Monterey County teachers adapt to the challenges of distance learning

V. Cervantes-Castellanos | Provided photo

| YOUTH BEAT

By Adriana Marquez

On March 13, Monterey County students and teachers were notified that schools were temporarily closing to regroup in response to COVID-19. Following that sudden announcement, most teachers had less than a week to adapt their work to the realities of distance learning.

Patricia Lambert, a history teacher at Everett Alvarez High School, recalled that “some ‘old school’ teachers had to learn how to use online platforms like Google Classroom.”

Amid so much uncertainty caused by the coronavirus, teachers had to remain flexible with their scheduled work plans. At first, said Lambert, they could only do review work, which made the first couple of weeks feel “like a bit of a scramble as [teachers] figured out the best ways to proceed.” However, as the school closure continued, teachers were allowed to continue teaching new material in their classes.

Google Classroom was employed to assign new work such as essays, notes and readings. Some teachers also began holding discussions with students on Google Meet as a way to introduce new concepts and answer questions concerning assigned work.

“The image of myself speaking to myself felt sort of one of a performance artist to a mirror,” said Alvarez teacher Jennifer Ostrowski about the Google Meets she hosted. Teachers would speak to students while the students could only type in the chat, as Salinas Union High School District required students to have their cameras off and mics muted.

As distance learning became standard procedure nationally, states revised their approach to grading. The California Department of Education listed three grading options that could be used for the remainder of the second semester. Each local school board would decide which option to adopt.

The grading option used by Everett Alvarez High School—where a student’s third quarter grades would not drop below their second semester grades, but leave open the possibility of improvement—left many teachers struggling to engage certain students.

The approach was a disincentive for some students when it came to completing classwork. Ostrowski noticed that “students with A’s chose to not participate, while students with lower grades did work to increase their grades. However, students struggling continued to struggle and some of the students did not do work, then disappeared.”

Lambert said that “a few students decided to focus their attention on only their most challenging classes, and let the other classes go.”

Despite the less than full participation, she said “everyone learned something about themselves during the shelter-in-place order, and my hope is that students will reflect on their experiences last semester in order to be successful when returning in the fall.”

Since the spring, distance learning has become “the new normal” worldwide. And with classes resuming next month, school districts will choose from three paths of instruction: an all distance learning schedule; a hybrid schedule of in-person and online instruction, and the traditional in-person-only schedule.

Ultimately, said Ostrowski, it all depends on the school board’s decision and the number of COVID-19 cases. The instructional path taken will follow state and local health department guidelines.

Despite the difficulties of keeping up with rapid change, Lambert and Ostrowski said they are prepared to start the new school year with distance learning. They plan to continue using Google Classroom and Google Meet but will conduct more activities through synchronous meetings to generate more discussion and online interaction within a class.

With public health as the priority, these teachers, along with many others, are prepared to keep teaching, even through a pandemic.

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Young Voices Media Project teaches Monterey Bay area teens multimedia skills to report the news from their communities. This project was generously supported in 2019 by the Clare Giannini Fund.