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Teacher misses teaching face-to-face, but adapts to interacting with students online

A drawing of a heart and the phrases "Be patient," "Be kind," "Be Flexible," "We Miss You All!!"

Linda Barber, High School English/Yearbook, Accelerated Schools of Overland Park

Q. As an educator, how has COVID-19 impacted you and the way you perform your job?
A. On Thursday, Mar. 12 of this year, the last day for students before Spring Break, I remember one of my seniors saying, "What if they call off school? We won't have to come back!" I remember laughing and telling the class that it wouldn't happen. Famous last words... it happened, and it changed all our lives. It erased the freedom to be normal as we know it. 

Our school was one of the few in the area where all our teachers continued our classes online after Kansas schools were closed. Teachers and administrators were resourceful and scrambled to find ways for us to adapt our curriculum so we could finish out the year. We were lucky because we had experience with several online programs and many of us already used Google Classroom.
We met our classes through Zoom and proceeded through our daily class schedules, although each class period and school day was shorter than usual.

Q. What has been the hardest challenge you have faced or obstacle you have overcome?
A. I sincerely miss teaching face-to-face in my own classroom. When students walked into my room, I could usually read their moods and take some time to ask about their concerns or to discuss how their day was going. It's much more difficult to build relationships online and to get to know my students in a virtual environment. Even though we chat online, joke around a bit, or talk about what's going on in our lives, it's not really the same. I'm still trying my best to make that happen. While teaching online last year, I assigned a couple of "Show and Tell Days" like in grade school.

Almost every high school student in my class had something to share and talk about. Students shared pets, musical instruments, projects they were working on, crafts and artwork.  I think we were all just starved for some bonding time that wasn't related to schoolwork.  

The preparation for online teaching takes much longer. Finding materials and a way to effectively share them is a challenge, and yet our success depends on it. For example, during fourth quarter I chose various short stories to share rather than a novel. We shared the stories' text online and listened to an audio version as well. This fall will be easier because I was able to send a copy of our novel home to each student. Essays and other writing assignments are a bit easier to manage with our Google products. We also have an online program for vocabulary which students will work on as homework. We use a popular online program for grammar as well.

Q. From your perspective, what is something positive that has resulted from this pandemic so far?
A. That's a stretch for me; it certainly makes sure that I'm 100 percent prepared every day! Here are some student quotes that originated from school essays in English and Spanish classes during fourth quarter when we were teaching online. 

  • “Many positive things have come out of this. I have done things I was procrastinating on.”
  • “This pandemic has brought us closer because we are all working towards the same goal.”
  • “I like it because I don’t have homework, but I miss seeing my teachers and friends at school.”
  • “I honestly like it, mainly because I don’t have to drive.”
  • “I really like online school...I will miss my teachers, though.”
  • “We just have been working around the house and trying to find ways to still act and be normal.”
  • “It’s been very difficult to stay motivated at home and definitely makes it all a little harder.”
  • “We are exercising a lot and just washing our hands like normal. “
  • “My mood has felt very strange recently. Some days I am happy, other days I feel really lonely.”
  • “Missing graduation and prom are definitely not what I was planning, but if that’s all I’m missing I can’t be too angry as long as people stay healthy.”
  • “I find that when I try to fight the changes that are happening, I always get very negative. When I try to adapt to the changes and make the situation more positive, things get better.”

Q. What are you anticipating as you look ahead?
A. I anticipate being patient, kind and flexible, and taking one day at a time. As a retired teacher, I am lucky that my school is allowing me to teach remotely even if students return to the classroom this fall. Our students also have the choice to continue with remote learning if they prefer it rather than returning to their classrooms. I am concerned for the safety of students and many teachers who will return to the actual classrooms eventually. 

Q. From the work you have done over the past few months, of what are you the proudest?
A. I am most proud of how our teachers managed to create meaningful lessons during the pandemic. Our parents shared a lot of positive feedback concerning their efforts. Our students earned grades for the final quarter and had attendance requirements for their online courses. 

I was also thankful that we turned in our yearbook on Mar. 13 so that it came out on time. 

Q. What is something you value more now compared to pre-pandemic?
A. Like most people, I value the freedom we have lost: the freedom to socialize with our family and friends, to go to work each day without worry, to hug our own family members whenever we want. I value the "normal" that we've lost. I'm an optimistic person by nature, and I'm sure we can beat this virus in time. I long for that!