Teacher copes with distance learning
Sarah Watkins, a sixth grade math teacher at Marshall Middle School, offered some insight into the distance learning thrust upon students, parents, teachers and administrators because of the COVID-19 crisis.
While she doesn’t mind distance learning, she admitted that she doesn’t love it, either.
For Watkins, the best part of teaching is being able to connect with the students, but it’s not the same teaching through a Zoom class. What makes a classroom special is the appreciation exchanged daily between student and teacher, she explained.
“It’s tricky when you’re not able to feel the energy,” she said.
San Diego Unified School District gave teachers about three weeks to get up to speed on how to conduct distance learning classes and take some online classes while the district contacted students and their families to prepare them, Watkins stated.
“I had to learn the whole thing. What does it look like when I make a test? When I send it, what do they see and what do I see? It was a lot of learning to take place in a very short period of time,” she said.
Watkins and her teacher friends emailed each other to share information. Even now, they remain working from 6 in the morning until 10 at night preparing and taking care of details, she said.
“At the beginning there were so many tears of frustration because we knew the parents were overwhelmed and upset, the students were overwhelmed and upset and we were learning it all at the same time,” she said. “Each teacher kind of does it a different way. We figured out a system for what worked best for our class.”
Watkins explained that many of the students were excited at first because they saw the school shut down as a big vacation, but they became sad later when they began to miss their friends.
“They miss that connection. They’ll come to the Zoom meetings … They just want to chat. They’ll chat about anything they can. They’ll show each other their pets – anything they can to get that connection,” she said. “So, something that seemed exciting when it first happened, they now realize the magnitude of it.”
Watkins said teachers are making themselves available to their students and check on their well-being. She said she has even planned fun Zoom events unrelated to math – like a game night – as a way to let her students enjoy and appreciate one another.
While there have been technical glitches with distance learning, and keeping parents informed has been a challenge, Watkins has seen a few bright spots.
“Students are able to see now the importance of what it is they’re doing. … It kind of puts that responsibility on them in a way. So many of them are stepping up and seeing that they can actually do it,” she said.
Watkins also discovered another unexpected result.
“These shy students who would typically sit back in the classroom, they are reaching out, they are asking me questions … It’s been good to see them kind of stepping up and really being more appreciative of the learning they are doing, not just because they have to,” she stated. “They’re sitting home doing nothing else, so they want to have something to do.”