There isn’t a doubt that the lives of all teachers have changed drastically since the closure of schools due to the coronavirus outbreak.
The pandemic has upended countless educational norms, but especially those of the classroom. As much of the educational landscape abruptly shifted to online learning, teachers were sent on a journey to navigate this new, unprecedented change. As Chicago Public Schools celebrates Teacher Appreciation Week amidst new learning norms, I checked in with some Logan Square teachers to see how they are doing with e-learning and what challenges and benefits they have experienced. To hear how students are taking the change, check out this article.
M.Ed Reading, Language Specialist at Chase Elementary / Golden Apple Award for Excellence in Teaching Award Finalist
The ability to communicate with families has been critical for Ms. McKenna and her process in adapting to teaching online in meaningful ways. There is no manual for this new learning and it’s not perfect, but being open to the creativity of her different students and prioritizing the mental health of the families she works with has been key.
“It’s been a completely new learning environment,” McKenna said. “But what’s not new is our ability to be flexible and adapt to change and we really do that on a daily basis.”
She said learning about student’s family home-life and background is more important now than ever to help meet them where they are at.
“I learned which parents are single parents, which parents are essential workers, what homes have grandparents or aunts with their kids in the house,” she said.
8th Grade Teacher at Goethe Elementary, Mother of 2
Ms. Vahle (featuring her classroom pet Clem) emits an inspiring positivity when talking about the shift to online teaching. Though issues of digital divide inequities have emerged and classroom norms have had to be reset, the commitment of teachers to their students has only strengthened during this time. She acknowledges that online learning can’t entirely match the engagement of the classroom, so she’s has been working to be flexible and communicative to ensure she is working in her students’ best interests.
“Luckily, CPS is taking a very much not punitive standpoint so nothing can hurt a kid’s grade, which I think is great,” Vahle said.
Still, showing up to “school” now that everything is online has posed new challenges for teachers like Vahle to keep engagement and productivity up for 8th graders moving onto to high school soon.
“They just got their high school matches, and if they are passing for the year, how much are they really going to show up for online school? Vahle said. “I’m interesting, but not that interesting.”
However, that won’t stop her from showing up and being there for her students. As many struggle with new routines while dealing with pandemic-related issues at home, the best thing teachers can do is just be present, Vahle said.
“I know just being there every day and showing up gives them a sense of stability. Some of my students that really need that have lost it,” she said. “That is my first and foremost concern — that I do the most that I can to limit the trauma and sense of loss that they are experiencing, and then I think about what educational opportunities can I give to them to make sure that they’re going in next year on the best footing that they can.”
“We really do want whats best for their kid. I don’t know a teacher that doesn’t care about their kids,” she said.
High school teacher at an Austin private school
For high school teacher Ms. Rocks, who teaches a social justice capstone course to seniors, graduation is the next challenge her school is working to tackle. With in-person commencement ceremonies and prom canceled, she said students are frustrated that they can’t celebrate traditional end-of-high-school milestones, leading them to tune out of class and miss school. She said she only teaches two 45-minute lessons a week to give students time to complete assignments without overwhelming them.
She said she and other teachers are looking for creative ways to celebrate commencement that still meet the Illinois Department of Education and the state’s mandates around gatherings of people. “What does graduation look like in this time?” Rocks wondered. CPS announced that Oprah will give the commencement speech at the citywide virtual graduation ceremony, but private schools are looking into planning their own ceremonies.
[There is] time to be more intentional and creative with your teaching. I am allowed to be thoughtful about how this translates to students when am not there to give instruction.Maura Rocks on the positive aspects of e-learning
Seniors who have struggled to stay engaged to finish high school is another concern Rocks worries about, especially for students who have “gone dark” in the last seven weeks. She doesn’t know if they will meet the requirement for graduation.
“Anther concern [for students] is what college will look like in the fall, especially if college is online,” she said. “We are going to see a lot of students not matriculating to college right away because if you are making the choice between paying tuition for online school or maybe working and putting off college for a bit, I think that is going to become challenging, especially for our first-generation students who really need that admission to college.”
On the bright side, she has seen some students increase their engagement and connect online because grading is still in place — and she has hope that students who have not made a peep might resurrect in time for graduation. She also appreciates the newfound time to teach lessons.
“[There is] time to be more intentional and creative with your teaching,” she said. “I am allowed to be thoughtful about how this translates to students when am not there to give instruction. It has been fun experimenting with a lot of free online platforms and try educational tools that I would otherwise not have the time or bandwith to experiment with.”
Emily Dubicki & Blanca Feliciano
6th & 8th Grade Teachers at Mozart Elementary
Creating community out of the team of teachers has been essential for Ms. Dubicki and Ms. Feliciano not only to find new online tools but also emphasize the social wellbeing of the students. They’ve worked tirelessly in the best interest of their students, focussing on communication, flexibility, and patience.
“I think a lot of our students have had feelings of being overwhelmed but have worked together and learned new skillsets to be engaged as digital learners,” said Dubicki.
Like Vahle, the Mozart teachers want to be available to students if they need any kind of support. “Even our students aren’t getting 100 percent on all the things that we give them, we are checking that they are doing it, testing it, and trying,” Feliciano said.
Make sure you’re putting your best effort, make sure that you’re taking some chunk of time during the day to work on your classes because it’s important to keep skills going.Blanca Feliciano’s advice to students
She said students need to keep up schoolwork and learning new skills, even though it’s hard to do right now and offers some advice.
“Make sure you’re putting your best effort, make sure that you’re taking some chunk of time during the day to work on your classes because it’s important to keep skills going,” Feliciano said.
Featured photo: Colleen Mckenna