Through the Eyes of Our Teachers
Friday, March 13, 2020, Clayton Valley Charter High School students glorified the idea of two weeks off from school. Many- myself included- gullibly rejoiced and celebrated at the chance of an “early spring break”- foolishly unaware that, unfortunately, a deadly, world-spread virus does not disappear in two weeks. However, as two weeks turned into a month and a month turned into two months, schools nationwide were forced to suddenly switch to distance learning and to try to navigate a completely new realm.
Since that March 13th day, CVCHS has come a long way from where we began. From organizing zoom meetings to providing online resources, our school has quite successfully put together distance learning programs that help students. Nevertheless, disparities in the way each student individually experiences online learning are obvious, but the bright side to these differing situations is that we have efficient systems for parents and students to vocalize their content or discontent.
In regards to Clayton Valley academia, it is common to hear the students’ perspectives, but it calls something to question. What is it like on the other side of the screen? What is it like for our teachers who have been displaced and are as new to online learning as we are? An entire legion of teachers works, struggles, and experiences the triumphs and challenges of digital learning alongside us daily, and yet we still sometimes perceive our teachers as part of a separate world. In a google form, I virtually interviewed some CVCHS teachers to learn more about their viewpoints. CVCHS teachers provided refreshing opinions on the pandemic, on how they feel about online learning, and on what they expect for theirs and their students’ futures. We are more similar to our teachers than we think.
First off, I asked teachers how they were feeling as the official closing of the schools reached a year anniversary recently. Many mixed responses followed- some in awe, some melancholic, but all heartfelt.
Marty Fong, a math teacher at Clayton Valley, remarked with wonderment, “I feel amazed... not necessarily in a good or bad way, but it just feels like the year flew by! It feels surreal that it's already been a whole year.”
Other teachers had a more forward-focused position. Karin Westbrook, an english and leadership teacher, said, “I know that the anniversary is a big thing for a lot of people, I for one, am not really celebrating it, I want to look ahead. to when I can have kids in their seats. That is my goal, getting kids back on campus being kids.”
Digital learning has been a struggle, especially when it comes to the time we have lost to be able to live our lives regularly. Still, as these teachers remind us, our time now gives us the chance to contemplate the past, but our community must remain centered on returning life to a new normal in the future.
Contemplating how times have changed, we cannot help but remember what once was in comparison what we have now. But, it seems Clayton Valley Charter High School teachers have found the positive among all of these changes.
Ben Friedman, a CVCHS science teacher, expressed the benefits of teaching online. “I have been mostly teaching from on-campus because it's a better work environment for me and I can bike to work and back to get exercise. I have been fortunate; … However, I know that student learning outcomes are not as good this year, so I feel bad about that.”
Hearing our teachers well-being and concern surely comes as a comfort to students. Simultaneously, some teachers have indicated unease in other areas.
CVCHS yoga teacher, Jenna Ebert, observed, “Teaching from home is less personal in my experience. I feel energized in a room of students, the music, and the conversations that we have.”
Aforementioned, Marty Fong similarly talks of the struggles of an impersonal environment, saying, “When teaching through a computer screen, I sadly can never be 100% sure if students are REALLY understanding what I'm teaching… But more than anything, I miss really knowing my students.”
In addition, an article from Education Weekly says, “Two-thirds of teachers said that the majority of their students were less prepared for grade-level work than they were at this time last year.” (Schwartz, 2020) Some teachers privately felt that the discrepancy in students’ learning abilities came from having to adjust to a less intimate environment. The biggest comparison from in-person to online learning seems to be the dynamic of the classroom that allows for connection with pupils which further affects their ability to give in-depth help to students.
I also asked the teachers two questions that they rated on a scale from 1 to 5. I first asked them how well they felt they had been accommodated by the school with the proper resources for online school.
All of the teachers responded with a resounding 5. Karin Westbrook summarizes most of their answers, saying that she felt that CVCHS had, “...done everything in their power to assist us at home, and in the classroom. They have provided training, materials, resources and support to get our jobs done.”
My second question asked them how well they were able to maintain work-home balance during online learning. The answers ranged from 1 to 5, each answer more different than the rest. As a student, a worry for many of my friends is time management and separation of school and home in their lives. Because we do not hear about it, it becomes easy to be oblivious that teachers face the same complexities we do at home and with school.
Karin Westbrook replied, “1. Work life balance does not exist in teaching, either remote or in person.” As opposed to that, Marty Fong wrote, “5 - CVCHS has given me the privilege to work from my classroom on the school campus while teaching my students at home online. Being able to work from my classroom allows me to have a completely separate physical space for work and for family so that I can give 100% to work when I'm at work, and then leave work at work to go home and give 100% to my family.”
The lives of those around us hold intricacies that we cannot understand from behind a computer screen. Our teachers' replies led me to think that our issues with online school and home life, with stress and happiness, were alike.
Past, present, and future, school districts across the country have their anxieties about going back to school. Teachers and learners are unsure of how to safely respect the proper protocols of social-distancing, sanitizing, and mask-wearing. Not only that, teachers and students alike must re-assimilate into the fast paced in-person culture after so long working online without interaction. But, as we return to school, we can know we are not alone. Our teachers have our backs and can relate to our fears.
Finally, I asked the teachers to give students one piece of advice for the future, as we venture into more uncharted territory. Jenna Ebert concluded her answers, “...we are all in this together. No one has gone unaffected in some way, and the best thing we can do is be kind to each other, and support as we navigate these strange times.”
Let’s lessen the distance of distance learning by seeing things through the eyes of our teachers.