Online teaching continuously proves to be a challenge for teachers in a COVID-19 school year


Photos taken in 2019-2020 school year

Isa Grunwaldt, Staff Writer

Online learning is not only affecting students, but it is also extremely challenging for teachers. Students have had to adapt to learning styles that are unfamiliar and teachers are also needing to adapt their teaching styles. Math teacher Micheal Dykstra, history teacher Christine Mapes, and Spanish language teacher Socorro Mercado-Blackport are a small sample of teachers from our school who have experienced these changes. Here is a snapshot of how they each feel about Zoom learning in terms of interaction, camera policy, and how online learning has affected their teaching styles.

Mr. Dykstra:

“That interactive part, that’s a big part of my teaching. It’s how I figure out if I am being effective as a teacher. Building relationships with students and that they trust you is a big part of being an effective teacher and that’s really hard, really really hard in a virtual setting. Getting a kid to take a risk and maybe answer a question that might not be right is really challenging, and I don’t know that I’ve found a solution for that. Interacting with students is really key to learning, so trying to find ways to do the best you can with that has been a piece that has not been as easy to incorporate.”

“Most of the kids have been very respectful of [camera policy] and it goes right to the other question. I’ve just explained to them that [having their camera on] is my way of getting their reaction when I ask a question like “does that make sense?” and at least you get a head nod or you see kids staring out into space. You can judge what’s happening, and it’s not a matter of whether or not I trust what they are doing on the other end. It’s ultimately going to hurt them if they are playing Xbox while they should be engaging in class. That’s on them, but if they want a better teaching effort, that helps me as a teacher, a lot. I don’t have a policy. I always ask them and I repeatedly ask them and I don’t have a penalty. The penalty is they don’t understand it and that ultimately their grade suffers.”

Mrs. Mapes

“[Virtual teaching] has made me have to adapt a great deal more, it’s made me rethink different assignments that are much better in-person so you have to figure out ways that they can [complete them] unless it is translated into more of a virtual format. It’s also been very time-consuming because having to make everything in an electronic fashion just takes time to scan and then organize and then if the scans don’t work then you have to go and find pictures or other parts online. I’ve noticed with a couple of the homework assignments from US History, for example, political cartoons, that they didn’t scan well so you have to go and find those so it’s just been time-consuming there. It’s been difficult in terms of just not being able to connect with the students as much. Where in person, there is just something about being in person where you can have not only a formal setting in the classroom but also informal and students I think feel much more comfortable asking questions than they do in the online virtual format as well.”

“I did start the year trying to be what I would refer to as “zoom police” and it just gets very disruptive when you are constantly asking students to turn their cameras on and so at a point you just say that each student has to have responsibility for their learning. They have to be vested in their education and the best way to do that is to have their camera on because that’s helpful for us as teachers to be able to look at students’ faces and even on the camera, it’s much easier in person, but on camera to see “okay, does this make sense” and are students understanding what you are doing whether it’s a lecture or a project or an explanation. So without the cameras, it just makes it harder for us teachers because you don’t see students, and you really need to have that type of interaction. It became very disruptive just trying to be the “zoom police”. I did see the students that turn their cameras off.  I don’t know if they are there or not, I would hope they are. A lot of times they are not, but it shows up. It’s going to show up in terms of the quality of their work or whether it’s homework or projects, it’s going to show u in terms of tests, so there is always a price to pay in terms of not paying attention and not being fully vested and unfortunately, we saw students that did end up paying that price. I do understand. It’s hard. It’s hard to look at a computer for six hours a day and then do homework for more. Unfortunately, for many of you, that’s going to be your work life, looking at computers as well but it’s just uh it’s hard on everyone. It’s not a good situation for the vast majority of students or teachers. But one thing  will say is that we all try to make the best of it and I think students did learn and I certainly learned a lot in terms of technology as well so it’s been interesting that way.”

Sra. Mercado-Blackport

“I miss interacting with the students one on one and I don’t get to see especially when the students aren’t in the classroom, I can not read their body language, and seeing their facial expression with a mask is very difficult for me, and teaching a language, I can not hear the students’ pronunciation the words the sound like they’re mumbling half of the time and I tell you this even though on Wednesdays it’s hard to teach when the students aren’t there in person, I prefer Wednesdays sometimes because I get to hear the students better when they aren’t wearing their masks.”

“That’s the thing with zoom, is that some kids are hiding behind the screen and the students are not getting to interact with me. Sometimes when the kids are in the classroom I go walk by their desk and I will get to talk to the kids and ask “hey how’s your day going?” “How are your other classes going?”, and I will get to see their work not only in my classroom but I will get to know them more on a personal level and the kids will open up more, and now I don’t get to see that. I don’t know who some of my students are. For some of the kids, it’s the first time that I am working with them and it feels like there is a wall between the kids and me. And I know it’s not the student’s faut and it’s not my fault but it just feels like a totally mute world we are living in and I can not wait until that day when we can go back to our normal and we can teach the way we used to teach and it’s very interesting because that once the kids were able to come back, in January, I asked them last week “hey, how do you guys feel to be back in the classroom?” and they’re like “Oh Sra. I miss being in class” and mean it made me feel good but at the same time it breaks my heart every time I think about the end of the week and I tell the kids “do not do anything that can jeopardize your coming back to school on Monday” because every weekend it makes me nervous that something is going to happen and I’m going to get an email on Monday morning or on Sunday night saying “school is going to be shut down again and my teaching and my lesson plans are going to be changed because school is going to be closed, and we have been very fortunate that we have been able to work with the kids as much as we have in person.  Other schools, today, is the first time that they have students in their classrooms, starting the same way that we did in August, only two days a week. So I guess I am counting my blessings because I got to work with my students more than other teachers have and our kids, meaning our students and my own children, who get to go to East have had the opportunity to go in person, but there are other children who just today had their first time in the classroom. Some kids have not been in the classroom at all. That means they haven’t learned as much and I mean I’ve asked the kids “have you been learning as much in zoom?” and they go “no, we haven’t” and I know it for a fact. I know it as a teacher and I know it as a parent of a highschooler and a seventh-grader. Kids are not retaining as much information as they should. They need to be in the classroom. That’s the best way they learn. And every time I ask the students “where do you prefer to learn?” and the students have said to me “I want to be in the classroom. If it was my choice I would prefer to be in person.” and kids have said over and over again “I never thought I’d miss being in the classroom.”

Teachers at East are incredibly invested in their students, and it shows in their dedication to their jobs and to the students they teach. All three of these teachers hit the same points: that they want what is best for their students and they are up for any challenge in order to continue the advancement of their student’s education.