Area teachers adjusting to instructing students outside the classroom

RANDOLPH — The coronavirus pandemic has thrown a wrench into the lives of every American.

Few segments of society have been touched more than teachers and students, though.

A Scholastic and Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation survey published before the virus took hold in the U.S., found teachers work an average of 53 hours a week or around 10 hours and 40 minutes a day.

That number has more than likely increased as instruction has moved from the classroom to distance learning.

In the wake of these changes, teachers have had to adjust — caring for their own homebound children, while trying to teach their own classes. All seem to be rising to the needs of their students and their families.

“You have to learn to roll with the punches and be able to adapt and do things different because it is not your typical school setting,” said Laurel-Concord-Coleridge School social science teacher Zeke Stephens.

Randolph teacher Jennifer Backer said each school day comes with new trials as well as motherhood does.

“My husband has been out of town so it’s been just us three tackling this crazy adventure. I have to consider it an adventure because no one has had to do it before,’’ Backer said. “I have two kids, seventh grade (Shaw) and freshman (Jessa) at Randolph Public School. They have been adapting amazingly well.”

Each morning, she said before she goes to work they are up and ready for school.

“Our living room and dining have become a joint classroom. Textbooks, papers, art projects, technology devices are all there. My two kids zoom with teachers, submit assignments, take tests all on their own,’’ Backer said. “During my lunch break, I tutor in subjects if needed. Thank goodness for school cooks and paras who make sure to feed my kids on certain days. When I come home after school, I help again with school. It’s sometimes just checking over an assignment or maybe reviewing a math concept. The kids have accepted that my school life is really busy. They continue to do housework and make sure our dog has all his needs met. Jax has really loved having them around all day.”

Backer said she worries about her school kids every moment. She said she wants to make sure they are continuing with their learning. She said she wonders if they worry about what is happening in the world today.

“It has to be so hard to comprehend this. I can’t even. I worry about my own kids. I’m consistently reminding them to wash their hands while there isn’t a need. They already do this,” she said. “I know they both feel isolated from friends. I can’t imagine not seeing my peers during school days. I’m so happy they have each other. We will all have stories to tell after this,’’ Backer said.

Backer said she is trying to make sure she stays in contact with her students and their parents.

“I connect with parents through the Remind system. I connect with kids through Google classroom and Zoom but it’s not the same thing,” she said.

Video technology is helpful, but it is not the same as being there, she said.

“Teachers are great character readers. We see how people react in person. We can tell if a kid is having a good or bad day by the way they walk,” she said. “Me personally, I am devastated that my kids aren’t in school enjoying track season. As a teacher, I walk into an empty classroom on school days. I almost don’t believe it. Once I zoom with students, though, my heart is lighter.”

Randolph High School Principal Brandi Bartels said work and family life have also seen some major changes.

“Right now, my husband and I are both still working. This means that on most days my kids are responsible for getting themselves up and running the majority of the day on their own,’’ Bartels said.

She feels bad for the members of the Class of 2020 that are missing out on so many things.

“I have one senior. I have to admit I have struggled knowing that he will miss out on some things but we will find a way to celebrate his accomplishment and send him off into the world,” she said.

Bartels also has two eighth-grade girls, sixth grader and a second grader at home.

“I am very fortunate to have kids that care about their education and want to do a good job,” she said. “Not only do these girls do their own school work, but they help their younger siblings and do some things around the house. For my second grader, I usually lay out assignments for her to work on in the morning. I bring home breakfast and lunch each day just so I can check on things. My second grader usually works on some of her work with help from her older sisters. I then check through things and finish up with her in the evenings. We are very fortunate to have good Wifi and kids that usually do well in school. We are taking things day by day and doing the best we can.”

Randolph Public School fourth grade teacher Stephanie Harder said having four children at home all doing their school work while she is working at school and her husband,Tyler, is outside doing farm work is challenging.

“We are lucky because our children are older and don’t need as much help with their school work like younger elementary students would need,’’ Harder said. “Our biggest challenge is finding a quiet work space for everyone and having four kids on the internet at the same time, and on days when I will work from home there will be five of us.’’

Stephens, the LCC teacher, said technology has been great to help out during this strange time in history.

He said teaching through Zoom, a video program that allows many people to see the same thing, has been an adjustment because it is completely different than everyone is used to. It has been a great tool, though, he said.

LCC teacher David Badley said regardless of where the responsibility for this pandemic may lie, he feels being home with those that matter most is a plan by God to bring families together - stronger than ever.

“My wife and I are now responsible for our children’s education and character growth. We have bonded more and more and have come to rely on one another for sole support,’’ he said. “We do not see the future of what may happen, but for those of us who trust in the Lord Jesus Christ, we know all will work out for the good.”

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