Staying Connected During COVID-19 [Teacher Spotlight]: Marisabel Soliman
8th Grade Science Teacher
Pembroke Pines Charter Schools
Broward County School District
“We never cease learning, and as educators, this is a great time for us to add more skills to our bag of tricks.”
What has made you passionate about teaching?
When I was younger, I moved around a lot. I didn’t have a lot of stability at home in terms of growing up in one place, and I probably attended 13 to 14 different schools. The one thing that always stayed constant was there would always be a teacher who was very kind and patient. They would bring me into the class and take me in and make me feel comfortable. As I grew up, I just knew that I wanted to provide that same sense of security to others if possible.
How have you moved your classes to a remote learning model?
We were very blessed to have the foresight to start using Canvas, which is a learning management system, ahead of time. We started using it back in August of this school year, but this kind of forced us to really dig in and learn how to use the program. We use it to push out lessons and the students can submit their work back. What would’ve been fully implemented in a year and a half, got crunched into three months.
It also worked out to our benefit that we were about to be on spring break when the closures were announced. Right before the break, we had a short week where we only had three days of school anyway. We used those days to pack up the class and plan our lessons, while the students came by to pick up their issued laptops. Then we went into spring break, so the students had about 10 weekdays off before they had to start online classes.
Once classes resumed online the first thing I learned was that because my students are eighth graders, they are not waking up early—so traditional school hours are not really happening. I surveyed my students and after receiving their feedback, I realized that they would rather go to class later in the day. So I do live instruction every Monday and Tuesday in the afternoon. Then on Wednesdays and Thursdays, the students do independent work and attend their other classes because of our block scheduling.
Aside from the actual class instruction, I have office hours from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. However, my students know that if they need me for help on their schoolwork, they can email me anytime and I will set up a Zoom or Google Hangout meeting with just them or a small group of students. Honestly though, our hours are pretty long right now, and I will find myself working until midnight sometimes.
How are you staying connected to your students during these school closures?
Our school decided to make every Friday into “Fresh Friday,” a day meant just for social-emotional learning for students. It has been really nice because every week we push out a question to them such as, “How have you been spending your time?” or “What are you struggling with the most and how can we help you?” The students then can upload a photo or video to show how they are spending their time or what they have been up to. The students also really like it when we reply back to them and share what we’ve been doing as well. Fridays have become not only a day that they can catch up on their schoolwork, but also a time when we can all connect. Connecting with my students is one of the things I’ve missed the most. I can teach virtually all day, every day, but this screen between us, it’s not really reaching the kids’ needs.
We also have a really great guidance counselor on our staff. She will send out weekly surveys to the kids to collect data on how they are feeling and send that information to the teachers. A lot of the questions are about how they are feeling with being at home, if they are able to get their work done, what worries they may have, and so on. It’s been really important for us so that we, as teachers, know what to focus on in class or how best to encourage our students. If a student is really struggling, she will call them or have us teachers call and talk to them. Sometimes the students just need to have that person to talk to. I would say for the most part, the vast majority of everyone from teachers, guidance counselors, parents, and students, are all cooperating to make this remote learning as functional as possible. This isn’t an ideal situation, but it is what we have to do.
Would you say you’ve felt well supported during these times?
Yes, absolutely—I have seen nothing but support here. At the beginning, I know some of the parents were having trouble adjusting, but they were also having to transition to helping their students do their schoolwork as well as do their own jobs from home. I, myself, also have a child and have to manage my time as a mom and my time as a teacher, so I can understand how the parents were struggling. It took a week or two to get everyone on the same page about how we’re going to be doing remote learning, but now it’s great. Coming off of Teacher Appreciation Week, we’ve gotten a lot of emails thanking us teachers, and the teachers who were dropping off supplies for the younger kids were greeted with gifts from the parents.
Also, our IT team has been fantastic. They are always a quick call or email away to help us with whatever issues we may have. Our administrators have provided us with many opportunities to do professional development to learn about the different programs we are using. And teachers were helping each other whenever we could. If I found something useful, or another colleague did, we would all share it with each other. Everything is easy now because we’ve all become experts at this digital form of teaching, but those first few weeks were fantastic in the sense that it was just so nice to see how everyone came together. We have always been a tight-knit community within the schools, but some individuals really went above and beyond to help train all the other teachers.
What advice would you share with other educators?
You have to be flexible and be able to just go with the flow. Every day is something new that we may not expect. I mean, that also applies to every aspect of the situation outside of the school, with things opening and then closing back up again, we are all in flux. So you need to be flexible and patient with your kids because we don’t know how everything is affecting them. If they are not in class, it could be because they overslept or because their parents just lost their job and they are worried. Be patient with your students but also be patient with yourself. When this was first starting, there were plenty of things that I wasn’t confident about doing. We never cease learning, and as educators, this is a great time for us to add more skills to our bag of tricks. Not only for now, but also for when the new school year starts. There are a lot of things I am learning now, that I am going to apply when we are back in the classroom.
Additionally, this is an opportunity for us to look at—and improve—our educational system and improve the workforce. Even though we’ve struggled and there is a lot of sadness around, from a long-term perspective, there is some semblance of good as educators are now getting the recognition they deserve for their hard work and we can continue to nurture and build upon that to build a better tomorrow.
Is there a message you’d like to share to your students?
I miss you all so much. I’m sorry you’ve had to miss out on all your special eighth grade activities and awards you’ve rightfully earned, but you are going to have plenty of chances to do great things and to show off what you know.
This article also appeared on eSchool News.
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