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By Julian Peeples

“Being at summer school is reminding me how much I missed it and how much these students need us in person,” says continuation high school teacher and San Bernardino Teachers Association member Jade Smith. “I really hope we can take what we learned last year and carry it forward.”

Stephen Gorgone

Stephen Gorgone

Across the state, schools are opening in person for the school year after 18 months of uncertainty, and educators are eager to use their experiences of distance learning to support their students as they emerge from the pandemic. The sudden move to a virtual environment left many educators feeling like first-year teachers again (and some actually were!). Others experienced pandemic learning as learners also, completing advanced degrees and certifications virtually and gaining firsthand insight into the challenges their students faced.

“Distance learning was a real stressful experience,” says science educator Stephen Gorgone, who virtually completed Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) certification at UC Irvine. “Distance learning is hard — it’s hard to focus, stay engaged, and it takes a lot out of you. The experience gave me a lot of perspective for my students, and I changed things after that.”

The learning never stopped

Though classrooms and school buildings closed in March 2020, the learning never stopped for students and educators alike. In addition to teaching English and career technical education (CTE) at San Andreas Continuation High School in San Bernardino, Smith completed two courses virtually for her CTE credential during the pandemic: a curriculum course through UC San Diego and a master gardener course.

Jade Smith

Jade Smith

Her experiences as a distance learner were like those of her own students. Smith says that her four-hour classes on Saturday mornings felt even longer, and engagement was difficult and tedious. Additionally, it was hard to be disciplined and motivated from behind a screen. She used these experiences to change the way she approached teaching virtually.

“We need to have something every day where we are engaged to keep students interested and motivated,” Smith says.

“My experience taking the certification reminded me how important it is to really know students and find out what their lives are like.”
—Stephen Gorgone, Santa Ana Educators Association

Beth Traub, an engineering and computer science teacher at Pittsburg High School, says it had been 16 years since they had needed to study and write papers when they started a master’s program in educational leadership at Western Governors University last year. The demands of the self-driven, asynchronous program were rigorous, and Traub spent multiple hours a day studying, in addition to their teaching responsibilities, which also took more time in a distance learning environment.

“I felt like I was always on the computer,” Traub says. “One hour of classwork is two to three hours of work at home.”

Beth Traub

Beth Traub

The experience made Traub more empathetic to what their students were going through as distance learners, including being realistic about their time and distractions at home, and giving them grace at a time when they could probably use it. The weight of teaching and learning remotely at the same time was heavier than Traub expected, and it made them look at how they might better help support students during the unique time.

“I underestimated the amount of stress I was under,” says Traub, a member of Pittsburg Education Association. “The stress of teaching and learning made me feel perpetually stretched thin, underscoring the need for coping mechanisms and how much my students need to learn them. We need to explicitly teach how to manage their stress and workload.”

Gorgone, a member of Santa Ana Educators Association, completed his NGSS certification with a course in culturally relevant pedagogy that explored using topics relevant to students’ experiences to create more successful lessons. He says being apart from his students in distance learning made it difficult to build the connections needed to create a successful classroom experience.

“My experience taking the certification reminded me how important it is to really know students and find out what their lives are like.”

Taunya Jaco

Taunya Jaco

Taunya Jaco started a doctoral program in educational leadership at San Jose State University in 2018, with the pandemic impacting her dissertation year. She had planned for two years to film educators in schools as part of a documentary film study about the creation of the Ethnic Studies Model Curriculum, but shifted gears to Zoom interviews and archival footage when visiting school sites became impossible. The time demands of completing her dissertation and working full time as a sixth grade teacher in distance learning proved to be too much, and Jaco took an educational leave of absence to focus on her doctorate.

“It was a hard decision to make,” says Jaco, a member of San Jose Teachers Association and the CTA Board of Directors. “But for me, it was about modeling to my students about what it means to persevere.”

Jaco says the pandemic spurred a shift in public education, where the focus was placed on the social-emotional health of students, and “things that don’t matter” were given less time and attention. As students return to physical classrooms this fall, she hopes the attention to the whole child continues with educators leading the charge to reimagine schools.

“We as educators need to have a mindset shift and recognize the power we have to advocate for students and what they need,” Jaco says. “We have the power to transform public education.”

 

The Discussion 2 comments Post a Comment

  1. Virgil Rosenblatt says...

    keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Marion Vanvalkenburg says...

    keep us up to date like this. Thanks for sharing.

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