6th Grade Social Science Teacher
Los Coyotes Middle School
Norwalk-La Mirada Unified School District, CA
“We had to think about the fact that if we were feeling overwhelmed by everything going on, then our students were feeling twice that.”
How have you transitioned to remote learning? Have there been any big challenges?
When I first moved to my current school, the principal was trying to be more tech-forward. She had gotten some iPad carts for our school but none of the teachers were using them. So when I started there, she told me I was going to be 1:1 with my students and needed to take a training program on it. That’s when I met my tech coach and really began to learn how to best use technology. She would come into my class about once a month, or as often as I wanted, and would help me recreate assignments so that the students can do them using their iPads. Eventually, that led to me training other teachers on how to use these tools with their students too. I really enjoy doing innovative tech assignments and transforming the students’ worksheets into something more exciting using Google Slides.
Even though I had already been using a lot of technology for the assignments, I still had a lot of redesign to do after moving to remote learning. In class, I relied on group or paired work and discussions, and being able to work through things with my students. Technology has a lot of benefits for me and my students, but it still doesn’t fill the gap for what we can do in person. For instance, every year we do a big unit on Julius Caesar where I have them read a bunch of original documentation and then they have to do a whole investigation to decide who killed him. It’s a pretty challenging project, almost high school level, and it takes usually about a week and a half to complete. But now it’s just gone. I cannot ask them to do that project now. It’s too hard. So a lot of my lessons have to be re-modified and it’s hard because the lessons just aren’t as good as they can be because they can’t be hands-on. All big projects I was excited for my kids to work on have all basically been reduced to either showing a video, talking to them, or having them read something. I try to keep it as mixed as possible so the assignment types don’t feel so repetitive, but it is hard to find that middle ground of not being too challenging, but not too boring either.
Really the first big challenge though was just getting things off the ground and going. I learned really quickly that my home internet wasn’t strong enough to handle my entire household needing to be online. I pay for good internet, and it wasn’t enough, and I think about those who are only able to afford the bare minimum and how much they must be struggling. Also, we rely so heavily on our LMS for all communication, and right when the schools closed, they hit a 600% usage jump and crashed. So there were a few days where our students couldn’t log on and so they were panicking and we had no way of letting them know that it was okay and that we were aware of it. So communication at the beginning was difficult.
How are you staying connected with your students?
Our district was very specific on what was required of teachers and what wasn’t. We were not mandated to Zoom with our kids every day or have scheduled meetings during our normal class times. So I’ll occasionally Zoom with my sixth graders just for fun, or just to check-in because I know a lot of my kids have stuff going on during the day and can’t sit and have a virtual class. I will schedule short one-on-one Zoom calls though, whenever any of my students are needing help. We’re trying to be creative in how we reach our students. One way was we had an all sixth-grade Zoom where the kids could play games and compete against each other. That was really fun to give the students a place to kind of talk and hang out. We also had a drive by the other day, where the teachers were in the driveway and the parents drove by with their kids in a kind of reverse parade. We saw about 60 of our kids that day and it was so nice to see their faces. I’m really proud that our team of teachers has worked hard to keep track of all our kids and not let them slip through the cracks, and I think it has made the kids feel loved and supported.
Do you have a sense of how your students are feeling during this time?
The students are definitely a bit stressed, specifically with their academics. They are hearing the adults around them talk about the summer slide or six months of not learning, and they are worried that going into a new grade level they won’t be able to keep up. Some have even voiced concerns about not going to college because of this time off. I have to remind them that they are 11 and will be fine—all their teachers next year will know where they left off in their learning.
My students are just at the age where they are starting to be on social media, and so they are seeing all the posts about kids being behind in learning and how they are not learning, which just confuses them. When this all started we knew right away we were just going to put our students first, and academics second. We had to think about the fact that if we were feeling overwhelmed by everything going on, then our students were feeling twice that. And kids can’t learn when they are stressed. So we asked ourselves, “What are we going to do to help make this better?”
There are also students who are just not self-motivated, or life is super hard at home. I know I have a couple of kids who are helping their younger siblings with their schoolwork because their parents are at work. So by the time they go to do their work, it’s midnight and they don’t want to do it. I think there’s a lot of things that teachers can’t see, and we just have to assume all of our kids are coming from environments where maybe they don’t have the internet, or it’s unstable at home. Which in turn also makes it hard for the kids who aren’t in that situation and are able to do all their work, but now they are bored. Finding that medium is almost impossible because I can’t assume that every kid is getting the same level of support.
Have you seen anything positive come from this experience?
One thing that sticks out to me is just how our staff and school and the community as a whole have really come together. I know one of our biggest issues was getting internet access for our lower-income students. Our principal talked to the apartment managers of two of the complexes most of those students live in, to see if they could ask some of their residents to open their WiFi to their neighbors with kids. So a few of our students were able to use their neighbors’ internet to do their assignments. I just thought that was a super cool way to solve an immediate need.
What advice would you give for other educators?
Don’t be so hard on yourselves. I think as teachers we always feel like we’re constantly being judged, or we’re comparing ourselves to someone else. But we are all in survival mode right now. I’ve heard people say, “This isn’t distance learning, this is distance triage.” And I really think that’s what this is. So just take a step back, surround yourself with like-minded people, and try not to base what you do on the images you see online.
What message would you like to share with your students?
It’s going to be okay. Trust your teachers. We know that you feel like you’re falling behind or that you’re feeling overwhelmed. Just know that we are also feeling those same things. We’re all in this together, even if at times it doesn’t feel like it.
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