With La Salle’s switch to digital learning days (DLDs) to help students continue learning while also staying safe at home, many teachers have had to readjust the way they teach during this unprecedented time.
Originally, some teachers at La Salle didn’t expect the extended amount of DLDs that the school would be undertaking due to the coronavirus pandemic. “Each extension of the closure keeps surprising me,” social studies teacher Mr. Alex Lanaghan said.
However, others were not surprised at all, like religious studies teacher Ms. Jane Nitschke. “I thought it was a smart decision because it gave the school three weeks to assess how the virus was going to impact our area,” she said. “It was good timing too because we had spring break to give us a chance to catch our breath before we started up again.”
A few teachers even celebrated when DLDs were announced. “My principal reaction was along the lines of, ‘DLD’s are great! We won’t have to give up any of our summer days,’” science teacher Mr. Kyle Voge said. “Now though, what I wouldn’t give to see everyone again.”
Recently, as Mr. Voge expressed, the tone has turned more somber as the reality of quarantining for the rest of the school year sets in.
Ms. Nitschke especially misses the face-to-face interaction with her students, which has dwindled down more and more since the DLDs have started. “The best part of teaching is interacting with students – not just in the classroom, but also before and after school or just saying ‘hi’ in the hallway,” she said. “[But] I still think it was and is a smart decision for the school to be closed and learning to continue.”
Mr. Voge also agreed that it is the best and safest choice for the school to remain closed. He analogized the current pandemic to athletic injuries. “Infections are like sports injuries, in that you have to wait until they are completely healed before you go back to doing the things you were doing before,” he said.
Despite many of the teachers missing being in the classroom, they still believe that the school is prepared for handling this situation. “I am proud that La Salle has been able to carry on learning from home through our digital learning platforms,” social science teacher Mr. Michael Doran said.
However, now that La Salle is closed for the rest of the school year, teachers are making many adjustments to their curricula in order to help students learn fully online from their homes.
“No one will argue that two months of DLDs is an identical learning experience to in-person classes, but it’s better than nothing,” Mr. Voge said. “I don’t think most students at La Salle are going to lose much because we are already a fairly academically advanced school.”
In order to help his students continue to learn the curriculum, Mr. Voge posts a video he creates for each lesson and then provides a link to another science teacher explaining the same topic. “Sometimes it’s nice to hear something explained in a different way,” he said. Mr. Voge posts his DLD work the day before his classes take place and then spends most of his day checking messages and holding Zoom office hours.
Mr. Doran said that he also found screencasting to be the most effective means of teaching his classes. “These are nice because students can access them whenever they want as opposed to being present for a Zoom session at a certain time,” Mr. Doran said.
Despite this, Mr. Doran still uses Zoom as a follow up to his class. “I see benefits to doing both, and I know our teachers at La Salle are using the technology that works best for their classes, so it is good that teachers are going a variety of different things,” he said. “I [also] think it is important to give flexibility with due dates, as I know that students have a lot on their plates right now, made all the more challenging by distance learning.”
Ms. Nitschke uses a variety of different ways to present information to her classes, from EdPuzzles to Flipgrid. However, she also recognizes that there is a lot more going on than just academics with both students and teachers during this unusual time.
“We are all feeling the impact of isolation and changes to our lives,” she said. “Emotionally, we are overwhelmed and stress levels are high… Having the routine of school for students, teachers, and parents is important – it is ‘normal’ in this time when everything else is not.”
Mr. Doran encourages any students who need help to reach out to teachers, counselors, and their peers. “We are here to help, and want you to feel supported and be successful despite the challenges,” Mr. Doran said. “I also encourage students to reach out to fellow classmates, as this is more important now than ever.”
In order to help her students, Ms. Nitschke has slowed down the pace for her classes considerably. “It usually takes two block days to get through what we would normally do in a straight seven and block [day].”
Other than managing their classes, many teachers at La Salle have also been investing in other activities at home during this time. “My yard is starting to look less terrible, and I’ve had a lot of fun doing lots of cooking,” Mr. Voge said.
Mr. Lanaghan has three children at home, so his schedule is centered around taking care of them. However, when he can, he goes on runs and takes exercise classes online.
Mr. Doran has a similar situation, where he takes care of his seventh and second grade sons every day, who usually attend Christ the King. “The days really fly by,” Mr. Doran said. “I am enjoying playing baseball with my sons… [and] we have gone on lots of bike rides.”
Ms. Nitschke has been exchanging songs with one of her friends every day and said that she is always looking for new music to try. “My choir provides remote vocal exercises and activities, and we are trying to plan a Zoom sing,” she said.
Overall, while the teachers that The Falconer spoke with miss their fellow coworkers and students, they are proud of what La Salle has been doing during this time and cannot wait to see everyone again. “I knew I loved my job and my fellow teachers,” Mr. Voge said. “But I didn’t realize how much until this happened.”