Next week Judi Horton will step back into her classroom at August Knodt Elementary School to teach for the first time in months.
And she couldn’t be more excited to be going back.
While the COVID-19 pandemic has already upended the 2020/21 school year – and while the Manteca Educators Association lobbies administrators to allow teachers to teach from home rather than at their school sites – Horton is busy making the preparations necessary to start the year with distance learning while at the same time hoping that students will physically be in their seats at some point by the end of the year.
“For me it’s a no-brainer – I want to be in my physical classroom,” said Horton, who will teach a fourth and fifth grade combo this year for the first time in her career. “I live out in the country and my WiFi would not be able to handle what I need to teach online, but it also gives me every resource that I could possibly need at my fingertips to deliver the best lesson possible to my students.”
While all public schools in San Joaquin and Stanislaus Counties will reopen virtual learning when the school year begins early next month, individual districts have been working to come up with a strategy that ensures the best possible outcome for students without having them physically present – a challenge for both the administrators who make the recommendations and the teachers that are expected to implement them.
Horton, who has a child that is going to be a junior in high school this year, says that she’s approaching the return to school both as a parent and as a teacher. She said understands the wariness that some parents have when they may not have had the best experience with remote learning at the end of last school year.
“We are trying to get them set up on a schedule so that hopefully they’ll be acclimated to it if or when we finally do return,” Horton said, adding that using the classroom aids in that acclimatization. “It’s going to be different than in the spring – in the spring I would put assignments up and students would roll out of bed at around 2 or 3 in the afternoon and get around to doing it.
“This year we’re working to get them on a schedule so that they’re doing one subject at a specific time and moving on to another at a different time, and if I’m expecting them to have that mindset, I have to present that mindset to them and being in the classroom helps me do that.”
Part of the challenge for Horton and other teachers that are preparing to start from a computer screen will be getting students engaged and “bought into” the lessons that are being taught. Without physically being present to address issues as they arise, teachers are going to have to find ways to help students that are struggling while at the same time keeping the momentum moving forward for the rest of the class – a skill that is uniquely different for online learning.
But with all of her students growing up as digital natives with technology permeating nearly every part of their life, the other big challenge for Horton will be getting parents on board with the changes – which will likely extend out beyond just the length of time that students are learning from their devices.
“In the spring there was such a wide range of how people approached distance learning, so this will involve not just reprogramming the kids to go through the steps, but the parents as well – we’re going to have to work through these things together,” Horton said. “And there are going to be changes if and when we come back as well – I’m somebody that likes small group lessons and manipulatives and hands-on learning, and in the age of COVID that’s not always feasible.
“And as a teacher that wants each of her students to reach their academic goals, I also realize that there may be students that have to babysit their younger children and aren’t going to be as able to pay attention as others are. There are a lot of things that we’re going to have to work through together, and I’m looking forward to doing what I can.”
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