Early Upper School Reactions to Unique School Year

Early Upper School Reactions to Unique School Year

We are now six weeks into this unique school year, so we decided now would be a good time to check in with some of our Upper School community about their experiences with the remote aspects of education so far.

First, we talked with a couple of our Upper School faculty about the unique challenges and opportunities of educating students simultaneously in the classroom and over the internet.

Beyond the Gate: What have been the biggest challenges of teaching, simultaneously, students in the classroom and at home?

Andrew Jones, social studies: The biggest challenge in teaching students simultaneously in the classroom and at home has been building a classroom community. I don't want anyone to ever feel left out, and having students both live and remote almost feels like two separate classes. Building relationships with students is something that I value most, and a hybrid model can make that challenging.

Tonya Whitmire, science: I have a tie for the biggest challenge.  The first challenge is finding ways to engage them simultaneously. It is extremely hard to keep them interested in what I am saying and doing in the classroom when they are remote. The second challenge is getting to know my remote students. While we are waiting for class to start I can walk around the room and have individual conversations with my students. My remote students are quiet and I do not like to call them out and ask questions regarding getting to know them in case they are shy or uncomfortable speaking to essentially the entire class.  

BTG: Have you had to adjust anything with your teaching style?

AJ: Fortunately I used a lot of technology in my class prior to hybrid learning, so it was a smooth transition for me. I have had to rethink how to deliver certain lessons, assignments, activities, and projects as some of the things I love to do in class (group projects, collaborative learning, etc) just have to look differently.

TW: Yes!!!!  I want my students working together, moving around, doing labs and other activities. I have had to modify all of that. Breakout rooms are just not the same as being together side by side working on chemistry problems. I am constantly thinking of ways I can have my students be active learners.

BTG: Have there been benefits for you as a teacher in having to adapt a bit? If so, what were those benefits?

AJ: I am a pretty positive person and think that this entire Covid situation has been the disruption that education as a whole needed. As teachers, we have had tough conversations about what is truly important in our curriculum, because we simply don't have enough time to cover everything. Personally, it's forcing me to rethink the way I approach designing learning experiences for my students, and causing me to be more intentional with my lessons, assignments, and assessments. I can't stand up in front of a class and give a 55 minute lecture, so I am forced into asking myself "how can I have students discover this content in a creative way?" I have found myself focusing more on skill based learning, giving students opportunities to create slideshows, analyze primary sources, give presentations, form opinions and defend them, and be creative with how they share their understanding of class content. And it has been such a great learning experience for me as an educator...I am constantly stretching myself and trying new things as well!

TW: Yes, there have been many benefits.  I am learning all sorts of new technology to use with my class, I am learning how to be more creative and think of new ways to reach my students.  It has also brought us as teachers closer together because we are sharing more with each other.  

BTG: What's your impression of how the students in remote learning are handling it so far?

AJ: I think our students have really risen to the occasion. My students have been positive, engaged, and willing to try new things. Initially I expected everyone to be super awkward about wearing a mask, being on zoom full time, etc., but the students have really surprised me with their positivity and enthusiasm for learning. I am very lucky to work with such great students!

TW: Our students are resilient. I learned that very quickly in March when we went remote. We were all fearful, wondering what was going to happen, yet we came together daily via zoom and supported each other and learned to keep on keeping on. That resilience has continued into this school year. The students in my classes want to learn, they want to socialize, and they want to be safe doing all of it. They are doing a great job in the class of staying apart, they are extremely patient with me when something does not work and I in turn am patient with them as we all navigate this new way to teach and learn. I am very proud of our Upper School and my students. Where there is a will there's a way and the students are working extremely hard to stay in school, be safe, and have some sense of normalcy. They encourage me every day and make me remember that the most important part of being a teacher is the relationships I am able to build with my students and the lessons they teach me.

We also talked with senior Elizabeth Guttenberg about her experience learning remotely.

BTG: What have been the biggest challenges of learning from home?

Elizabeth Guttenberg: The biggest challenge of learning from home is being able to interact with the class in-person. It can be hard to hear when someone in the classroom is talking and you don't want to interrupt them so you usually end up not speaking at all.

BTG: What have been the biggest benefits for you?

EG: The biggest benefit would have to be the fact that I can stay in the comfort of my own home to learn and I get to sleep in longer.

BTG: Has it changed anything with your learning style, or how you approach school?

EG: I am now so much more excited to go to school and see all of my friends. Additionally with remote school, I notice that I ask a lot more questions in class as it is easier to speak up through Zoom.