Stories from the Virtual Classroom: K-12 Educators Navigate Teaching Through Zoom
By Chase Fordtran
Since schools started closing all across the country due to the COVID-19 pandemic, K-12 educators have had to quickly adapt to teaching through virtual platforms. Most school districts have their teachers using the Zoom video conferencing app and Google Classrooms. Teachers already face challenges teaching their students in a traditional classroom setting, so teaching through a virtual platform has added a whole new layer of obstacles.
Parents and students, not just teachers, have had to make major adjustments in the way they function. One of our Teacher Enrichment Leadership Academy (TELA) leaders’, Ramon Gleason, who teaches special needs populations in South San ISD describes some of the issues his students’ parents face, “Many of my student’s parents have multiple special needs students who need a lot of support. They are trying to keep their jobs afloat and their households in order. They rely on my help to get used to working with virtual classroom applications. So, it has been a learning process for everyone involved.”
The TEI and TELA team is here to provide help and hope to teachers during these uncertain times. Our TELA teacher leaders want to share their insights into how they are navigating and adapting to the COVID-19 situation. Below are their stories.
8th Grade Science Teacher
As I sit down to write this, I check my inbox and there is yet another change in the online learning requirements. Don’t get me wrong, I am all about being flexible, and know it comes with the territory of being a teacher these days. Going from seeing all 197 of my students each day to having to not see them at all, and still having to find a way to give them 5 days of work in a maximum of two lessons a week with a maximum of 10 questions each is difficult. Although I am very grateful, I am still in the mindset of having to get everything in before STAAR! I am lucky in that most of my students have completed their two online assignments each week; there are only two that have yet to turn in anything, and about five that have picked the weeks they want to turn in assignments.
I was originally going up to campus one day a week to print and make copies of the assignments (with the resources they would need to complete them) for the five students in 8th-grade science that needed them. Now, I only have to go up every three weeks, and there is now only one student who needs paper copies because our campus has loaned out laptops to those who needed one.
“As an educator it is difficult to assign work that isn’t for a grade, but it is also difficult to not be at school with them every day to answer their questions or see the look on their face when they just don’t get it, but are afraid to ask. “
I still get daily parent emails; some are just venting, some are requesting more work for their students because they have finished all the assigned work, some are praising me for what I did before and what I’m doing now, and some just don’t understand why their student needs to do the work if it isn’t for a ‘grade.’ I get it. As an educator it is difficult to assign work that isn’t for a grade, but it is also difficult to not be at school with them every day to answer their questions or see the look on their face when they just don’t get it, but are afraid to ask. We also don’t understand the individual situations in each home, so I am now seeing that it is a legit request to not assign a ‘grade’ to the work, but rather ‘incomplete,’ ‘approaching’ or ‘proficient’ for the week – which is how our district is handing work accountability.
As for the parents who request more work for their child, we are now required to have an ‘enrichment’ tab in our google classroom with additional material for our students to view – however, this is not assigned or required. I like this section of my google classroom; I had a tab already called ‘Just for Fun,’ that had the virtual tours of museums, Live Mars Landing, Legends of Learning superhero games related to content….fun stuff for the kids to get their minds off the fact that they aren’t with their friends or their teachers. After all, we’re all in this together, right?!
(Yes, that’s Elon Musk ;))
Pre-AP Physics teacher
New Braunfels ISD
When we received the email that we were not coming back to school for an extended period of time, and we needed to, “grab whatever you need to teach remote,” I wasn’t scared or worried. The students in my district have been on a one to one iPad initiative for many years now.
“I was worried more for how my students would be able to acclimate to this method of instruction, than what it would require of me.”
My first thought was, “How are we going to make sure we get a hold of all the kids, let them know it is going to be ok, and make sure they have Wi-Fi to be able to make this happen?” I was worried more for how my students would be able to acclimate to this method of instruction, than what it would require of me. I signed up, and chose to do this job, so I can make it happen (I have to).
I wanted to make sure that they were able to find plans that would work for them since it is much different when you have to attend a physical class, as opposed to a virtual class, where you can, “choose,” to log in. I was worried about my students who need the daily motivation provided by me in person, and how that was going to look now that we literally cannot go back to school.
I decided to use my downtime to become more proficient in our delivery platforms like Canvas, and some of our available google programs. I learned how to Zoom, Loom and do anything else that ends in “-oom” that we are using, and if I don’t know how to use something or what all it can do, I have been exploring it to make sure I do. I have been helping other teachers who need patience and someone who can explain things in a simplified way to help them with the technology that maybe they weren’t using before. I made self-help navigation videos with Loom (mostly to help me remember), that I have sent to others to help them be successful at this virtual class thing too.
I have been attending virtual tech coffee hours to learn how to use add-ons like Peardeck in order to make learning more meaningful and impactful during our virtual classes…..because I could leave it as the traditional lecture and just read my notes off, but I want my students to WANT to come to virtual class, and have it be more meaningful for them in this type of dynamic. I have been exploring and building learning tools such as Nearpod to better reach students in this non-traditional delivery method. I had Nearpod before, but now it seems like I am better able (or needing) to explore how to be more proficient at it.
I feel like I am working harder now that before. I was never a teacher to leave early or on time (I was actually one of the last cars in the parking lot)…. but now I work on editing virtual lectures so that the, “take outs,” are removed and it can be more cohesive to students who missed class.
I find that it is easier to have parent conferences now via Zoom. I am able to share my screen from anything such as grades, to helping guide and troubleshoot technology problems. I have found that the parents that I have conferenced are very happy and thankful that I was able to help them via Zoom and that I am helping to answer their questions and quiet their concerns and fears.
I actually kind of like teaching remotely, especially with Elon Musk as my background for Zoom (no one can see my messy room that is actually there), and I see a lot of benefits that we currently have due to apps like Google Meets, Zoom and Loom that are allowing us to trial use their software. I worry that I will become spoiled during this time, and want it after the free trial period ends, and things go back to how they used to be. The hardest thing for me during this time is wanting everything to already be transitioned to a virtual appropriate format, and wanting my students to be successful. I am thankful for all of the teachers who have collaborated with me, and the administration who has checked on us to make sure we are ok too. I think if we can all find a way to help each other, this uncertainty and non-ideal setting doesn’t have to be such a task at hand.
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