- Teachers On The Front Lines
Throughout this national pandemic, Touro Teachers are doing all that they can to uphold our mission To Serve. To Lead. To Teach.
Introduction by Dr. Michael Barbour
All around the world, this pandemic has forced teachers to shift from their traditional face-to-face, classroom-based teaching to an emergency remote teaching environment. While emergency remote teaching may use distance and online tools and content, this is not distance teaching or online teaching. Online teaching takes preparation and planning, with the careful consideration of the strengths and limitations tools, as well as which pedagogical strategies best suit the means of delivery and the affordances of that tool
The current crisis is an emergency. Like any emergency situation, teachers are currently triaging their individual situation and trying to make decisions about how to maintain some measure of instructional continuity for their students. What this looks like will vary significantly based on the student’s access to technology and connectivity, teacher’s knowledge and comfort with various tools, and the different instruction and tools that school’s or school district’s have existing contracts with.
However, it also is important for teachers to remember that this isn’t the time to get too clever. When it comes to distance and online teaching, you don’t have to be high-tech to be effective. Additionally, it is better to use a very small number of tools and strategies well, than a broader range of tools and strategies poorly.
At the end of the day there is no playbook for what you should be doing right now. As long as you are trying to reach your students and provide them with some sense of normalcy, which is the best anyone can strive for at this stage. Simply put, there are no right answers for how best to approach the current situation. The most important thing for teachers is to reassure these kids that there’s someone out there — whether it’s on the other end of an email, a phone call or an online learning tool — who cares about them and wants them to learn and succeed.
The key thing in this emergency context is to accomplish what you are able to during the remainder of this school year, and be sure that you begin to look to the future. The reality is that there’s a certain percentage of the content that’s not going to get covered this year, and this is true for all K-12 student out there. So even if schools open as normal in the Fall, millions of students will come back to their classes academically behind and having endured varying levels of uncertainty and trauma. Teachers and school leaders need to begin to plan to address both issues, as well as put in place measures to avoid the scramble we’re currently experiencing if a second wave of this pandemic does indeed hit.
James Quinn, 3rd Grade Teacher, GSOE Alumni, CEHS 2019
This 2019-2020 school year has been anything but easy for us all. For teachers, we have had to go through significant disruptions from California fires (two years in a row), power outages to the now COVID-19 outbreak––all impacted many communities in more ways than one––however, it is great to see so many teachers step up to the plate with "distance learning" during this crisis. "Distance learning" is the hottest buzzword in education, and I started as soon as I heard of the possibility that my school, Elmer Cave Language Academy, could close due to the pandemic.
For distance learning, I first started a learning YouTube channel to upload instructional videos and tutorials for students and stakeholders. Next, I continued using ClassDojo for communication while using Google Classroom and Google Meet: I use Google Classroom to post and grade assignments (i.e., classwork and homework) that I make on Google Documents; and I use Google Meet with my third grade class for instruction that includes checking-in with my whole class each school day, where I started also working with small, flexible differentiated groups. I am impressed with Google Classroom's numerous features such as connection to Google Drive and Google Meet.
Overall, I know teachers will get out of this unprecedented time stronger and more prepared to teach in the 21st century than before. The best advice that I have for parents/guardians is to keep strong communication with teachers and other parents/guardians, especially during this time; see also what others are doing; and exploit all the free educational resources going around the web such as from khanacademy.com, audible.com, and scholastic.com.
Scott Marsden, Economics/Government Teacher, GSOE Alumni, CEHS 2014
Through my experience with Touro, I was given the right tools that I can use right now with distance learning. From digital citizenship, using social media, to game based learning, I am able to make learning more interesting with my students during this pandemic.
My advice to parents is to be more understanding and flexible with their child’s teachers. Teachers are going through a tremendous transformation with very little training and a lot of pressure. Understand that teaching will not be the same as before. Things may take a while, but teachers will come out of this with so much experience.
Lawren Keaton, 7th Grade English, GSOE Student
Our communities were not prepared for the new “normal” we are slowly becoming accustomed. My school site was able to send home over 500 Chromebook laptops for students to engage in distance learning. Each week, I try to find new ways to engage students. For example, I created tutorial videos to show and talk students through the assignment as if I was teaching. In hopes that students can complete assignments while working at their own pace. My virtual office hours I hold throughout the week using Google Hangouts has been my favorite thing about distance learning. It is a chance to get to see my students and answer questions they may have about the assignments.
Our students have shown so much resilience during these unprecedented times and seeing them thrive brings me joy in a time of unpredictability. Some advice I have for families would be to create routines or schedules for children to be able to have some normalcy and for them to engage in learning. And remember, we must remind ourselves to reassure our children that we will get through this.
Cheryl Gewing, 2nd Grade Teacher, GSOE Alumni, CEHS 2005
There were about 50 Vallejo teachers on a Google Meet, with quite a few different breakout groups, one morning for more than 2 hours to try and collaborate on using online resources for learning. This will require adjustments in how we teach, and how we interact with our students. The limitations will be challenging to overcome to give feedback to students and to maintain our relationships with them. We are still trying to figure out if we can do Google Hangouts and allow students to have video connections - we believe we might need extra permission forms from parents for this.
I have already done a video read-aloud that Patterson Elementary students can watch on our Patterson Facebook page, which was challenging - it took three times to get it usable! We are suggesting parents keep in touch with teachers about what is difficult, and take advantage of the teacher's office hours, which we will all have, probably daily. We are trying to make suggested schedules for parents to follow that give students some video lessons, then practical practice, and even some exercise time. I myself have been trying to get into nature every day for a walk, and have found some beautiful areas in Vallejo and nearby to explore and get fresh air.
Jennifer Ellison, Technology Specialist, GSOE Alumni, CEHS 2018
We were given about twenty-four hours, I think, in total to prepare. We had a day that we could return to our classrooms and take what we needed. But, of course, it having never happened before, I don’t think I could have fully understood what I needed to bring home with me. There was an emergency feeling to it and that heightened the time that we spent collecting whatever we needed.
I’m trying to connect with students in lots of different ways. Our school is a pretty technologically savvy school in that we were already using things like Google Classroom and Class Dojo. So my students are used to those, but the reality is that not every student has access to Wi-Fi or devices when they’re not at school. So that’s a little frustrating. We were in the middle of reading a chapter book, so I’ve recorded myself reading a couple of chapters of that book online so that they can continue reading it.
I think the biggest need is access. Everybody needs access to technology, no matter where they live. Making sure that the whole town has Wi-Fi, and then making sure that everybody has a device that can connect to that Wi-Fi would transform our community. I have a philosophy that we should treat every single kid in town like they’re our kid, because once we do that, our community will be just transformed into a place where everyone has a voice and everyone can flourish and grow. If we could just blanket the world with Wi-Fi, every kid would have the same chance.
The message I would send to parents right now is that it’s really important to think about the overall health of everyone, not just the students’ ability to keep up academically. To make sure that students are feeling safe and comfortable. Put people before schoolwork and really just focus on the fundamentals. Kids need to read every day and kids need to think about math every day, if they’re in a mentally healthy place.
If you’re experiencing a lot of anxiety, stress or infighting that happens with homework, that’s a moment to take a step back, get that sorted out, and then focus on academics. Just like in the classroom, if my students are under emotional stress, they’re not going to be able to take in information and learn anything. That’s also true at home. For real learning to take place, there has to be a place where kids can receive information.
Monika Berger, Preschool Teacher, GSOE Student
The day the schools closed, we had very little time to gather materials for our students as we sent them home two weeks before our 2-week Spring Break. I sent my students home with a 3-week Home Learning Packet that was filled with familiar writing, cutting, math and phonic activities that would promote practice of the skills we have been working on in the classroom. The plan at that time was that we would return back to our classrooms after Spring Break. As we all know now, that is not how this world dilemma unfolded. We started our new Distant Learning practices on Tuesday, April 14th. During this time of uncertainty in our world and in this upcoming new way of teaching, my mind as been swirling with innovative, creative ways to virtually teach my students, that I miss terribly. I want this to be a good experience for them, as we have fun while we learn together.
What I am planning on providing my students with, will be a lot of hands-on opportunities filled with games. One of the activities that I will be assigning will be a weekly BINGO game, where the students will pick a square a day, as they form five in a row by the end of the week.
My favorite thing to do is Story Tell. I have been putting all my creative juices into making videos of me reading stories for my Distant Learners. They include background beats, sound effects, and my love for the spoken word.
What I want to convey to parents during this stressful time as we navigate through
these unchartered waters of home schooling, is to enjoy every moment you have with
your kid. Have fun with every assignment, try to make it a game, if it is not a game already,
and model the assignment first. Our children learn from what we do more than what
we say. So, if you can be the example for every assignment and demonstrate the activity
for your student first, it is the best way for them to learn.
We know so much now with brain research, that humans learn when we are in a calm state, when we are interested in the subject, when we work together and when there is a level of joy in the air. Our brains shut down and we cannot take in any new information, when we are stressed or pressured. So my advice to parents is to: make it fun, take breaks, move, take walks in the sunlight, smell the fresh air, play music, drink water, make healthy snacks together and have fun. Our kids want to spend time with us, so instead of introducing the Distant Learning as a chore they have to do, make it an opportunity they have with you as you create this new normal in the daily routine. Happy Learning!
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