Teaching, and Learning, in the Time of COVID-19
With the start of classes in Kansas City Public Schools, teachers are becoming learners as they adapt to new challenges and opportunities in public education brought on by COVID-19.
As infection rates increased throughout the summer in the Kansas City region, Superintendent Mark Bedell decided to keep school buildings closed for the time being and have students take either distance or virtual classes. KCPS gave faculty members the option to teach from classrooms in their schools while maintaining social distancing and other safe practices.
A recent visit with three teachers at East High School revealed the extent to which they are excited to be working with students again, while simultaneously learning how to adopt new, cutting-edge tools and techniques.
“Listen, I’m just really glad to be back in my classroom and seeing students every day,” EHS business teacher Jill Denzer said. “There’s a lot to catch up with, which is hard. But I have awesome kids, which makes it all worth it.”
Ms. Denzer has been at EHS for eight years, so it felt natural for her to teach in her classroom.
“It just feels more authentic and I think that translates over to the students,” she said. “They’re very good at sensing when a teacher is uncomfortable. That nervousness can really affect their ability to learn.”
When it became clear that students would not be returning to school buildings any time soon, the KCPS curriculum, school leadership and IT experts geared up to continue the work started in the spring to make digital learning the norm across our schools. A significant portion of that effort involved equipping and training teachers to utilize tools like flat-screen displays and applications like Microsoft Teams, Google Classroom and Seesaw.
This shift towards digital classrooms was prompted by Dr. Bedell’s determination that the COVID-19 crisis was an opportunity to evolve out of the “chalkboard era” of public education and into a truly 21st century model of teaching and learning. But any big evolution like this is always going to involve challenges that arise as abstract ideas translate into daily reality.
For many teachers, the first couple of weeks of classes have involved some frustrating moments as they and their students have worked through challenges. Erin Smith had the added challenge of teaching band classes for students who can’t be at school with their instruments.
“I think the biggest challenge is that we’ve had to take on a lot of new technology in a very short time,” Ms. Smith said. “But I’ve been so impressed by how my colleagues and my students are responding. It’s not ideal, but everyone is doing a great job under tough circumstances.”
The adoption of digital learning can be even more complicated in schools with a high proportion of English Language Learners, like EHS. But Denzer emphasized that ELL students should never be underestimated.
“I just go slow and take time to figure out how to be engaging,” she said. “The best thing is that the kids want to learn. They keep telling me that they want to be back in the classroom.”
Teaching during the COVID-19 crisis has only deepened Denzer’s love for her job and her school.
“I’ve never worked so hard in my life and I’ve never been as satisfied,” she said. “I get to listen to and advise my student, and that’s how you really build relationships.”
EHS 2020 Teacher of the Year Amanda Dennison is also leading her history and social studies classes from her room on the fourth floor of the school. She echoed Denzer’s comments about the strengths of her students, and encouraged students and families to be actively engaged in the educational process.
“I just really want students, parents and guardians to know that they can and should contact their teachers,” Ms. Dennison said. “We want to know that you are OK. And if things are not OK, we can help you get through it if you contact us.”
Ms. Smith advised students and families to persevere through these unusual times and understand that this is a learning experience for everybody.
“Just show up every day,” she said. “And have patience with your teachers, because we’re learning, too.”
Visit the "Reopening Schools" section of our website for helpful tips and guides for using our digital learning technology.
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- East High School