TYLER, Texas — The COVID-19 pandemic forced students, parents and teachers into virtual learning from home. Students depend on their teachers to provide them with structure, new information and lessons to grow as a young learner or more advanced learner, depending on their age.
That changed almost overnight with COVID-19. School ended abruptly with that class structure in question and new challenges for teachers to deliver important material online or through packets they prepared for students. Teachers say they struggled with the separation from their students because they’re relational people by nature.
Many teachers hope to be back in the classroom soon, but even if they're not, teachers are getting ready to make next year better than the last with so many 'Lessons Learned.'
"I expected to come back and we just never did," said Daphne Bolay, a teacher at Whitehouse High School.
"We went from seeing each other every day to nothing and especially lower elementary, they didn't understand. We had so much unfinished business," said Abbie Kelley, a kindergarten teacher at Whitehouse ISD.
Teachers encountered so many obstacles like teaching students without actually being with students.
"Not being able to differentiate like we did in the classroom. If the kid needed more instruction or less instruction," Kelley explained.
All of a sudden, no curious eyes were staring back at teachers.
"At the beginning of the school year, you spend time establishing routines and how school will work," Bolay said. "And all of a sudden, everything we established was gone, and we didn't have time to prep them for that."
"You have to think about kids on Zoom," Kelley said. "That was a whole other level. You have to raise your hand and they're five. You're trying to teach them how to read, decode a word, and they're running around the house trying to show you a fish or their dog. So we had to completely start over and say, 'When we're in a Zoom meeting, you need to be in a quiet place.' That's hard for me to control. That's hard for parents with other kids to control and I'm a mom of 3."
Both Bolay and Abbey are mothers, adding a whole other set of challenges to their jobs.
"So at high school, we didn't do as many Zooms because our students are a little more tech savvy," Bolay said. "We were able to incorporate some online learning platforms we already had in place, but just trying to trouble shoot that and go to a type of learning they're not used to."
In a matter of days, they moved to self-directed learning. The teachers would not call it an easy transition.
"It was a constant juggle," Kelley said. "'O.K., have you done your school today? What do I need to help you on? Let's do 4th grade math. Let's do kindergarten math.' As a teacher mom, it was a struggle on us as well. Now I am not just a Kindergarten teacher, I'm a 2nd grade and 4th grade teacher as well, and I don't teach it like their teachers do. I can only imagine if you're a parent that's not a teacher."
So many questions educators and parents had, including:
- How do you teach students to read over Zoom?
- How can you reach students who aren't online?
- Can you even tell when a student is struggling?
The pandemic and subsequent quarantine presented many obstacles that teachers were determined to overcome.
"Really, I would say as a teacher it's your natural instinct to want to help and so we really jumped in with both feet and hit the ground running," Kelley said. "We're doing trainings this summer in case It happens again."
If you think about it, it was a chance for tremendous growth.
"We kind of lived out a little bit part of our district strategic plan, learning at any path, any pace, any time, any place," Bolay said. "That's the definition of the teacher. We've got to be able to teach anywhere."
And so they did, teach from home, from March to May. However, there were growing pains.
"I would say connectivity was the biggest, computer usage," Kelley recalled. "I know at the elementary level and highs school as well rolled out lots of computers, lots of hot spots. We were trying, as best we could, to reach every kid, every family, but connectivity was a hard one."
"What we did know and what we didn't know changed pretty abruptly about our students," Bolay explained. "That was one of the toughest things. What we planned for may not be executable at their homes."
Teachers are concerned about the COVID-19 slide, the lessons lost because of the pandemic.
"There's probably no doubt, just in the two and a half months students have gaps, summer loss, so we're talking six months," Bolay said. "There's definitely going to be gaps. So, for some students the last time before spring break was the last time they did much education.
"I know our curriculum instruction department is working on kind of building that into our current curriculum and gap analysis."
Teachers say they are up to the challenge of bridging that gap.
"But as teachers, we're ready," Kelley said. "Like we're going to meet them where they are."
Their bigger concern is what children are lacking and needing socially.
"They are going to be scared and leery," Bolay said. "That's another thing we are going to have to do: How do we make them feel more comfortable at school in the middle of a pandemic."
With a few months of virtual learning now under their belts, teachers do feel better prepared to handle whatever comes in the fall.
"I think we are going to be a lot more prepared," Bolay explained. "We have the whole summer to work on those trainings for the summer. I don't think we are going to have to depend on a virtual learning system to teach our kids, I think we are going to have more teacher directives and I think parents are going to be prepared and students are going to be more prepared. They've got those devices, the school has those hot spots readily available now. I think we are going into it more prepared. We've got a better perspective and a plan."
Exactly how next fall will look remains to be seen for both students and teachers, especially with COVID-19 still surging across the state, but teachers believe this experience pushed them out of their comfort zone to be better.
"It gave teachers a chance to really dive into technology," Kelley said. "This is not going away. We need to get used to this and be able to use it effectively."
There is no doubt that teachers like Mrs. Bolay and Mrs. Kelley miss that connection to students.
"I cannot wait to be back in the classroom and have them at my feet and read them a story," Kelley said. "It's just an Indescribable feeling."
Both teachers look forward to the day students step back on campus.
"One of my last assignments for students was you are required to come give me a hug or high five in the hallway when we get back. That's because I miss that relational piece. Math is just the avenue in which I touch students.
If you have questions about how COVID-19 is impacting the education of East Texas students, email us at email@example.com.