If you ask any teacher to describe what it has been like to complete this last quarter of the school year with online learning, there is one word that would very probably be part of their response: CHALLENGING!
That would be the case to some degree for teachers at all grade levels, in the huge array of subjects included in curriculums, and in the wide variety of school settings. Valley Lutheran teachers were asked to reflect on their experiences with online learning since it was initiated the middle of March.
Robin Larkin, Valley’s Spanish teacher, described it this way: “The day I found out we were going “live” with online learning, I think I had a small panic attack trying to wrap my mind around how to teach a foreign language online without immediate feedback to the kids like I can so easily give in the classroom when doing speaking activities, etc. As we went live Wednesday, March 18, I embarked on 14+ hour workdays trying to get lessons up a day ahead for the kids, reply to panicked emails, help kids find and submit work, and just plain figure out this new way of learning. I was overwhelmed right along with my students and missing them so dearly!”
Joe Richter echoed the frustration with missing immediate feedback and the ease of communicating face to face that is such a part of the traditional classroom. He and other teachers spoke of a hunger from both faculty and students for contact and community. As a science teacher, he also added, “Certain things just became not available. You can’t fly rockets online.”
Not all students began this experience with the same level of computer skills. Timothy Fote said that there was a huge learning curve for some, especially freshmen. However, it was noted that this also had some positive outcomes because it forced students to be better prepared for technology on the college level. Some parents also came alongside their students, teaching them some of the skills needed for their classwork.
Faculty reflections also included a positive side of this spring quarter. Peter Schimm said, “There are some things I will definitely carry over to normal times.” Students have been led to spend more time reviewing and evaluating their own performance, and this will be encouraged in the future. This has also been a reality check for students who thought they would prefer online education. They would now think twice about wanting this. “It’s too easy to fall off the grid.”
Mr. Fote noticed that “the personalities of quieter students blossomed in this environment.” He also concluded that “snapshots of each other’s homelife brought us closer together.”
“This experience revealed many kids eager to learn – more than I thought there would be,” was Mr. Richter’s input. He added that many practiced time management and discovered that with extra effort they could learn this way.
Mrs. Larkin summarizes her reflection this way: “I wouldn’t say I feel like a pro now, but I can definitely say I’ve learned a lot by my mistakes that I can take with me if we need to do this again, and I’ve learned a lot by my successes with approaches I’ve tried.”
What will “normal school” look like in the fall? At this point that would be only speculation. But maybe the word “challenging” won’t need to be spelled with all capital letters.