Back in January of 2020, I left my office tech job to finally begin my career as a high school physics teacher. It was a tricky transition; I was a stranger filling the space of a beloved teacher. I had only had a few days to make the classroom my own.
As I settled in, I began developing a way to document on paper what I needed to know of each student and created a slideshow via google slides that would lead the students through the class material and was published daily. And it worked for the few weeks that I was in the classroom. One Friday in mid-March, rumors began to circulate that we should start preparing our students for the possibility that they might not return the following Monday. COVID-19 began to show signs of itself in Wisconsin.
Teachers had two weeks to completely transition the rest of their curriculum entirely to the virtual realm — quite a challenge. How were we going to provide equitable educational experiences to our students? There were a large number of kids who didn’t have a stable home life, a quiet place to focus, and time to spend studying while trying to work to provide for their families. What were we to do with the material to make it accessible as possible?
These are questions that teachers had on their mind as we finished the spring semester. And then we transitioned into wondering what the fall would look like. The summer was a well needed “break”.
I say “break” because every single day of my summer was spent brainstorming, collaborating, and planning for the upcoming year.
As I began work in the fall semester, several points became clear to ensure the success of my students: organization, expectations, and understanding (empathy).
Organization is one of the most useful skills I have acquired in my life (and something I’m continually working on). It is important that when students look at my Google Classroom page that they understand where to find what they need. I set it up into as few categories as I could: Morning Announcements (school-wide), Attendance (which are done through forms which help me keep my sanity), Resources (which is a nice drop spot for important documents), and then Weekly Postings. For each topic, I included emojis to help indicate the categories, but also to make it nice to look at and fun for the students.
Being clear on expectations and assignments saves hours of responding to confused student emails. I like to use bolding, italics, and underlining to help draw my students’ attention to the most important details. I will give instructions verbally in our zoom meetings as well as having a written explanation posted in Google Classroom. As due dates approach, I use reminder emails as well as group texts to give students a heads up. At some point every teacher has to recognize that each student has six other classes — information is bound to slip through the cracks at some point.
During our virtual experience, being understanding is the most important thing I can do as a teacher. Teachers must think of their students as humans and not just learners. Even though virtual learning can seem isolating, we have to understand that even our students are going through things that extend beyond our classroom. I had a few students who were hospitalized and sending me emails concerned about turning in their assignments on time. While I appreciate the dedication they have to learning, it worries me that they are unable to take a step back and focus on their health.
Being in this situation sucks. It’s difficult not only on the teacher’s end, but on the student’s side as well. It’s difficult for caregivers with small children and for administration trying to make decisions in an ever changing climate. It sucks, but I know this is something that we will get through and as a teacher, I can only do my best to support my students.