On March 13, 2020, teaching and learning, as I knew it, changed forever. Students were given the day “off” on this, Friday, the 13th, and teachers feverishly prepared for two weeks of work- although, I believe they all knew it would be much longer… and here we are.
I am not superstitious- but there were certainly strange things afoot at Sparta High School that day. Meetings, packets, and Google Classroom assignments were all top priority. There is something quite eerie about a school when the students are not present. We did not know then what we know now- that March 12 was the last day of “school” for a long time to come.
Some educators are ed-tech savvy, while others are not. As the librarian, I helped as many teachers as I could to solve for the unknown. Covid-19 invaded our state, and we had one school day to gather our resources. Most left the building on that Friday hoping that we would be back on Monday to finish preparations; or it was not as bad as we thought; or we would only be “out” for two weeks.
In hindsight, I reflect on how lucky we were: the mens’ and womens’ basketball teams finished their seasons, wrestlers dominated their championship, and the cast and crew of Beauty and the Beast sold out 1000+ seats for three performances, all within days of the lockdown. But the choir and culinary trips were canceled, and teachers and students were left feeling incomplete and disappointed. Two weeks quickly become months, and here we are- almost June.
Sparta High School teachers were given a directive to meet with their students once a week and provide one recorded class session via Google Classroom. We all know that this does not even come close to the time teachers spend with their students under “normal circumstances.” However, the hours of preparation and screen time answering parent emails, student emails, and other correspondence has increased ten-fold. There is a distinct lack of human connection. Body language is hard to decipher if students’ cameras are turned off. Some teachers have struggled to provide what they believe their students need. Some teachers are really- just struggling- because, after all, teachers are human.
In true Spartan fashion, though, the teachers of Sparta have found a way to succeed. In my 18 years in that building, I have witnessed many obstacles, but “WE” always persevere. Teachers have reached out to one another to ask for help, to discuss virtual “best practices”, and to simply make sure that our friends and colleagues are alright.
While we have worked to teach and learn during these unprecedented times, there has been some genuine growth and positivity that has resulted. Courtney Hyland, Special Education and Life Skills teacher, said about her students, “[...] it has been [amazing] to watch the kids independently and naturally apply the life/ social emotional skills that they have worked on in order to not only be successful, but to grow during this time.”
Physical Education teacher, Lynn D’Amelio has focused her lessons beyond curricular requirements. Not only is she making sure that her students remain physically active, she encourages each junior and senior that she teaches to reflect upon the social and emotional ramifications of distance learning. She takes the time to respond to each student individually and uses their feedback to guide further discussion.
Understanding that these are not “normal” times, Amber Koppman has redesigned her sophomore English lesson to encourage her students to be authentic and reflective in their research. In a ladder-sequence research project, students are able to tap into personal preferences of poetry, literature, music, and film to make real-life connections. Her classroom sessions are lively and full of energy- the students are engaged.
While these are only a few examples, SHS teachers have always gone above and beyond what is required of them. They understand the difference between quality vs. quantity. While the teachers are certainly experts in their respective fields, the hurdles of virtual teaching have been high. But, make no mistake, we are learning, collaborating, and succeeding. We miss our students. We miss our classrooms. We even miss the photocopiers that constantly jam. None of us knows what is going to come next; but for right now, here we are.
Originally published in the Sparta High School newspaper The Oracle.