May 4, 2020
May 4-8, 2020 is Teacher Appreciation Week, and it’s important now more than ever that we recognize and celebrate the significant role educators play in student’s lives. With the dedication teachers have put into changing the structure of their classrooms with social distancing, we want to thank those difference makers in Tennessee.
Read below as Ms. Melissa Fields, an English teacher from Dobyns-Bennett High School in Kingsport, Tennessee, shares about her experience teaching through a pandemic and how she engages with her students online. Ms. Fields graciously took the time to show us her online classroom and what her students have been learning during this time. Thank you, Ms. Fields, and educators across the state, for working so hard to adapt and keep your students connected during this unprecedented time.
I have been an educator for 21 years, and I must say that I never expected to teach during a pandemic. I admire districts across the state that are accepting the challenge of transitioning to online learning with their students. In doing so, they have found how important community really is. The COVID-19 crisis has certainly strengthened the bond between all educational stakeholders. I feel extremely blessed to work for a district that is dedicated to continuing the joy of learning!
I work in Kingsport, Tennessee, and the KCS system is working diligently to make sure that students and parents feel supported during this educational transition. The system offers free food to students and regularly updates parents. Elementary teachers have worked tirelessly to create resource packets that were safely distributed to parents, and middle and high school teachers are delivering content online via Google Classroom and/or Canvas. Thanks to the system’s successful implementation of a 1:1 technology initiative [all students have a digital device] and local internet carriers who offered free internet for two months, students remain engaged in their learning.
It is business (though a bit unusual) in Kingsport! Online learning presents unique challenges and demands adjusted pedagogy; however, it also offers rewarding experiences.
As an English teacher at Dobyns-Bennett High School, I am encouraged by my students’ participation, and I am so thankful to work for a system that trusts me as a professional. Like most teachers, what I miss the most about on-site instruction is the face-to-face interaction with my students. However, I have found that keeping the lines of communication open helps me maintain rapport with my students. They regularly email me and send valuable feedback about the online process. I ask for their input quite a bit as to how they want to tackle an assignment: Do they need a YouTube video of me explaining a procedure, do they need help locating an online book, do they need a Google hangout meeting? My relationship with the amazing Library Media Specialists at DB has been a huge asset as well.
Perhaps the single most important aspect of the online classroom is the partnership it creates between the student and teacher. If the teachers are open to feedback and input from the students, it will surely help them navigate the online learning environment more successfully. At least, that has been the case for me.
I receive daily emails from my students that let me know they are still taking their learning seriously and even enjoying it. One student wrote to me and said she was loving her online book. She said, “Ms. Fields, you have to read Kate Scowen’s i.d.!” Another student wrote, “Can this journal be both typed and displayed through several high-energy YouTube videos with dazzling VFX magic?” My response was, “But of course!”
Even their questions lead to encouraging words. For example, one student asked me about the finished product for an inquiry-based research project that my year-long classes are completing. Then she clarified by writing, “I asked because I’m actually really excited about my research topic.” These are the sorts of things they would be telling me in the classroom, and it makes the lack of face-to-face time much more bearable. I think asking for feedback often and keeping the communication lines open have made this process successful.
I would also stress the fact that it is important not to overwhelm students with new technology or to use technology you aren’t comfortable with. I think teachers need to find the platforms that work best for them and not feel pressured to try something new every day. That will likely frustrate them and their learners.
Using platforms that the students have already been using for the class is probably the best option. I’ve used Google Classroom with my students all year, so they were able to transition quite easily. Of course, these unprecedented times will require innovation. Many of my colleagues are doing fantastic teaching online through other technology tools, and I think it is wonderful that the students are getting exposure to various apps. I’m posting more YouTube videos of myself than before, and I did add screencastify videos to my technology arsenal. Other than that, I’m keeping it as simple as I can for my kids. In this short video, I explain how Google Classroom keeps my English 10 classes moving full steam ahead!