

This happened a week into our home-schooling while my Gracie-Girl sat at the dining room table, practicing her week’s spelling words, nibbling at a chocolate donut. I was helping Elijah trudge through a math problem. And my little brown-eyed-brown-haired people-pleasing third grader was becoming increasingly frustrated at the math assignment, and I was too.

He suddenly blurted out in anger, “Why do I have to do this!” 

And I responded quickly, “Because your teacher wants you to!” 

Not a proud Momma moment.

And certainly not a proud Teacher moment.

           Therefore, it hasn’t just been the How, but also the Why that plague me during these uncertain times—these two important inquiries into teaching and learning hit me like a one-two punch and I feel like I’m Rocky, taking the punches, one after another, but still standing. For it was Rocky Balboa’s coach Mickey who taught him his life’s motto in and out of the ring: “It aint’ how hard you can hit, but how hard you can get hit, and keep moving forward.”

           Thus my teaching and learning experience amidst the age of Covid-19 has been, in a word, hard, but I keep moving forward, and I’m getting hit hard with anxiety, fear of the unknown, stress of learning new technology to connect with my high school students while also getting hit with weekly emailed assignments from my children’s teachers. This is really, really hard. Finding a healthy balance between the challenge to teach my English classes from home in a meaningful way AND learning HOW to teach my kids is not easy. It’s hard.

And yet the high school English teacher within me shouts, “No, hard isn’t the right word here—rocks are hard.”

That’s what I always tell my ninth graders when they attempt to use that adjective to describe a challenge, or when they ask, “Will the midterm be hard,” to which I smile and reply, “No it’s not hard, rocks are hard; the midterm will be challenging.”

No doubt their reaction is an eye roll when they turn around. You would think that after 18 years teaching high school English, I would have let go of that facetious phrase, “No, rocks are hard,” but it’s one of those things I just find myself saying regardless.

So yes, this experience has been hard, and continues to be hard.

And for good reason.

Three actually.

           Fear, failure, and freedom have become my foes, and it’s for these three reasons that I find difficulty in approaching my new-normal in this age of school closure. It’s a mix, a toxic one, that I didn’t even know could exist until now, and it’s become a powerful force that continues to impede faith in my own pedagogy. I find myself staring at Jerry Pinkey’s The Lion and the Mouse, and though I see the pictures, I don’t know how to best tell the story, and I don’t know why it should be told.

           Can a happy ending even exist in these unprecedented times? Are we all just relying on our own story-telling instincts, hoping for the best? Can we put faith in “distance learning” or is it just “distant” learning? Furthermore, can learning ever be distant? Or is there a closeness of cultures required for learning to occur, to really make it feel alive and worth pursuing?

           

Facing The Fear:

           

My fear began on Friday March 13 when the school closure was announced across my district. Administration alerted families that they could pick up all of the teaching materials parents would need for their elementary students to get through the next two weeks plus. Parents were given allotted times to drive to the school to get the many assignments and photocopies and books. Though my husband picked up the materials, the fear of exposure to the virus forced us to leave the assignments sitting in a great big meaningless pile in our vehicle for days. We didn’t want to touch it; we didn’t want our children to touch it. So that great big pile of assignments became more and more meaningless as the days went by.

A week passed.

Elijah and Grace spent the first week away from school like it was summer vacation, while mom and dad dreaded approaching the pile of work.

Thankfully, it was that first week that also gave me time to set up my English classes with online assignments and blog projects. I reduced the workload, as per administration’s guidance, and felt content with the tasks that lay ahead for my ninth graders. The stress of implementing more via google meets and screencasting videos of me talking to my classes didn’t exist quite yet, no, that would come later. For now it was making sure we were all home, safe, and healthy.

Much like the rest of America, we were glued to the television—news alerts. Our fear of contracting the virus grew and grew. Our number one concern was staying safe and healthy and the daily updates of people getting sick every day caused a perspective shift. In the back of my mind I thought about those assignments for Elijah and Grace sitting in my car—what was the purpose of that curriculum and would I be able to help them through it?

And so, the notion of home-school, at first, felt a lot like being that lion caught in the poacher’s trap: stuck inside this fear of what to do next. Trapped: nowhere to turn. Nowhere to go.

Thankfully as my interest in checking my phone every few minutes for news updates waned, and my fear of touching the school materials faded, and with the help of my husband, we organized the daily assignments for Elijah and Grace, and began co-teaching the two of them in the dining room. 

           The fear had passed, yes, but now a second wave of challenge had also begun: facing failure.

           Not Elijah’s failure.

           Not Grace’s.

           My own.

Facing Fear of Failure:

           It’s hard (there’s that word again) for me to admit this next truth about my experience during this closure thus far concerning teaching and learning, but I’m going to admit it regardless: I had to face my fear of failing on two fronts: One as my son’s and daughter’s teacher. And another as my ninth graders’ teacher. Quite A Tale of Two Teachers, if you’d ask Charles Dickens, right? And ironically, my classes were smack dab in the middle of reading A Tale of Two Cities when the school closure was announced, that and a research paper, weekly essays, and wrapping up Romeo and Juliet. A lot was going on in my own teaching world, and to add to that the challenge of teaching my two kids was going to be no doubt about it: hard. What if I couldn’t do it? What if I failed?

           First, I failed at being patient with my own kids.

           However, it was TribLIVE reporter Lori Falce who made me feel less like a villain during these unique circumstances. Her April 2 opinion piece, Reluctant Covid-19 Home School Lessons echoed my own fear of failures as a teacher and a mother, navigating these unchartered waters. She writes, “I have never wanted to home-school. While I want my son to reach for knowledge, and I want to be his partner in finding it, I have never wanted to be his teacher.”

           Reading her thoughts appeased my own secret failings as a mother and teacher. She, as well as I, knew it was not going to be an easy task: “I knew it was not going be easy for either of us. My kid has ADHD and functions best with structure and routine. He also requires a lot of supervision to stay on task. Independent work on something he loves is simple. On something that bores him, it’s nigh on impossible,” she admits.

           She, as well as I, also knew a lot more goes into teaching than assigning work. Falce explains, “Teaching isn’t just about moving facts from a book to a kid’s head, like downloading a file or stuffing an envelope. With a class, it’s drawing attention and getting a reaction, like a photographer taking a group shot and getting everyone to smile at the same time. With a single kid, it’s like hiding a pill in a chunk of cheese to get your dog to swallow it — and if that doesn’t work, stuffing it in his snout and forcing him to swallow.”

           How could this TribLIVE reporter know so much of what I was feeling myself? Her article reaches a new level of honesty when she writes: “And I hate it. I don’t want to crack the ruler. I want to help him with his homework, not teach him about math that I barely remember from 6th grade. He doesn’t like it either. He likes when school is school and home is home. Quarantine status is ripping down those walls and making it seem like he is chained to a desk he never leaves.”

           Could it be that I was hating this new process of teaching and learning? Hate is such a strong word—as far as I could express, and even now, this wasn’t something I was hating—this was something that was “hard.” And still, I resonated with this writer’s experience teaching her son at home.

           She finalizes, “If some good comes out of the whole frustrating process, it might be more understanding and appreciation between parents and educators, and kids who look forward to putting walls back up between home and school.”

           I like the way she articulates this last part because it alludes to the need for walls, which was something I felt I had been fighting against for years—the notion of the rigid school structure—the routine of school—it was something I felt along with my own students, something I thought should change, and be less rigid. But now—this overwhelming amount of freedom that the Covid-19 closure provided was just too much for me as a mother and a teacher. 

           And that’s how I faced failure as a teacher for my high school students too. I found myself assigning tasks each week—not teaching—isn’t teaching MORE than assigning? Yes—but how to do that in this new distance learning environment? I would have to LEARN something new—learning how to use new technology to connect with my students made me feel like I was still that lion, struggling in the poacher’s net, struggling to be free.

Facing the Fear of Freedom

           Negan is a character from AMC’s series The Walking Dead—and it was freedom that he sought, too, and freedom that he actually gets after spending eight years in a prison. In one of the episodes, his prison door is accidentally left unlocked, and he spends a night and a day escaping, navigating his old abandoned homestead, fighting off zombies, better known as “walkers.” By the end of the episode, and by the end of his first full day “free” from his prison cell, Negan makes his way back to the only home he had ever known—the prison—and locks himself back in, realizing life outside those protective walls wasn’t all it promised. The grass wasn’t greener on the other side, and he didn’t feel much freer on the outside. In fact, he felt much safer, much more secure, and much more free to live while inside his cage.

           And I get it.

I get the fear of so much freedom involved in learning and teaching at home. I watched that episode during the fifth week of quarantine—at a time when the stay at home orders had increased greatly, and I began to wonder if things—if education will ever return to “normal.” It occurred to me that I had been greatly missing the walls and structure that school had been providing for me for so long, and I just wanted to go back.

           Freedom from school meant a new term for me: “distance learning.” And with distance learning came administration’s encouragement to branch out of our comfort zones to learn new teaching techniques: screen casts, zoom meetings, google meets, and more, oh my. Intimidation flooded my once strong pedagogical mindset and this old dog didn’t want to learn new tricks. Thus, freedom from the physical building became a burden—a burden to learn.

           Just like my initial fear of touching my kids’ schoolwork out of anxiety and fear of contracting the virus faded, thankfully my initial fear of learning new teaching techniques faded, too, and I started treading water instead of drowning in it.

           And yet, that fear and that anger that I know my son Elijah was feeling, too, at this initial change in the ways he learns and the way I teach: it still resides. There’s a pain of being caught up in that poacher’s trap—the Covid-19 school closure trap—that has changed our teaching and learning culture. And I really don’t know how this story ends. We all see the pictures—but the way we tell the story differs, perhaps each and every time we consider such things upon reflection.

           William Pinar’s “The Method of Currere” explores the notion of laying down the path while walking on it—a framework for teaching requiring teachers to reflect upon their life experiences, and allowing those life experiences to inform their pedagogy. I take heart in this methodology, but a huge part of me just wants to hurry up and get to the end—end of the story, end of the path—I feel the constant reflection wave hitting me in the heart on a daily basis. Feelings of inadequacy as my son’s and daughter’s teacher and mother plague me. I’m sick with a fever of failure amidst this freedom and it just causes more fear—fear that I’m not doing enough good to overcome these feelings of a bad attitude towards what could potentially be a good outcome to the educational process. 

In short, while I still feel that I’m like lion caught in the trap, there’s a part of me that fears that meek mouse trying to free me, for that freedom is a fresh perspective on the way I’ve been teaching for the past 18 years. What if it’s time to learn something new, the meek mouse whispers. What if a new approach to teaching is exactly what you need to learn right now—could there be freedom in that? she beckons. 

           There could be, I admit to myself.

           How?

Why?

           The lion caught up in the net continues the struggle.

           What I’m coming to know is that the struggle IS part of this teaching and learning process I’m going through. It’s the struggle to be free in the face of fear, failure, and freedom.

           And so I’ve found myself approaching the “How” day by day—I had to—the alternative was a stressful anxiety attacking state of panic of how was I going to be my son and daughter’s teacher AND be an English teacher for my high school students. 

           It took a few weeks, but I have grown more patient with my kids, and I’m patting myself on the back for learning how to screencast, zoom meet, and google meet, oh my!

           But it’s the “why” that challenges me still—yet that’s a question I had returned to often anyway, even before the Covid-19 school closure. Being a reflective teacher demands such a question on a regular basis.

           Why learn this skill?

           Why complete this assignment?

           Why write about this topic?

           Because the alternative is silence.

           The alternative is stagnancy- a staid state of quiet that can’t express what it means to be human.

           To be human is to always be learning, growing, because if we aren’t doing those things, then we are dead inside. Cold. Lifeless.

           Reminds me of P.T. Barnum’s first attempts at bringing his circus spectacle to the masses. He featured wax figures of lions, tigers, and bears.

           Oh my.

           A complete still-life spectacle that was anything but.

           It was just dead.

           The 2016 musical film, “The Greatest Showman,” explores this turning point in his approach to entertainment quite well when P.T. Barnum’s (played by Hugh Jackman) daughter encourages, “You need something sensational, something alive.”

           That perspective changes everything and it was then that the circus comes alive with the unique and rare performers we know about today: trapeze artists, bearded ladies, and sword swallowers, oh my.

           Teaching and learning is a very ALIVE pursuit that works on a praxis, and no amount of social distancing and distance learning can crush that desire to feel alive.

           “You stumble through the days, got your head hung low, your skies are a shade of gray, like a zombie in a maze, you’re asleep inside, but you can shake awake,” Jackman sings in the film.

           “Cause you’re just a dead man walking, thinking that’s your only option,” he explains. “But you can flip the switch and brighten up your darkest day. Sun is up and the color’s blinding, take a world and redefine it. Leave behind your narrow mind; you’ll never be the same.”

           “Come alive, come alive,” he beckons. “Dream with your eyes wide open and you know you can’t go back again to the world you were living in because you’re now dreaming with your eyes wide open.”

           No more stumbling through the days. Face the fear. Face the fear of failure. Face the freedom. Dream with your eyes wide open. We can’t go back again to the world we were living in. Take a world and redefine it. Let’s leave behind our narrow mind.

           Tell the story.

           How? We have to all be the one to tell the story, just with a new perspective.

           Why? To feel alive.

             Oh my!

Topic
Teaching and Learning in the Age of Covid-19
Maria
Maria
4 months ago

Leticia, It’s so good to read your writing again. I can’t believe it’s been over 9 years since I last saw you. Your reflections are both literary and insightful. I hope you’ll keep writing as we move forward through these uncertain times. Could you send me an email? I’d like to ask you a question about your piece. Thanks and take care. Maria

Patricia McMahon
Patricia McMahon
4 months ago

Thank you for this, Leticia. I enjoyed reading it so much. Your story really paints a vivid picture of the many joys and challenges of teaching not only your high school students but your own children during the COVID-19 school closures.
Pat

Gina Ligouri
Gina Ligouri
4 months ago

I’ve been thinking about this topic for quite sometime now- since April, actually. When the school year ended, I thought, ‘I’ll gather my thoughts and then respond.’ But, to be honest, my thoughts were never completely gathered, so here I go. Being thrown into online education in the midst of a pandemic was certainly not a predictable event. In fact, many of my colleagues are still grappling with what went down. I’m going to be honest, here. The online environment was a STRUGGLE. Not because I didn’t have content, not because I was struggling with technology; but, because my students were ripped from their everyday norm. While I tried to make this environment as close to my classroom as possible, let’s be real, it was NOT the same. I will say, my online environment was fun! My activities were engaging, relevant and meaningful to my students and I intentionally designed them that way. Don’t think for a minute the “two week shutdown” in Pennsylvania was a vacation for teachers (although some will argue that point). Most teachers spent those two weeks researching technology tools and revamping their lesson plans to navigate the situation. Two weeks turned into four week and into six, but I think most of us really knew what was coming after that first extension. This is how we were going to finish the year. What I struggled with, most, was reaching students. I had more bounced back emails, voicemail full, and just unanswered messages than I’ve had in my entire career to date. This was extremely frustrating for me. How was I supposed to work with a student who was MIA? I understand that many of my students were dealing with being home to school by themselves while mom and dad were at work (I teach high school). Also, I found that many of my kiddos were having a VERY hard time adapting to the social distancing guidelines and not seeing their friends and significant others. High school is a very social time for our kids, and this pandemic ripped them away from everything they knew.
As part of my online instruction, I had my kids journal. I gave them 25+ “COVID” topics and asked them to journal (online) daily. Some of these topics included, “How are you feeling today?” “Did you check in on a neighbor or elderly family member today?” “What are you doing to stay active?”, and so on- you get the drift. I found these journals to be VITAL to their well-being both personally and academically. I found these to be so vital, in fact, I will be adding them to my everyday classroom routine when/if we return… speaking of…
I feel this blog is still very real and very relevant, even though it’s July, because I feel like the same conversation is still at the forefront. The certainty of what school will look like in a month’s time is very different across the Commonwealth. I’m sure most educators are struggling with the same questions. I’m sure most parents are struggling with the same questions. And, in turn, what do our kids think? Now, from a high school perspective, I know a little about what is going on in their minds. My co-curricular group of kiddos are chomping at the bit to get started and unfortunately we are on hold for the time being. So, our emails have been more casual in nature. I know that kids want to be back in school, but, I also know that high school kiddos are worried about going back safely. What is hopeful and heartwarming is that they are not worried about themselves, for the most part. Some are- some are scared. But for the most part, they are worried about their grandmother who lives with them, their mother who has a heart condition, their little brother who has asthma, and, believe it or not- their teachers! This is a tough conversation to be part of. When you are the teacher, the adult in the classroom who is supposed to be calm, cool and collected at all times to ease the minds of your kids, what will you say to a student who lost a parent or grandparent to COVID-19? How are you supposed to respond when you are frightened or worried yourself? I don’t know about you, but I have A LOT of training in my wheelhouse. I’ve been trained to run, hide or fight in response to an active shooter. I’ve been trained how to “stop the bleed” and use a tourniquet. I’ve been trained in CPR and AEDs. I’ve had extensive mental health and child services training. All of this education prepares me for situations I hope and pray I never have to encounter. This education prepares me for life-saving actions that I hope and pray I never have to use on one of my kids or colleagues. I feel like these training sessions which I’ve name prepare us for a hypothetical situations. Will “teaching during a health pandemic” be added to the list of essential teacher training? Unfortunately, I’m thinking “pandemic training” will become just as important as your AED, CPR and active shooter drills. Knowing the impact this worldwide event had on education, we MUST be prepared for the future. The tough part, here, how do we do it? Where do we start?
With all that comes with schooling in 2020, I don’t think ANYONE was prepared for a worldwide pandemic. There were no college courses on how to respond, no training sessions or professional development where teacher leaders could show us the ropes or PREPARE us. Instead, all educational professionals, all teachers, aides, counselors, etc., dove in head first and started swimming to the finish line. And guess what? WE ALL MADE IT THERE! Some avenues were more graceful than others, but in the end, every educator busted their tail to act, teach and do in the best interest of every single kiddo in their classroom. As I wrap up this post, I look to a few emails from students I received at the end of the school year. Like many of you, I’m sure, your students were grateful, thankful and they missed you! While the 19-20 school year will go down in history (ha, bet Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer never expected this type of company!!) I think we will all emerge better educators because of it. It has been rocky, no doubt, but try and take the one positive you gained from teaching online. That’s what I’m doing. I am taking my positives and starting there for the next school year. Best of luck to every educator reading this post. I hope you have found time to reflect, as I have, and that you have your mindset ready to tackle the rest of 2020 and a new school year!

Topic
Teaching and Learning in the Age of COVID
Patricia McMahon
Patricia McMahon
4 months ago
Reply to  Gina Ligouri

Gina,
You mention many thought-provoking issues that are still at the fore of our conversations as decisions are being made right now about whether to/how to have students return to school in the fall.
Teachers worked so hard in the midst of this COVID-19 crisis, not only to design meaningful lessons but to learn how to use technologies compatible with their instruction. This really is a great example of teacher agency and of job-embedded professional learning.
I feel that the pandemic and its consequent quarantine measures have pushed us into a new era regarding the concept of school. What will school look like post-pandemic? Can there ever really be a return to the way things used to be? How can we leverage the lessons we’ve learned from emergency remote teaching? As you say, “we must be prepared for the future.”
I was happy to read how much your students wanted to journal during this time. It sounds as though writing to you diminished their feelings of isolation and enabled them to stay focused and centered, and it kept you informed about their state of mind. It would be interesting to have them re-read those entries at a later time and reflect on the relationship between their writing and their wellbeing. 
Best of luck to you, too, Gina!
Pat

Maria Piantanida
3 months ago
Reply to  Gina Ligouri

Gina,
Thanks for your thoughtful post. I’m just finishing an on-line course for Master’s students and found it very disorienting. Like you, I felt I had useful materials that would help students accomplish the learning goals for the course. What threw me completely was the inability to read the non-verbal cues from the group. The on-line platform for the course only allowed me to see 9 students at a time, but this is very different from looking at a group and being able to see at a glance who might be engaged, who might be confused, who might be on the verge of asking a question. Posing questions that required a yes/no answer was cumbersome because each person had to turn on their mike and respond sequentially. Stdents seemed reluctant to jump in and probably we all thought it was an inefficient process. Another problem was the lack of spontaneious conversation among students. I could have set up smaller working groups, but this felt like adding another layer to the complications of communication. I like you idea of the on-line journal and if I were to teach this course again, I think I would use that as a way to prime the conversational pump. It looks like the opening of the new school year will be fraught with on-going challenges. I hope you will continue to share your thoughts–gathered or not–and encourage your colleagues to do so as well., Best wishes for a successful start of the school year. Maria

Darrah Rhinehart
Darrah Rhinehart
3 months ago

A Year of Questions  
By: Darrah Rhinehart

As I reflect upon the end of the last school year and think about the soon-to-begin new school year, Zora Neale Hurston’s powerful statement from Their Eyes Were Watching God seems particularly apt: “There are years that ask questions and years that answer.”

Last year was certainly a year that asked questions. The foremost question that emerged for me when remote learning began was one that permeated the experience: How do I conduct my class remotely while maintaining its integrity and being the teacher that I want to be? My lessons in the past had always hinged on something that I thought was an unshakeable truth–I would be physically present with my students in the classroom. Online, the atmosphere felt so different, so disconnected. I encountered an intangible absence even during live discussions and lessons, and I finally realized that although my intentions as a teacher had not changed, the learning environment was so drastically different that the results felt flat to me. Remote learning called my attention to the crucial role that interpersonal exchange plays in education. When I am physically in a room with students, I can read them. I can gauge them and their learning without administering an official assessment. Simply put, I can tell whether or not they “get” the lesson by our interactions, by their questions, and by the overall feeling in the room. I struggled to read my students the same way in my virtual classroom. Without the intuitive exchange between student and teacher, doubt crept in that I had not experienced before. 

As educators, we constantly question in order to improve. What about the lesson was successful? Did my students fully grasp the concept? What can I do better next time? However, the questions that inundated me last year had a much different focus. How can I keep my students engaged when they are second semester seniors and they know that they only need to get a 61% this last grading period to get 100% of the points? What do my students need to be successful in this remote learning setting and how can I help them when I feel so out of my depth? How do I teach a class remotely when it was never designed to be taught in that manner? Am I challenging my students appropriately, or am I expecting too much? What in my classes is absolutely essential? 

These questions go far beyond simply evaluating a lesson’s effectiveness. They are rooted much more deeply, at the center of my pedagogy. I had to make uncomfortable choices in order to reduce my curriculum to the barest essentials. And as educators, I think we always believe that everything we have put into a course is essential. Remote learning forced me into an analysis of the hierarchy of my curriculum. What was expendable and what was not? I didn’t like being forced into these choices, but, ultimately, I had to let go of my need for complete control and remind myself that this situation was extremely unusual. Whatever I altered to make the class work did not have to be permanently changed. However, thinking about my curriculum in terms of which items were indispensable most likely helped me to streamline my classes in a way that would not have occurred had I not been forced into it. As painful as it was, the question of what was essential was a useful one. 

Now, a month before school starts, I once again find myself with more questions than answers. Many remain from last year, but new and more specific queries have also emerged. How will I get to know students when I only see them in person two days a week and we are never physically together as a whole class? Will I be safe at work? Do I need to redesign all of my lessons to be digital? What will I need to cut out of my classes? What level of anxiety will my students experience? What level of anxiety will I experience? 

The most pressing question of all for me, though, is also the one that paralyzes me at times: How do I plan for something as nebulous as the future in this time of uncertainty? I am still a month out from school starting, and though my district has chosen a hybrid plan, I know that the plan could change at any moment. Planning/adapting my classes seems almost impossible given the current instability of educational plans. All that I can do is remind myself to be flexible. Nothing about this school year will feel normal, so it makes sense that planning for it does not feel that way either.

Will this year be one that asks questions or one that answers? Probably a bit of both. And though the questions piling up seem overwhelming, only through asking these questions can we find any answers. Uncertainty is uncomfortable, but so, sometimes, is growth. 

Topic
A Year of Questions