By Ramona Lataille, Science Teacher at Seminole Science Charter School
Like most teachers, COVID-19 has been the biggest and most unexpected challenge of my career. After 22 years in education, I’ve seen it all, but no experience can prepare you for a global pandemic. Luckily, flexibility is one of the many job requirements of being a teacher. From adjusting to a learning-from-home environment in the spring to balancing a hybrid classroom of in-person and virtual students this fall, adaptability is certainly a skill I’ve relied on daily throughout the past year.
With the classroom status quo out the window, it was tempting for teachers to stick their heads in the sand – particularly ones as close to retirement as I am. But if there’s one thing I believe, it’s that teachers, like our students, should embrace every opportunity for growth and development. For me, that started with technology. Prior to the pandemic, I had used Google Classroom, but never to the extent we’ve come to rely on it today. I had some glitches in the first few weeks, but instead of being embarrassed by it, I used it as an opportunity to problem solve and involved my tech-savvy students in the process.
Zoom has also been an incredible tool in connecting with my remote learning students. As a STEM middle school teacher, I’ve always relied on hands-on activities to teach physical and earth-based sciences – and that wasn’t going to change. We’ve continued to learn through experimental design, building bridges, pendulums and more out of common household items (like a shoebox, plastic straw, baking soda, etc.). Students work on their designs and then present their findings in front of their classmates like they always have. Zoom is also a great tool in replicating breakout groups for discussion and exploration, like what is traditionally done in the classroom.
Early in the pandemic, it became apparent that my usual teaching pace would also need to be adapted. I did slow down a little, but I’ve kept the same high expectations I’ve always had for my students. That approach may sound strict, but it’s clear they appreciate and benefit from familiar structure during this unprecedented year. By continuing to hold my students accountable for their work, as well as their behavior (whether in the classroom or on camera), I’m helping to foster strong character and social skills, which will be pivotal for their future success.
While I didn’t lower my expectations for students, I still provide plenty of moments for fun. This includes our Wednesday “jam sessions,” where remote and in-person students alike jam out and dance around to one of our favorite songs. I also look for opportunities to connect with students individually, which can be harder to do without seeing them in person. Taking the time to make those personal connections over video, even if it takes a little extra effort, provides opportunities to check in on a student’s overall wellness. It also often results in students becoming more invested in their assignments and the quality of work they turn in.
As we welcome 2021 and I reflect on last year, I’m so grateful to my school administrators for their tireless work in keeping me and my students safe. With their help, along with the support of Seminole County Public Schools, the Florida Department of Education and the U.S. Department of Education, I’m confident I can continue to rise to this occasion and adapt to meet the ever-changing needs of my students. As the pandemic continues, I’m going to remain positive and remember the fun that comes along with this wonderful job. 2020 was a year my students will never forget. I’m proud to be making a real difference in their lives – whether that be in the classroom or over Zoom.