In a previous blog post, we discussed the indispensable role teacher’s play in every part of a student’s life. Over the course of this pandemic and the switch to online learning, we can all likely agree that teachers are silent superheroes. In a matter of moments, their profession changed overnight; what didn’t change was the ever-important task of educating our youth. But they didn’t harp over what looked like an insurmountable challenge. Instead, they adjusted. They learned to use new online platforms, repurposed their living rooms to look like classrooms, adopted methods to keep students safe, and plowed forward.
Although the world is different, we can breathe knowing our kids wouldn’t lose a quality education. But in the midst of a hectic school year with flip-flopping decisions, we lost an important voice: our teachers’. They were so busy prepping and learning how to be the best teacher they could be, we didn’t hear their voices. So The Myers-Briggs Company gave the following four teachers the floor:
Natalie*, Public Charter Middle School Teacher
Samantha*, Public Middle School Teacher
Rachael*, Public Charter Elementary School Teacher
Jada*, Public High School Teacher
How has your school adapted to the new normal? Are you in-person, online, hybrid?
Rachael, Natalie, Samantha: We are fully online.
Jada: I am fully online, however I have the option to access my classroom and teach virtually from there with no students present. I can also work from home, if I’m more comfortable there.
How do you feel your school handled communication with teachers and staff about the upcoming school year?
Nicole: Throughout summer as we waited to know what would happen, teachers did not receive much information. However, two weeks before school started when there was an official announcement, we went into overdrive. [We had many] trainings and professional development classes. I wish we had known we would be virtual earlier, but I believe the administration really did not know what would be happening either.
Rachael: My school handled communication with teachers and staff about the new school year pretty well. Our overall network did not. I think the problem was that they didn’t want to release any information until all decisions were made and set in stone. This led to a lot of anxiety for many people as we didn’t know what to expect. At times, it felt like the larger network wasn’t being fully transparent with us. I personally would have liked more [information] about their decision making process. [However], my actual school within the network truly did the best they could with what they were given as far as communication goes. I’m really proud of my school leaders for keeping teachers in mind when making decisions.
Many parents were extremely upset that students were required to return to schools in some areas, while others understood the effects the digital divide has on low-income students. Do you think your school did what was best for the population at your school?
Samantha: Since my school is a Title I school, many of our students and families do not have access to technology and/or internet services. Therefore, they struggle to keep up with online curriculum. However, my school is doing the best they can to provide appropriate services such as school laptops and information regarding free internet access.
Jada: This is tough to say. How do you choose educational needs over health needs? Of course, lower income students have less resources and struggle to compete academically, but they also have less [access to] healthcare if they were to be sick or exposed. How do you choose the lesser evil? Based on the information we have, I feel the school did what was best for the population and demographic of my school. Students will not have the same advantages as others at home, but they will be safer than being in school at this time. Laptops were given to every family that came to pick one up.
Rachael: I do think my school did what was best for the population of our school. First of all, many teachers wouldn’t have returned to in person if that were the decision that was made. Also, we are in a city where free wifi or free hotspots are being given to all families with school age children. That, coupled with our ability to raise money for everyone to have chromebooks made going fully online the best, safest option for all of us involved.
Were you worried for your health when schooled toyed with the idea of going back to school?
Nicole: I was worried and still am worried about my health. I live with very high risk family members and am hoping schools do not go back soon. It is going to be a tough decision between going back to my job and keeping my family safe when the time comes. I am hopeful we will be in a comfortable situation provided with all the resources required to keep our students and teachers safe.
Do you feel fully supported (financially, professionally, etc.) by your school as you prepared for this upcoming school year? If not, in what ways would you have wanted to be supported (i.e more online training, money to buy subscriptions to online services, etc.)?
Rachael: I feel supported both financially and professionally by my school and school leaders. I truly think they have done just about everything they can to help us prepare, even though none of us have been in this situation before. I am continuously reminding myself to give grace to others through this time, especially. We will all fail at something, but I’m happy to say we are trying out new ideas and will just have to see how they go.
Samantha: I do not feel fully supported financially or professionally by my school. First and foremost, I do not have access to all of the same materials in the online setting that I have in my classroom. For example, I am expected to assess my students in order to collect data throughout the school year. My school has not proposed an accurate online alternative to solve this problem. Also, due to a tight budget, I would have to pay for subscriptions to online instructional services out of my own pocket.
What have been some of the biggest challenges for you teaching online?
Nicole: Getting students engaged. It is incredibly difficult as a new teacher to not only continue learning the ropes of being a middle school teacher but finding lessons and virtual activities that gets my students interested and excited. I can often see their faces start to become uninterested and find new ways to get them active during virtual classes every day. Another challenge is creating relationships with my students. It is much more difficult to build trust and close connections with students without the benefit of face to face contact.
Samantha: Some of the biggest challenges with online instruction include classroom management and student participation. It is difficult to manage a class online through the computer. Students log off randomly or turn off their camera without permission. Also, many students choose to not attend class and/or complete their work because they do not value the online learning environment.
Besides the reasons that you’ve mentioned, what other unique challenges have you faced?
Rachael: There have been many challenges for me with teaching online that it is hard to name the biggest one. First of all, we are being invited into our students homes which requires being vulnerable both on their end and on mine. I am ever-aware that not just my students are hearing [my lessons], whoever is around them is also listening. For some odd reason, I’m afraid of being judged by them. I’m used to being my silly, fun teacher self, and I feel like it is quite hard to be that self online.
Another challenge is the long days of just sitting. As a teacher, I am used to being on my feet all day and moving around. It has been extremely difficult to sit at a desk for most of the day without many movement breaks.
Lastly, I fear that it might be a challenge to build community and relationships with one other within my classroom. I’m used to seeing my students interact with one another and I hope they are still able to as that is such an important part of growth and development.
Many studies have proven that online schooling is not as effective as in-person models. Have you found that to be true with your own class(es)?
Jada: At this point, it is hard to say. We just started and spent most of the first week getting to know the students and allowing them to get acclimated with the platforms. I understand the value and impact of in-person school, but I don’t feel that virtual teaching is ineffective. I feel that virtual learning has its place. For instance, students are much more interested, familiar and savvy with computers than older, traditional ways of learning.
If educators can learn to meet them where they are, it is possible that they will be more successful with school. This has given us an opportunity to make a change in the right direction where some may’ve resisted before. Now technology is the only answer until the pandemic settles, so those who traditionally don’t see the value in technology have no choice but to embrace the new norm. These are skills that will stick with teachers far after we return to work.
Speaking of embracing the new norm, do you foresee any changes that occurred this year echoing into the future? (i.e. more online schooling, exacerbating poor scores from lower income students, etc.)?
Rachael: I do think that we will see a generation of students who are a grade level behind as sad as it is to think about. Even with a year full of learning, so many students didn’t have what they needed in the spring or summer to get on a computer. I also think we will see even wider gaps between inner city and/or low income kids and affluent and/or suburb kids. I’m nervous about their futures and will do whatever I can to hand over the skills they will need to enter this world as an adult.
On a positive note, I do think that the platforms we will be using for online work will be useful in the future for student engagement, days when kids or teachers are out sick, and just a general accompaniment of asynchronous and synchronous work that will get students ready for the professional world and college. I also think that a positive is we are creating technology literate kids which is super exciting and could perhaps launch kids to an awesome new hobby or interests via the online world.
Samantha: The changes that occurred during this school year will have both a positive and negative impact on schooling in the future. Teachers will begin to incorporate more technology use in the classroom because they are currently learning how to navigate an e-learning setting. However, many students will struggle to catch up after experiencing a lack of adequate support in the online environment.
Is there anything else you’d like the public to know about what it’s like to be a teacher during this unprecedented time?
Nicole: It is not easy! But the teachers [that] I have met are dedicated and passionate. They are working hard to create entirely new curriculums to meet the needs of every single student. Regardless if a teacher is in-person, hybrid, or online they are trekking uncharted territories. It is important to remember that they are working in overdrive to make the school year feel as normal and incredible as always.
Samantha: Teachers are trying their best to provide instruction, help students, contact parents, and learn how to navigate the online setting. We are told to be patient and flexible during this unprecedented time. Please be patient and flexible with us as well. We want to see all of our students succeed as much as you do.
Jada: It is new! Being a teacher during this time in an already difficult career has become even more strenuous. Patience is appreciated, older educators had to overcome tremendous obstacles and achieve great learning gains in a short amount of time. Some of them are coming from decades behind to catch up and it is making everyone better. We now know how it feels to be the student again. I think that everyone will have an appreciation for one another through this journey. We need understanding and effort from all individuals involved.
Rachael: I would want to share with the public that us teachers are trying very hard to deliver good instruction for our students. We are learning new things for them, doing things that might make us uncomfortable, being extremely vulnerable, and doing all of that while also being the victims of this Covid-19 world. Have grace and work with us to do what is best for [the] kids. All we want is to be there for kids and we will, as always, give it our all. We will fail at times, but we will keep on trying no matter what.
*Names have been changed to protect teachers’ identity.