“I told my students goodbye on a Friday not knowing the call would be made to not return,” explained Beth McCall, a 5th grade teacher at Whitesides Elementary School. “Knowing what I know now, I would have been more specific about what materials to take from their desks and cubbies, but more importantly I would have given them all a reassuring hug and told them how much I loved them and that we were going to get through this together. I certainly tell them during our virtual meetings, but it’s not the same.”
Thousands of Charleston County School District students, teachers and staff are navigating the brave new world of e-learning. While some students had already grown accustomed to programs like Flipgrid, edpuzzle, DreamBox, ALEKS® and Google Classroom for various class assignments, there is a noticeable void that is not easily filled in a Zoom meeting where minds easily wander, screens freeze or lag and family members and pets make cameos regularly. Teachers and students are scrambling to navigate new technologies and trying to overcome inevitable technical glitches, internet issues and more. Not to mention it’s simply not as easy to explain a concept over the computer as it is in person.
It’s an uphill battle, but silver linings abound. “I have such sweet students and supportive parents this year,” McCall continued. “I think, although this situation has placed tremendous strain on our families, everyone has a ‘we are all in this together’ attitude. My students are showing up and they are completing the requirements placed on them.”
Tamie Watkins, an English teacher and newspaper adviser at Wando High School, misses the in-person connection that a classroom fosters. “Part of what I’ve always enjoyed about teaching is actually being around teenagers — having the opportunity to exchange ideas. I’m always learning new things from them, and I love watching that a-ha moment when they learn a new concept or understand a theme or literary idea,” she said. “I think that’s been the hardest thing for me and other teachers — actually spending time with the students and nurturing those relationships.”
A lack of a consistent schedule also affects online learning. “They’re staying up later, have a messed-up sleep schedule and are finding it harder to be as motivated as they were before. I think that’s true for teachers as well,” Watkins explained. “Students I never thought would really miss school are telling me they are desperate to go back! It’s that connection you have with a place, with people, with a routine. That’s one of the things that’s hardest about all of this.”
Teachers, students and their families are trying their best to navigate the rest of the school year together. If anything, we learn to be positive.
“It is definitely not an ideal situation, but everyone seems to be making the most of it. I know that every day that passes is every day I wish I was with my students, but it’s also another day for me to take the opportunity to better myself at this whole distance learning thing,” McCall concluded. “If anything, I hope I’m teaching my students that we are all life-long learners, and flexibility and a positive attitude will take you far in difficult situations.”
By Anne Shuler Toole