WENATCHEE — How do you build relationships with students who are learning from home, who are attending class remotely in a group video chat?
That’s the question seven Wenatchee Valley teachers said is chief among their concerns entering the 2020-2021 school year. The teachers spoke to The Wenatchee World on Monday and Tuesday.
“A lot of what we do is we build relationships with kids and we use those relationships to leverage learning. We get to know a kid and what works for them,” said Tina Holm, a science and leadership teacher at Eastmont Junior High School. “And I know that that’s going to be more challenging over the virtual classroom.”
Classes started Wednesday in the Eastmont and Wenatchee school districts. The Wenatchee district is using Zoom chats and Canvas, a learning management platform, while the Eastmont district is teaching with Google Classroom.
“It’s easy to lean over a kid’s shoulder and say, ‘Hey, let’s get back to work,’” Holm said. “It’s harder to do that when they’re not there. That little tap on the shoulder is harder to do over a computer.”
Rather than attempt to teach a class of 20-plus at once, John Brossoit, another science teacher at Eastmont Junior High School, wants to split his classes into smaller groups to allow for more direct interaction with individual students.
“Kids tend to — when they’re talking to the whole class, especially online when they see their faces, when they hear their voice back — it tends to really intimidate a lot of them,” Brossoit said. “So by breaking into smaller groups I’m really able to get to know them … in a less intimidating place and really get to know them.”
He estimates that he’ll be meeting 75% of his students for the first time through a screen.
“And that presents a challenge,” Brossoit said. “So if I don’t have relationships, I don’t have learning going on.”
Teachers and students had a sample of remote learning in the spring when large gatherings were barred due to COVID-19 concerns. However, teachers say fall classes won’t have much resemblance to the first go-round.
“We did the best we could with what we had,” said Erica Wilson, a science teacher at Pioneer Middle School in Wenatchee. “I feel like this approach that we started with at the start of the school year, I feel a lot more prepared. I feel like I can hold those kids to the higher standard and make sure they’re going to get stuff done and they’re going to be able to do it.”
Eastmont students were supplied with Google Chromebooks and the Wenatchee School District is working to get every student a Chromebook or iPad. In many cases, lessons will be recorded and available for students and parents to re-watch later.
Tracy Krous, a second-grade teacher at Lee Elementary School in Eastmont, has some worries about video lessons.
“I am nervous about the technology not working, because that’s just an inherent fact with technology that one minute it could be fine and next it won’t be,” Krous said.
She added, “I think the biggest thing is I hope kids can try to stay engaged, which in the classroom I can walk around, I can touch a shoulder and say, ‘Remember, we’re working on something.’”
Karen Kneadler with Sterling Intermediate School in Eastmont is entering her 38th year of teaching.
“This is probably as challenging for me as it was my first couple years of teaching,” Kneadler said. “I’m worried about whether the technology is going to work, I’m worried about whether all the kids are going to be able to get on, I’m worried about being able to hold their attention and keep them engaged when I’m not physically in the space with them.”
And while technical hiccups are expected and a worry for some, teachers say they’ll hold students to high academic standards.
“We’re hitting the ground running,” said Allisen Ellis, a fourth-grade teacher at Cascade Elementary School in Wenatchee “We’re not watering anything down, we are following our state standards and we are going to be pushing them.”
Said middle school teacher Wilson, “I have a feeling there’s going to be a lot of those ‘well that didn’t work’ (moments).”
She added that trial and error is part of teaching. “This is teaching. The classroom, the students change things, the curriculum changes things, sometimes the administration changes things, you just have to roll with it and that’s part of being a good teacher, being able to look at a situation and figure out how to make it work for people.”
Griffyn Paine, a kindergarten teacher at Cascade, said her lessons will combine live video and at-home work. She’s sending students home with two weeks of work at a time. Not knowing how effective remote learning will be, she said it’s a difficult task.
“So there’s definitely a lot more prep work into it,” Paine said. “And then know that we’re not going to be able to see their faces in person that just makes it a little sadder, but we are excited for the new challenge, for sure.”
Eastmont Junior High School’s Brossoit said the unusual circumstances have prompted teachers to work together more than ever.
“All of this has really facilitated an opportunity for us as teachers and staff to collaborate and lean on one another — really at an unprecedented level,” Brossoit said.
He serves on a science and a health team at the junior high and they’ve grown into a tight-knit group.
“We are closer now than we’ve ever been,” Brossoit said. “These aren’t just people I work with, they’re friends and I think a lot of that came about through this process and I don’t know that it would’ve happened any other way.”