By Kyler Van Vliet
Remote learning has proven to be a real learning curve for both the college student and professor, but perhaps the true struggle lies with the job of trying to manage the education of 22 six and seven year-olds.
Jana Schubert of Blenman Elementary School is a first-grade teacher who has been adapting to remote learning since the fourth quarter of the 2019-20 school year.
Schubert, 58, spent the bulk of her 21-year career teaching at White Elementary before moving to Blenman two years ago.
For the past year, her and her peers have been on the frontlines of educating elementary students through remote learning, guiding curriculum from home. Schubert stressed how difficult the year has been for not only herself and the staff, but also for the students. She said that the hardest part was losing control of a safe and secure teaching space.
“My students and I create an environment that we agree upon mutually, and then we work together to make sure the environment is consistent,” she said. “In a remote learning environment, if I have 22 students, there are 22 different learning environments and even if we design and agree upon behavioral expectations, there’s no way for me to enforce those expectations because of individual circumstances and individual home learning environments.”
Another unique circumstance that teachers face is that of the disciplinary side. Schubert said that her only ability to reduce in-class distractions is by redirecting a student’s behavior.
“They don’t like it; students like to be seen and be a part of something.”
After multiple opportunities, she may mute and hide the child’s video feed. The very worst a child has to fear is being kicked out of the class met with a parent email to follow.
“Most times it does work. Not always. Sometimes kids are just having a bad day, but at least after being muted they still have access to the learning session.”
School does not only serve as education for students, but it also allows for a place for social skills to grow and prosper. Because of the pandemic, all social activities have been either curved or eliminated entirely, and unfortunately for the younger students, break out groups are not an option as they must be supervised by an adult.
Schubert does allow her students to share stories about their day or week during class. However, she has noticed the kids’ frustration from time to time since their only way to participate is in a whole class setting where they may have to wait longer to speak or interact amongst themselves, as opposed to four kids at a table speaking in a free-flowing conversation.
Some things have not changed. Schools still offer programs that allow students to work one on one with teachers to focus on developing reading skills. They can also work in smaller groups that are “homogeneously grouped” so that students can communicate and work with students at their same academic level.
Schubert said that it is unfortunate that “heterogeneous groups” can’t work together more.
“… lower kids do have insight. Just because a kid isn’t at the same reading level of another child it doesn’t mean they don’t have valid ideas and strategies and insights. Higher-level learners can learn from lower-level learners just as much as lower-level learners can learn from higher-level learners. But the easiest way to work remotely is to keep the groups homogeneous.”
The district also has tried to make online learning more comfortable for students and families by supplying every student with a Chromebook and a personal hotspot to use, making student materials available for families and even delivering those materials if the families cannot make it to the school so that no child falls behind.
Not only do the children have support systems available to them arranged by the district, but so do the teachers and staff.
Schubert said that her administration has done a great job of helping the adults get through the year too. They have weekly professional development meetings where she is able to see all of her peers and learn about ways to make online learning more effective and fun.
“In this most challenging situation, relying on each other and supporting each other so honestly and unselfishly has been amazing.”
Schubert made it apparent that TUSD is planning on opening back up schools for the fourth quarter and that they do have an “entry plan” set in place for when everyone returns for the last 45 days of school. She stressed that the plan has yet been finalized and the district does have about a month to hammer out the details.
“The entry plan needs work, and it needs really consistent reinforcement.”
TUSD is allowing families the option to either continue online learning or transition back to in person schooling.
Seeing that it is a very real possibility that many parents will not allow their children to return to school, TUSD has said that if an in-person class is undersized, then it may be filled with students of a different grade level, forcing the teachers to teach multiple grade levels.
Schubert is undecided as to whether or not she will continue remote teaching, but she wants to be back in the classroom. The health concerns are very real and apparent, but looking past that for an instance, Schubert recognizes both the pros and cons of kids returning.
“It’s good for kids to be back together even if it is in a socially distanced manner… However I do have concerns about inconsistencies for kids: taking them out of a routine and teaching them a new one. And the potential that students will be put with a different teacher or be placed with kids of a different grade level… are concerning.”