Teachers struggle with demands of Distance Learning

Adapting their curriculum for digital learning proved challenging for some

Illustration+by+Amara+Del+Prato

Illustration by Amara Del Prato

When the COVID-19 pandemic first affected the 4th quarter of the 2019-2020 school year, many students felt excited for what they thought would be an extended spring vacation.  Some teachers were similarly expectant.

“I was nervous to have to teach online because I wasn’t sure how that was going to be, but mentally I definitely needed a break from the classroom,” English teacher Alissa Barbero said.

As exciting as this “extended vacation” was at the beginning, other teachers would later have difficulty adjusting to the new, ever changing environment that distance learning created.

 “It was not a vacation for me; I had to get up to speed on a lot of technology,” history teacher  Karen Russell said.

Many teachers shared Russell’s feelings of unease, as the transition to fully in-person instruction was hectic because—unlike students, who could opt out of full time in-person learning—teachers were required to return to campus on April 12.

“[I was] a little freaked out in the beginning because I was hoping we would go [to] the hybrid model first,” math teacher Eric Vallecillo said. “But it was kind of nice to be back; we had enough rules set up to come back like the masks and social distancing, so it was actually better than I thought.” 

As teachers began in-person instruction, some opted to conduct both distance learning and in-person classes in order to avoid losing their students to schedule changes. Others were assigned to both distance learning and in-person classes without volunteering. Although they were not necessarily given a choice as to what classes they could choose, some teachers decided to keep the distance learning classes that the school assigned to them—with teachers like Russell hoping to be assigned even more.

“I had requested as many distance sections as I could have because I was high risk,”  Russell said. “I was able to get mostly distance learning classes, with only one in-person class.”

In the same way that teachers’ schedules vary widely, maintaining an optimal learning environment during distance and in-person classes has been a mixed bag of difficulty for different teachers. Some have had to reconfigure the entire layout of their curriculum. Among these, visual and performing arts (VAPA), physical education, and other elective instructors have been most affected. 

“My weight training class has a large number of students,” physical education teacher Anthony Sayhoun said. “Therefore, I’ve had to adjust the curriculum so that we can maintain social distancing.” 

Sayhoun is not alone in his struggle with managing a large class,  as teachers across subjects received many additional students to their classes upon the return to in-person learning. With  many reworking lesson plans to accommodate more students— both digital and in-person learners—some teachers say that simultaneously managing two modes of instruction has proven to be as challenging for their emotional wellbeing as it has been for their physical health.

Sanitizing [over] 30 desks in six-minute passing periods, and having to plan and grade for both sets of students too is a lot,” Barbero said. “It is very difficult and overwhelming.” 

Despite teachers’ transparency with students about the challenges they have faced this quarter, the  school’s administration says that many have not directly vocalized their distress to administrative staff. Without knowing exactly what teachers are struggling with, administrators say they are limited in their ability to support teachers with their needs.

“It is not often that teachers reach out with concerns,” Asst. Principal Dennis To said. “We always listen to teachers if they have concerns. We’re always available. We’re always willing to listen and help out the teachers who come to us. They know we’re just a call away.”

Readjusting to this new schedule has been very difficult on teachers, and continues to stress many. Many students have thrived following the return to in-person instruction, but many teachers have not had the chance to return “back to normal.” 

  “I feel like I’m working way more than usual—and the job is already a lot,” Barbero said. “I know that the transition was difficult for both teachers and students. I think that we all need to understand that teachers need the same grace that students need too.”

Though COVID-19 continues to affect school and in-person instruction, Bear Creek teachers  continue to hold strength.  

“I’ve learned a lot in the process. I think it will serve me well in the years to come, with all the things I’ve learned going through COVID,” Russell said.

 

Contributors: Beautiful Armstrong, Merit Onyekwere