Over the past nine months, every student at Harvard Westlake (HW), and schools all across the country, have become accustomed to online learning, but we may have never really paused and considered what this experience has been like for our teachers, deans and administrators.
When asked what the most difficult thing about online learning has been, many teachers have said student engagement is something they struggle with. “I think figuring out how to maintain engagement in science labs and activities has been really hard,” science teacher Maggie Thompson said,
Teachers have been finding it increasingly difficult, like students, to adjust their teaching methods and find new ways to approach topics, especially in classes with more hands-on activities, like science. “The extra step of taking something that has worked really well, that we know really well, has been difficult to adjust to,” Thompson said..
Teachers have had to adjust and move towards new digital solutions. “I’ve had to explore and use more tools to help students engage in different ways, like Flipgrid, Edpuzzle, and in that way, it’s been good for me as a teacher; I’ve gotten more creative,” said Ninth Grade Dean and history teacher Karen Fukushima.
Beyond academic challenges, teachers have also said that they find school more draining and less entertaining, as a result of fewer interactions with students. “The personal connections are what we’re all missing, and not getting to know the kids in our classes more is difficult and not to mention odd,” Fukushima said.
If possible, make an extra effort to reach out to teachers and get to know them better. One-on-one meetings, emailing with specific questions for classes or simply reaching out and having a conversation can stimulate connections between teachers and students. By building these connections, both the teachers and students become more involved and engaged in school.
The constant unease this past year takes a toll on both sides, teachers and students are all feeling relatively despondent with the current situation, but there will always be little actions that can be done to make things brighter for others.
Some teachers find that classes on Zoom help humanize them, and they show that teachers have lives and they struggle too; no one is exempt. “As hard as it is to get to know your teachers, in some ways it breaks down those barriers. You kind of get to see that teachers are humans too. It’s almost as if you have a window into my house, you’ll get to see all the chaos,” Fukushima said.
By seeing these bits and pieces of teachers’ lives, such as a pet or child running into the room, or even having technical difficulties on Zoom, students can build more of a connection with teachers. “It helps make students see ‘oh yeah they have a family, they have a life,” Fukushima said.
As for what students can do for teachers that are trying to help us improve and make the best of the situation, doing the most ordinary things that we usually take for granted can drastically improve the moods of teachers. “I really like it when you all say ‘hi’ or say ‘bye’ in class, that little connection helps so much,” Thompson said.
Other teachers prefer it if cameras are turned on for classes, as they feel less detached and lonely when they can see their students’ faces. Obviously, there are a great deal of reasons as to why a student may turn off their camera, but if possible, keep your teacher company during class.
Our teachers at HW have put so much time and effort into this school year, and it’s past time that we recognized that. At the end of the day, all they’re really trying to do is help us thrive in this new and uncharted territory. Without their hard work and many sacrifices, we would never have made it this far.
Teachers love their students and their jobs, so let’s all make an effort to remind them of why they do it by simply reaching out to them and finding a way to connect and relate to them, no matter how small and insignificant it may seem. “Teachers became teachers because they liked interacting with students, and anytime we have those little connections with students, it reminds us of why we do this job,” Thompson said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s important that everyone looks out for each other, and we all very well know that teachers have been doing that for us for close to a year now, so it’s time to reciprocate their kindness by showing them how much we appreciate and are profoundly grateful for their efforts this year.