Teaching through the Pandemic – Donna’s story
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Mississippi teachers scrambled to find ways to continue instruction even though they wouldn’t be seeing their students face to face for the rest of the school year. They would struggle to teach online via Zoom sessions and other online apps. They would fight to find a way to reach their students who did not have access to a device or the internet.
Many students didn’t have devices, so teachers were making paper packets (bundles of worksheets) that included all of the work students with devices did online. Teachers volunteered to ride buses with bus drivers to deliver meals and pass out learning packets. When the packets were completed they were returned to the bus driver or brought to the school. Teaching and assigning grades were at times nearly impossible. Parents, teachers, and students were completely frustrated and overwhelmed. So many families stopped all contact with the school. Their children were at home and learning stopped completely.
Getting physical books in the hands of the students was not an option at that time. I started looking for other ways to get books into the hands of our students. I found resources like Epic! Books who generously provided access to their books for students for free. I gave my students codes to Open eBooks from First Book. I communicated with teachers to see what needs they might have.
Mostly, I worried. I worried about the people who were sick and dying from COVID-19. I worried about students like my daughter who were missing their dyslexia lessons. I worried about students who liked to read but who would not be able to get books because they didn’t have a device or internet access. I worried about our third graders who needed to be reading something every day so they would be able to pass the third-grade reading gate. I worried about all of the people being affected by the Pandemic in ways we would not be able to comprehend for some time to come.
Adapting and teaching for pandemic learning
In August of 2020 teachers returned to school while students remained at home where they would be taught virtually. We came back wearing masks, having professional development meetings via Zoom, and having to socially distance and isolate ourselves from other teachers. The normal camaraderie teachers have at the beginning of the year wasn’t there. Teachers felt isolated and alone. Virtual learning and teaching were new to everyone. Although training sessions at the beginning of the year helped teachers know how to get started, there was so much more that teachers needed. During the time we would have been decorating our rooms for a new group of students we were making virtual classrooms and bitmojis.
We were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to meet the needs of our students in this new virtual teaching model. In the library, I worked to create a virtual library on Schoology, our learning platform, so that I could pull together resources for teachers and students. I added new content each week with read alouds, books, and fun projects. I worked on making lessons that focused on learning to find information online. I continued to work to find free eBooks so that students could have a place to find books to read. I also ordered eBooks that our students could check out and read from our library. I endeavored to make sure the library did not become irrelevant in this new virtual model.
The speed at which schools were able to begin teaching virtually was amazing. In the next few weeks, every student was provided either an iPad or a chrome book. Every teacher was provided a laptop. Families who did not have access to Wi-Fi were provided a hot spot.
They need meals during the day when their parents are at work. They need a place to be with someone who cares about them to make sure certain things happen. For the first time, I had to find a place for my daughter during the day because she couldn’t be in school with me. She needed to be safe during the day, have meals and snacks, and have someone to make sure she was online and completing her lessons. Parents everywhere were struggling with these same issues. I was fortunate to have a friend who could work from home who agreed to let my daughter stay with her.
Parents weren’t the only ones struggling. In a traditional year, during the course of the year, teachers get to know and love their students. Students need that connection but that is not the kind of connection you build in a virtual classroom. Very often students need to come to school because their homes are not safe and nurturing. Once again, parents, teachers, and students were frustrated and overwhelmed. By the end of the year, many teachers either quit or retired.
Growing Confidence with Pandemic Teaching
About a quarter of the way through the school year, students were allowed back on campus but their presence was not required. That is when the fun began. Now we had the task of teaching virtually and face to face. We created and taught online lessons for students who remained virtual but we also created and taught face-to-face lessons with the students who returned to the classroom. Grading and taking attendance was a complicated nightmare.
When I visited the classrooms, I was able to work with the students on their chromebooks. In a way, I enjoyed these lessons because they were more interactive than they were when the students visited the library. In the library, about half of the class time is spent assisting the students in finding and checking out books. In the classroom, I could have more in-depth lessons on finding and using information. Even this year back in the library, I have continued to teach information mini-lessons and give the students individual work time using the skill. I have also noticed teachers using a lot of the tools and skills they learned when teaching virtually. So if anything good came out of teaching through the pandemic, maybe it was getting technology in the hands of our students and learning how to make it work for us.
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