Schools are closed across the country and our education system has shifted to distance learning, for the foreseeable future. This is quite a seismic shift in the education world. Most people rushed to internet search engines looking for information and advice regarding distance learning. After a couple weeks of distance learning, most information online talks about students and parents and their adjustment to life, after school closures. I haven’t come across much information highlighting educators and how they are dealing with their professional universe being turned upside down. Curiosity got the best of me as I became eager to hear a teacher’s perspective on the preparation, process, and effects of distance learning. Lacey Moore is a Twelfth Grade English teacher at Seven Lakes High School in Katy, TX and she was kind enough to sit down with me for an interview. Mrs. Moore provides us with a very valuable point of view, enjoy.
What do you like most about teaching?
What I love most about teaching is the genuine bond formed with my students and the opportunity to see them grow from the start of the year to the end. And the growth is not just academic, although, as a teacher, the academic growth is always rewarding to witness, but it’s also their growth in maturity, depth of thinking and reasoning and as representations of our future. Especially as a teacher of seniors who are about to be in the “real world” as they say, I love getting to watch them truly transform into who they will be, and I get a vast sense of pride and gratitude knowing I got to be a small part of that transformation.
When did you start distance learning and what was preparation like?
We began Distance Leaning on Monday, March 23, 2020 in my district. Preparation for Distance Learning was a bit overwhelming and stressful in the ten or so days leading up to March 23rd. It consisted mostly of emails (hundreds and hundreds of emails) from everyone from the Superintendent of the district, to the school board, individual campus administration, department chairs, instructional coaches, technology coordinators, librarians, parents of my students, the students themselves and members of the English IV team in which I teach. We, as teachers, had to quickly get ourselves acquainted with an online learning platform known as Canvas. I had used it some in the past to let students and parents know about upcoming quiz and test dates, but never to the extent in which I am using it now, and certainly never to actually teach my course. There was also the matter of issuing every teacher on campus a school laptop so that the work could be done. Because we could not all enter the school building at once, we had to sign up for time slots (only 5-10 staff members at a time of almost 300 teachers) to go up to school to get our laptops so that the lesson planning/building/uploading could begin.
What is your school’s approach to distance learning? Explain the daily process for you.
My school’s approach to Distance Learning was to begin with a “soft roll-out.” We received many instructions on how to ensure that our students would not be overwhelmed with the inevitable anxiety a shift like this would bring in the first week. So the soft roll-out consisted of uploading no more than 30 minutes of work for each subject area a day for the students. We, as a district, also decided to make the first week more about letting the students get to know Canvas and how it worked; therefore, we did not take anything as a grade in the first week, rather we just focused on participation and communication with our students. Now that they have gotten acquainted with the platform, I am able to upload lessons for my kids to actually work through and submit to be assessed. I made the decision for my course to upload the entire week’s lessons and individual due dates for assignments on Sunday evenings so they could see what would be expected of them all at once, and they could work through each day’s lesson at their own pace. I took skills that they have already learned throughout the year (i.e. literary analysis, poetry analysis, reading comprehension, etc.) and adapted lessons I would’ve been teaching in person to an online, student-centered approach.
What are the biggest obstacles you’ve encountered as a teacher during distance learning?
The biggest obstacle I have faced has been not being there, in person, to help my students with special needs and accommodations. The emails of panic from these students and their parents have been flooding in (and rightfully so), because an online approach to learning does not necessarily address specific needs that I would be able to address if they were sitting in my classroom. I have had Zoom video conferences with some of them to try to help accommodate and further specify instructions or explanations, which has seemed to help, but it has placed an added stress on the teachers and students.
What are the biggest obstacles for students?
The biggest obstacle for my students, based on some of their feedback, has been for the ones who also work (and who have had to take on more hours of work due to the economic situation currently facing our country), and trying to juggle getting their course work for six classes completed while also working many hours at drive-through restaurants or grocery stores. Because they are teenagers, most of them caught on to the technology aspect of this new way of learning fairly easily, but time management has proven to be difficult for some.
What advice do you have for students during this time of distance learning?
My advice to students would be communicate…and communicate often. One, we miss our students, and it is always good to hear from them. And two, we, as teachers, do not expect our students to become experts on the subject-matter overnight. That’s our job. So if there is something that they are reading, or being asked to write about or analyze that they didn’t fully understand, I want them to ask me. I want my students (and all students out there) to know that just because they aren’t sitting in a desk in front of us, doesn’t mean that we stop being their teachers and let their computers do all of the work for us.
What advice do you have for fellow teachers during this time of distance learning?
My advice to fellow teachers would be to let go of previous expectations of what your course was supposed to be like and look like for the remainder of the year. That was the hardest part for me coming into this. I am a planner by nature, and I have also been teaching English for 10+ years, so I have become very attached to specific lessons I teach, and I had already planned out what the rest of the year would consist of for my seniors in English class. But I have had to let that go, because it just wouldn’t adapt to this new way of teaching. Distance Learning is a completely different beast, and it has to be treated as such. Be flexible, be mindful of what could or could not be going on at home for your students, and don’t stress yourselves out trying to be perfect.
What advice do you have for parents during this time of distance learning?
My advice to parents is to understand that we, the teachers, do not expect you to now be the teacher. That is still our job. We do not expect you to be British Literature, or Macro-economics, or Calculus experts. If your child does not understand the material, they are still to come to us for help in understanding. Email is a powerful thing. Encourage your children to use it, and use it often, to ensure that they are not only successful in what they are doing, but that they are still actually learning the material.
Having never experienced something like this, have you come to realize that you took things for granted as an educator?
I have reflected on all that I took for granted a lot since this all began. The biggest thing I took for granted was being able to gauge my students’ reactions, body language, and facial expressions to something I was teaching. I never realized how much seeing them in person affected how I taught. It affected my pacing, my tone, my thoroughness (all things that are now set on Sunday evenings when I post the work for the week). I also took for granted the mental health benefits of being around not only my students, but also my colleagues. Face-to-face interactions and conversations are essential to one’s mental health, and I am looking forward to having that particular benefit back as soon as possible.
What impact do you think this period of distance learning has had on students and teachers? Good and bad
I think this period of time has drastically impacted teachers, students and parents for many years to come. A positive impact I think it has had is that it has taught everyone affected the importance of patience and time management. Without a bell schedule prompting students from one class to the next, they have had to learn to manage their classes and responsibilities on their own, which can only benefit them in the future. It has also taught my students the value of physically being in a class with their peers and their teachers. I have received a multitude of emails from students that said “I never realized how much I actually liked going to school until I was told that I no longer could.” They have a new appreciation for their education that I don’t know that they would’ve had had this not happened. But I also know that there are going to be some drastic negative impacts, as well. The biggest one being that they may not be fully prepared next year when they start the next level in their courses. Especially in a course like math, for instance, where they learn new skills and strategies daily that carry over into the next week, month and even years. The students who didn’t completely grasp the concepts being taught in Distance Learning are going to struggle to catch up in the years to come and their teachers and/or professors are going to have to adapt and adjust accordingly.
Is there anything else you would like to say?
I have always been one of those teachers that loves her job, loves her students, and truly looked forward to going to work every day (to the point where I actually cry at the end of the year when my seniors walk out of my classroom for the final time). If all of this has taught me anything, it’s to cherish every moment that they are in the classroom with me. Even on the “bad days” when it’s hard to see past the attitudes and defiance, I am always going to try to remember that it could be worse…we could all be stuck at home behind a computer screen ?.