Learning from a distance

Teachers around BVNW have been struggling to find new ways to keep their students engaged in class throughout the entire school day.

Keeping students on task in the classroom is hard enough but keeping kids engaged during distance learning is something many teachers have said they struggle with this year. ELA and AVID teacher Bill Smithyman said keeping his students motivated during online class is something he feels he has not been able to do this semester.
“I’m reteaching stuff that’s easy,” Smithyman said. “I’m still reteaching quote citation from September that should be right by now but I know people are out to lunch, literally out to lunch, so I don’t know, I try to use humor.”
With the limited participation from students, Smithyman said the hardest part for him is to watch a subject he adores feel so useless.
“It is really hard, day in and day out to watch the subject that you like, that you have a passion for, look like busy work to 80 kids a day,” Smithyman said. “Teaching stuff I’m passionate about in a format that I can’t communicate that or receive that back in any way shape or form is soul crushing.”
Graphic Design, Digital Imaging and Design Fundamentals teacher Joanna Mays said seeing the lack of engagement from her students makes her sad for all the struggles they have to go through during the pandemic.
“It makes me feel sad for my students and for what they are going through. Just realizing how isolated they might feel, how despondent they might feel. I know the feeling of having a lack of motivation,” Mays said.
While he does feel sad for the students, Smithyman said feeling as if he is not making a difference in the lives of his students is hard for him to see.
“It makes me feel ineffective which sounds clinical and technical but I do,” Smithyman said. “I think if I were a new teacher it wouldn’t hurt my feelings. “It doesn’t hurt my feelings because I think it’s natural, but it hurts my sense of self because I’ve done this for 20 years,” Smithyman said.. “I’m not the best teacher in the building but I’m not the worst teacher in the building so when you log off of Zoom feeling like you’ve just done nothing but waste people’s time, it does have an eventual effect on you.”
Wasting the time of his students has always been something he is against doing but during COVID-19 Smithyman said it feels inevitable.
“You guys don’t come here for your time to get wasted. And I think you can tell teachers who are lazy from teachers in part by how they use your time. And I just hate wasting content so when it takes me 20 minutes to post an assignment it made me mad because that stuff should work when you get here, ” said Smithyman said.
Smithyman said that while he does not feel he is making connections like he used to, the breakout sessions are allowing him to connect with students in new ways. Mays also said using breakout rooms to grow closer with her students , Mays said has helped her feel as if she is using her time more effectively. Mays said having these private conversations have allowed her to still form personal bonds with her students. Smithyman also said that while he does not feel he is making connections like he used to, the breakout sessions are allowing him to connect with students in new ways.
“When I visit them in breakout rooms I give them the ability to screen share so they can screen share with me,” said Mays. “They show me what they are doing and I can provide them direct feedback rather than just waiting for the due date where maybe half the kids will turn something in,” Mays said. By doing it this way I can actually do it as if I was in the classroom, where I can see it on a computer screen, where I can see what their progress is. This is the best way for me to emulate that experience.”
Part of the experience as a teacher is moving throughout the building during the day which Mays said is something she is not able to do currently.
“I sit in the same room all day now. I only have my one classroom I’m in, the graphic design room,” said Mays. “All I teach right now is graphic design and digital imaging so all my classes are in this room and I sit at my desk all day at my computer and I teach from there at my desk the entire day. I am in the classroom by myself and it has no windows.”
In order to allow him and his students to move away from their desks during the day he gives them brain breaks throughout the lesson, said Smithyman.
“I try to break it into chunks so that goes quicker. I’m trying to avoid lecturing,” said Smithyman. “On a block day, I rarely go the full hour and a half. But if I go close, then we’ll do a break in the middle where I make you keep your camera on, but you have to leave with the idea that I need you to get up, get the blood pumping.”
Smithyman said using brain breaks throughout the day makes his students happy which is a source of motivation for him as well as the patience he has received from students as he learns how to navigate online school.
“What has been a source of motivation from me, is that for as much as kids are checked out right now, students in general have been so kind and patient and respectful through technological issues,” said Smithyman said. “I think students are patient with us because they know that it is horrible that we don’t know what we’re doing.”