At the start of 2020, if someone said a majority of Bellarmine school would take place from the comfort of our homes and classes would be held on our surfaces through an application called Microsoft Teams (which I thought would go unused by the end of this year) they probably would have called that person crazy. For better or for worse, this is our new reality and this is how our school year will end. For many students, the actual transition to Remote Learning was relatively easy, sure it may have taken a couple of days to learn the Teams application, but at the end of the day, we were simply asked to show up to class online and listen. Throughout this event, I believe we have forgotten about the teachers whose jobs have gotten much more complicated. Many have had to upend their usual lesson plans and assignments and create an entirely new teaching strategy in order to evolve with a virtual online landscape. Teachers have been asked to adapt quickly to this new normal. Since the year was already winding down, they were given a short window of only a few weeks to completely overhaul their normal teaching routines. With this pandemic, I wanted to take a closer look into the lives of a couple of Bellarmine teachers.
I first wanted to know what their immediate reactions were to the news that we would be switching to online learning. Mr. Yu, a math teacher who specializes in Algebra 2 honors and a Senior math class stated, “I wasn’t sure how the logistics would work – for example, how would grades work? Because you can’t really give tests securely anymore. And I was kind of worried about the technology infrastructure, both the school’s ability to maintain so many Teams meetings going at the same time, my home internet, and students who may not have the resources or even the ability to “attend” class at home.” It has been remarkable to see the Teams program be able to hold up to the amount of demand that the school has placed on it. While it is not a perfect program it has done an ample job at providing Bellarmine with a system to host class lectures and lessons. On the same question Ms. Troyan, who teaches junior United States history and sophomore World History replied, “If we had gone from regular school to online learning for the rest of the year in one fell swoop, I probably would have lost my mind. But that is not the way it happened. We talked about the likelihood that we would need to close the school when other schools were closed for just a couple of days for cleaning, so I originally thought this would be very temporary.” For many students when the news first came out we believed that it would only be for a week or two, however, once they made an official shelter and place order it became apparent that school would not come back into session. Ms. Troyan also commented on the faculties’ sympathy for the senior class, saying, “But we all feel really, really bad for the seniors missing the traditional graduation activities, as well as for all students who had exciting extra-curricular things to look forward to in the last quarter. If I could magically change that for you guys, I would.”
When asked if they preferred the online teaching format to the in-person format, Mr. Yu responded, “I much prefer “real” school. I miss seeing my colleagues, the students, being able to read someone’s mood in person, or even asking how someone’s doing during downtime such as right before class. It feels so much more impersonal when everyone is just behind a screen.” Along the same lines, Ms. Troyan said, “It is not my preference, and I really miss the interaction with students. That is the number one reason I like teaching. I enjoy still hearing students’ voices when they participate in class online, but only being able to see four students during class, most of whom do not want to have their cameras or microphones on is frankly lonely.” And while it may seem difficult to see the bright side of this situation, Ms. Troyan pointed out, “However, while I am sick of working on the computer full time and I am intellectually spent each day, I do have more physical energy “after work” since I have not been standing all day. Also, I definitely don’t miss traffic! – So, while not my preference, it has some benefits.” For many teachers and students alike who had to drive from long distances or commute on the train each day, not having school has been a relief for many and virtually everyone has benefited from the later starts every day.
For many, using the team’s application and submitting assignments online was time-consuming and tedious at first. I wanted to know if teachers experienced a learning curve also. When I asked Ms. Troyan she said, “There was a HUGE learning curve – really a learning 90-degree angle! – And it is still a great challenge. I felt competent and confident in handling what needs to happen in and around the classroom. But for several weeks I felt not only like a first-year teacher, but like I was trying to adapt to a completely different career. Like I had zero idea how to do the job I have done all of my life. It is more than just trying to transfer what I did in the classroom to the online format. I have to learn to think about lessons in a completely different way, and I have a long way to go in that regard.” On the other hand, Mr. Yu described that he was somewhat used to the online format revealing, “I think mostly the meeting/calling parts and features that I was unaware of. The math teachers were already using it to share files and talk to each other, but that would probably only constitute 10% of Teams’ functions. For example, I finally learned that you can “share system audio” when showing any sort of media so the students can hear the sound too.” Teachers with multiple preferences whether they normally assigned their work through an online format or on paper have been asked to adapt to this new format and learn on the fly.
Rebounding off of that point, many teachers have made considerable adjustments to their normal teaching plans due to limitations of online learning. When asked about this, Mr. Yu conveyed, “Especially in Algebra 2. As you know, CPM is very group-based, discussions, work together, look at each other’s work, etc. It is much harder to do all of those things remotely. We’ve also had to change the way we do assessments. For example, instead of giving a Trig test, the students had a couple of weeks to work on a Trig modeling project instead.” Without the ability to administer a fair test, many teachers have had to get creative with how they will test students’ knowledge. On the same topic Ms. Troyan voiced, “While I used to do a lot of my lectures on the whiteboard, they really have to be on PowerPoint now. That is not a gigantic change as I know how to use PowerPoint. But many of the things I used to do besides a lecture, I either need help figuring out how to do online (Bellarmine gives us a lot of coaching if we can find the time), or I have to just forgo those activities this year as I would have needed to learn how to do those online during a long break.” Even a project as pivotal as the research paper has had to undergo some changes, “Remember how I had you peer edit parts of your term paper? Well, I tried to do that through Canvas but it was pretty much an epic fail. (User error on my end, but not for lack of time and effort!) On the other hand, meetings with students for the term papers on Teams meant we did not have to stay at school so late. Student presentations are actually easier because instead of each group of students coming up and hooking up their computer to the podium, etc, they just take control of the screen and go.”
No matter the subject, all teachers have been affected one way or another by these sudden changes to Bellarmine. We applaud our teachers who have had to change to this new environment on the fly and have continued their promise to further our education. We hope that every teacher and student is staying safe during these trying times and that we can all resume a normal(ish) school setting in the fall.