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Teachers See Some Silver Linings In Cloud of School Closures

The Biggest Distance-Learning Experiment In History: Week One

Photo by Chris Youssef for NPR

Above: The Biggest Distance-Learning Experiment In History: Week One

On March 13, the last day of instruction before schools closed across San Diego County, Yvonne Dawson, a third-grade teacher, was hurrying to grab what she needed in case she wasn’t able to return to school for several weeks.

“I feel like I sort of rushed my students out,” said Dawson, who teaches at Arroyo Vista Charter School in the Chula Vista Elementary School District.

But in the back of her mind, she figured it wouldn’t be too long before school would be back in session and her class together again. But the coronavirus has decided otherwise, and teachers everywhere are coping with abrupt and unprecedented changes in how they have to do their jobs.

“Now knowing that we don’t get to go back to school, it does bring about a sense of sadness and nostalgia,” Dawson said.

RELATED: San Diego Unified Begins 'Soft Launch' Of Distance Learning

Reported by Joe Hong

These feelings of loss are just part of what educators are going through — there’s also increased stress and long hours as they are forced to adapt on the fly to distance learning programs.

Yet, many are also finding silver linings to their changed realities. New ways of interacting with students. Also, in some respects, there are actually fewer distractions.

Dawson has not only prepared math and reading lessons but also scheduled time for her class to meet on Zoom for bonding activities. In one, she reads quotes meant to be conversation starters for her students.

“Hopefully they won’t talk over each other at the same time, but it’s something the students are used to, and I think it’ll bring a sense of normalcy to the situation,” she said.

Gino Scalo, who teaches at Carmel Valley Middle School in the San Dieguito Union High School District, said he’s already finding that with distance learning he has more time to focus on his core curriculum.

“We’re skipping a lot of Spring distractions like standardized testing, graduation practice and the trip to Knott’s Berry Farm,” Scalo said.“Teachers get very annoyed about the interruptions to the routine.”

Scalo said online learning has allowed students to submit assignments on their own schedules. It’s even made him realize how easy it is to go paperless.

“I’m an older teacher, and I’ve always had my students turning in assignments at the same time, all on paper,” he said. “But now I’ve found multiple ways to do things electronically.”

Be Patient

Mari Venturino is a science teacher at Mar Vista Academy in the Sweetwater Union High School District who is also pursuing a doctorate in educational technology. She’s been helping her colleagues get more comfortable with teaching online.

Her mantra for veteran teachers unfamiliar with educational technology is to be patient with themselves.

“Right now the kids are going to be super forgiving when something doesn’t work,” she said. “They’re going to say, ‘Hey I can help you fix it,’ or, ‘Oh, it’s OK, keep trying.’”

But the most bittersweet lesson in all this, Venturino said, has been realizing the importance of having a close relationship with students.

“We’re doing it because we love our kids,” she said. “So just keep doing what you love and those technology skills, they’ll come.”

Long hours

But that’s not to say it will be an easy road. And the enormity of the challenge has begun to sink in for a lot of educators.

“I can’t do the thing I love so much, which is being with my kids,” said Kristin Brown, a first-grade teacher at Silver Gate Elementary in Point Loma.

Brown said with distance learning, her hours have gotten even longer. At school, she’s able to walk by her students' desks and get a sense of whether they understand the material. In the virtual classroom, she needs to spend more time examining her students’ work.

“Teaching was never a seven-hour job,” she said. “But it’s funny that it’s more work to not be with my kids.”

Kris Hidalgo, a teacher at Finney Elementary School in the Chula Vista Elementary School District, said it hasn’t been easy learning the new tools. She’s been working late at night and plans to work through the weekend so she’s ready to officially launch distance learning on Monday.

“It’s new, it’s surreal, and it’s really different,” Hidalgo said. “I do get teary-eyed because I miss seeing my kids, but it’s good learning because I know I can take it back into my classroom.

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Photo of Joe Hong

Joe Hong
Education Reporter

opening quote marksclosing quote marksAs an education reporter, I'm always looking for stories about learning. My favorite education stories put a student's face on bigger policy issues. I regularly sift through enrollment data, test scores and school budgets, but telling student-centered stories is my top priority.

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