Teaching

Cody Middle School social studies teacher Jacob Kraft does a Zoom meeting with a class while his children Kaden (left) and Kai look on. (Courtesy photo)

Cody teachers in middle and high school have been dealing with challenges unique to the upper levels of K-12 schooling in the county, namely having to deal with multiple classes of students, often at different levels of motivation.

Travis Duncan, eighth grade

history, government at Cody Middle School

What has it been like to adjust from in-person to virtual teaching?

I am not going to sugar coat it. In short, it sucks. Middle school in and of itself is a challenging time in a student’s life. When compounded with the added stresses of time away from family, limited peer interaction, technical issues, limited help at home while moms and dads are still working, and being out of routines school can make school seem impossible at times.

Compounding this is communication. Like any long distance relationship, no matter how hard you try, something is always lost in translation. Trying to help clarify or translate our thoughts to over a hundred different learners in an email or Google Classroom post doesn’t always come as clear as we think.

What do you miss most about normal teaching?

If you ask almost any teacher, they will all have a story of a great teacher they had along the way that had a significant impact in their life. These connections don’t happen over email, Zoom and Google Classrooms. I think most would agree that we are inherently “face” people, and we thrive with that one-on-one interaction.

I have five sections of social studies and just like the students in those classes they are all unique and have a personality of their own. Second hour is always a little slow the first thing in the morning, but once they get going they take off. They are like my “test” class, whatever I mess up for them, I adjust with later classes.

My third hour is one of the hardest working classes I have had. They don’t say much, but will do anything you put in front of them, as long as it’s not a public speech. Fourth hour is my largest and most chatty bunch. These guys like to talk through their work and are up for anything and just about anything.

Sixth hour is always a little wound up after lunch, and is my most united class. They even set up a group chat outside of class, so that everyone was on the same page for a decision they had to make.

Seventh is a lot like third, hard working, bright and self motivated. This class seems to have close friendships and work well together. It’s these personalities and interactions that you cannot replicate in a Zoom meeting. In fact, we joke a lot with the kids that a Zoom meeting feels like a zoo exhibit – they just kind of stare at you while you are talking.

I feel bad for students in this situation. The last couple of months of school are typically the time when we are active and outside the classroom and we start to get into some of those projects that have a lasting impact on students’ lives.

Ask anyone if they remember, Natural History Days or Mr. Jones coming to set up his teepee and they will have a story to tell. These guys will not have those opportunities. For the eighth-graders it’s a sad end to their time in middle school.

It’s always interesting to watch these kids turn into young adults by the end of the year and get ready for the next stage in their life. But, they will move on to the high school having left without any closure at the end of the school year. Essentially, they were handed their locker contents in a black bag, no yearbook signings, no storytelling with friends and no end of the year trips.

Do you see any silver linings in this?

Hopefully, this has really challenged us to think about how to communicate more clearly, build better relationships and be more empathetic to what kids are going through.

I have to keep reminding myself, especially when I am frustrated with kids not doing work, not logging onto a meeting or not emailing, that we can’t tell what kids are going through home, and in the end they are still just kids. They are not perfect, but doing the best they can in an impossible situation.

Jacob Kraft, social

studies teacher at Cody Middle School

What has it been like to adjust from in-person to virtual teaching?

Fortunately, moving to an online/technology format has not been too difficult for me. I feel like my technology skills have held me above water through this adjustment.

However, it is difficult to manage so many different variables created by homebound students. We have all (teachers, students, and parents) been tested by the transition, especially the communication piece.

What do you miss most about normal teaching?

I miss the daily interactions with the staff and especially the students. We spend so much time with our students on a weekly basis and there is no way to replicate the personal interactions that come in the classroom and in the halls.

Our middle school kids thrive on socialization with both their peers and their teachers. I think our society is realizing how important face-to-face socialization is for the souls of our kids. However, I don’t miss not going to the bathroom when I need to or lunch duty, but everything else I miss for sure.

Do you see any silver linings in this?

I hope this situation helps us be more mindful of how germs spread, especially in public places. I hope we take sanitation more seriously when we are together again and I hope that people will be more courteous when it comes to hygiene in our public facilities.

I could also see Zoom meetings being utilized more frequently moving forward, especially in situations where staff or students cannot be in the physical room. The final silver lining might be that we have created more avenues to communicate and educate students who might have long-term absence in our school system.

Stephanie Gabriel, math teacher at Heart

Mountain Academy

What has it been like to adjust from in-person to virtual teaching?

Heart Mountain Academy is a blended learning environment, and I am thankful my students have used Google Classroom with our history teacher Ryan Nelson. The largest adjustment I’ve had to cope with is not being able to physically see when my students are confused.

A lot of times students are embarrassed to admit they are confused, especially with math concepts. They don’t like to say that they are confused, so in the classroom I was able to look for cues that they were lost; now I have to trust they will reach out to me if they have trouble.

What do you miss most about normal teaching?

I miss interacting with my students. We are like a family at HMA, and it is hard to be away from your family.

Do you see any silver linings in this?

I see many silver linings about this experience. I personally have tried to focus more on building a good rapport with my students, letting them know that I care about them. I do a mental health check once a week with them and I reach out to them, especially those who report they are having a hard time.

Working in an alternative high school, we are always brainstorming ways to help meet students where they are and then help them grow. I think utilizing this time and moving curriculum online will only benefit future HMA students.

I’ve been able to give more one-on-one help to students who have reached out. We can really get to the root of their confusion with little to no distractions.

It can be very easy to give up or only look at how things are going wrong in these times. However, I see my students trying, I see them still wanting to succeed. I see my students taking responsibility for their education, effectively communicating, and reaching out when they need help, and I am so proud of them.

Larry Munari, choir teacher at Cody High School

What has it been like to adjust from in-person to virtual teaching?

In my field it is very difficult. In vocal music, the students gain confidence more quickly in an in-person environment. Normally, they experience less risk and prefer the power of numbers when learning a particular part in a piece of choral music. Some students are not confident enough to work one-on-one through a computer screen.

When we are denied the goal of a “live” performance, the motivating reason is removed; this affects purposeful engagement and motivation. In guitar, students have largely quit trying, and several have requested retaking the class because it is too difficult to learn to play the instrument this way, attempting to communicate over computer conferencing or through exchanging videos.

What do you miss most about normal teaching?

The personal interaction, synergy of the numbers working together and the facial expressions that tell me what students are experiencing. Scheduled concerts are an important demonstration to the community regarding the learning and progress that has taken place in the music classroom.

Do you see any silver linings in this?

Yes. I think students will appreciate the opportunities for learning in the school building more than they ever have in the past.

Amy Gerber, science teacher at Cody High School

What has it been like to adjust from in-person to virtual teaching?

The learning curve in adjusting to online teaching has been steep. I’ve learned some technology strategies and skills that will continue to be useful. Bad news. ... I had to learn how to make Youtube videos. Good news ... I learned how to make Youtube videos.

What do you miss most about normal teaching?

What I most miss about in-person teaching is talking to and laughing with kids. That is the best part of teaching. I miss the conversations that happen in class ... but even more, I miss the conversations that have nothing to do with biology.

Do you see any silver linings in this?

My silver linings:

• Spending time with family.

• Spending time in nature watching wildlife.

• Reading books that I choose to read.

• The peace and quiet – not feeling the normal level of stress I feel in the classroom day to day.

• Being able to pee when I have to go.

• Being reminded how much I love and miss my kiddos at CHS.

• Feeling valued as a teacher by parents, community and country.

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