Instructors comment on ‘new normal for classes’

OSMOND — With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and the schools being closed, both instructors and students are learning to do things in a new way. Last week, I asked some of the instructors at Osmond Community School (OCS) and St. Mary’s Catholic School the following questions about teaching students remotely, and I am including their responses.

Here are the questions: How are you handling teaching students this way? In what way are you contacting your students for classes? Are all students participating every day? What/how many hours are you actually online teaching them? What are you doing differently? Is there anything special you are doing for/with the students? Any other comments?

OCS third grade instructor Keri Schultze: Grades K-3 are using the Seesaw App to send out assignments to students and receive work from students . Once a week, each K-3 class has a Zoom meeting with the entire class so that we can all see each other, which proves to be very exciting.

Once I send out the daily agenda, assignments and videos, I spend the rest of the day correcting work submitted to me by students, and discussing results individually with students by communication with our Seesaw app. I also email parents weekly letters, and use text, email and phone to communicate with parents. During our Zoom meeting, we celebrate achievements , talk about the week, how things are going, and have sharing time. The students have commented that they wished they were in school, and that it is hard todo learning this way.

OCS fourth grade instructor Brian Guenther: It has turned our teaching world upside down just like everything else. For my fourth-fifth-sixth graders in science, we are using the same materials that we used in school. I Zoom with them every week and go over the new lesson and what I expect them to do. They can do all the stories online and they take the final test online that comes directly to me.

I am also taking advantage of a site called DCL, DCL is personalized learning. With a comprehensive K-12 curriculum, individualized guidance and real-time analytics, DCL meets the unique needs of each learner. The company for this site has offered a 90-day free trial for us to use during this remote learning process. Very appreciative on my part enabling learning to take place. I am also using this DCL site for my reading with my fourth graders , along with our reading materials from school.

Most of my students are doing a great job of keeping up with the school work — thanks to the parents. With the Zoom feature, we are able to stay in contact and see and talk to one another. Lots of emails and texts to stay in contact with parents and students as well.

Music instructor Christalin Ginn: It has been an adjustment for sure! I am happy that I am still able to give one-on-one music lessons with a few students via weekly Zoom meetings. I think the hardest part is juggling being a teacher and mother at the same time . Aria loves to see who I am talking to and wants to be involved in my lessons which is cute at times, but it can be distracting.

Zoom, email and Google Classroom are the main ways I contact students. Classes are scheduled every other day with Fridays free . I have had a few students skip a Zoom meeting or fail to turn in weekly assignments. It (time spent) varies depending on the day. Wednesdays are my busiest days. Usually, I am near a computer or checking school work from 8 a.m. until 3:30 pm. every day.

I am assigning less work, two or three assignments per week. My music classes are only enrichment-based. I send weekly activities to keep them making and interacting with music. The biggest difference is that I am not traveling every day to Osmond also.

(As far as anything special) I just continue to reach out via the Google classroom and let them know I am thinking about them. I give them fun activities to do like planning a new music trip or making a quarantine playlist. I read everything they submit and give them feedback by commenting on their work. I also send them examples of my personal work on the activity.

I cherished my time with my students before, but this experience makes me appreciate the everyday interactions I would have with the students. It is hard not seeing their smiling faces or listening to theirjokes or trying to make them laugh at mine even though I know they are cheesy and not very good.

I think the hardest part though is not making music together. Music is something that connects us all. We use it to express every aspect of our life. It embodies what it means to be human and to connect to one another. It is a gift and a privilege to be able to share it with my students daily and that doesn’t happen every day anymore.

I look forward to the moment we can get back together and let the music tell the story that words cannot fully express. We were working on a piece called “On a Hymnsong” by Phillip Bliss for District Music Contest. It is based on the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul.” Through these trying times, I keep my hope knowing that soon we will all be together again. The lyrics in this hymn help me hold steadfast to that hope.

“And Lord, haste the day when the faith shall be sight,

The clouds be rolled back as a scroll;

The trump shall resound, and the Lord shall descend,

Even so, it is well with my soul.”

OCS fifth grade instructor Denise Schmit: If someone would have told me even a year ago that my teaching career would involve remote teaching,’ don’t think I would have believed them (or could have pictured this concept). Teaching is my jam! — talking with students, sharing stories of history, watching a student with an “ah-ha” moment, interacting with learning and life. That’s what it’s been about for me for 32 years.

When we were told on March 16th after school that Osmond Public School would be shutting its doors to students, I had an empty, disillusioned feeling that I can’t even describe. How could this be? What about our students? What about their learning? What about the standards and goals that we have for this year?

There really wasn’t the time to run scenarios and ‘what ifs’ around. Teachers were asked to make a plan for learning “on the fly.” We didn’t know what the time factor would be — one week, two weeks, one month?

But we knew our kids couldn’t lose out on growing academically. In the elementary, the task had another twist — our students had not done a great deal with remote learning. For our age group, it often takes class time interactions, hands on practice, and immediate feedback that would be difficult to do long distance.

At first we sent home ‘packets’ that were designed to review previous learning, but not to promote moving on with learning. When the time for quarantine was extended, we also knew that our review packets wouldn’t meet the needs of our learners as well.

Now it was time to plan ‘phase 2’ — interactive remote learning. This needed to be learning that would help students move forward academically. This needed to be learning that reached out to students emotionally. This needed to be learning that included having students use technology that they had not used before. This needed to be learning that would hold students accountable and yet not be daunting for students and parents during this time. And this would be learning that I, as a teacher, had never done before. And it had to start right away!

I was definitely thankful that our school had the foresight to be 1:1 with devices for our students. Our school also reached out to families to ensure that each household had the internet to be able to move forward with remote teaching. The school also reached out for other needs such as meals and devised ways to get these to the families in Osmond! I am thankful for all that the school and school board did to help make this time manageable.

“ZOOM” became a word that was going to be a big part of my vocabulary — both as a noun and a verb! We needed to set up times to meet with classes digitally via ZOOM every week.

This time needed to be academic to teach new learning as well as social/ emotional to touch base with students and let them see each other.

We needed to find online resources — videos, slide shows, interactive review sites — that students could use to do homework that would no longer be pencil/paper, but still get feedback for me as a teacher.

We needed to decide how much content would be adequate for an elementary student, knowing full well that we couldn’t expect to cover the same amount of content and learning as we would during a school day. And it had to be established quickly so we wouldn’t lose precious time.

Our biggest ally in this venture parents! This plan for elementary needed the support of the parents. We knew that this certainly wasn’t the plan of our parents either. Our parents, for the most part, have been phenomenal. Parents have helped students get on to remote learning, set up learning places in the house, scheduled time for learning in the day, checked to ensure that assignments were being finished and encouraged students every step of the way. I can’t even begin to express my appreciation to these partners in learning.

We are now over a month away from the day the doors shut to students . It hasn’t gotten any easier. My heart still aches to see my kiddos. I still wonder about them emotionally and academically.

I still spend a great deal of time preparing my Zoom lessons, working on the digital sites, recording learning for students, answering emails, reviewing the lessons that students will do, and figuring out the technology. I wonder about the future — will next year be the same? Will things be back to ‘normal’? I have learned through this all that you can indeed teach an old dog a new trick. I learned that life can change on a dime. I learned that I love my job. So we will move forward and be stronger! #strongertogether

Tiffany Guenther, St. Mary’s teacher facilitator: Teachers are creating lessons and packets are sent home for students. Teachers of preschool-fourth grade are doing private Facebook pages and offering Facebook Live les sons . Fifth through eighth grade instructors are offering Zoom classes.

The majority of students are participating every day. Some days there are more, other days there are less.

The hours the instructors are actually online teaching depends on the age of the students. Preschool and kindergarten are seeing their teacher online for about 30 minutes per day, whereas the older classes have an hour or two depending on the lesson being taught.

I think our school is doing things pretty similar to what others are doing in the area. Our main concern is the well-being of our students. We are trying to accommodate some sort of education into the end of their school year while trying not to overwhelm parents who are doing their best to work with their children while balancing work and daily life at home.

We’ve been doing a few virtual challenges here and there, such as asking for throwback Thursday pictures of St Mary’s School that can be from last month or last century. I think it’s safe to say that we are all looking forward to being back in the classroom and operating under normal circumstances again.

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