Essential Heroes: Teachers

By: Jessica Abrego

Across America teachers and students have been faced with the challenge of moving all of their course work online. This is due to the COVID-19 pandemic spreading across the globe. Each teacher, regardless of teaching at elementary, high school, or college level has had to adjust differently. Here is a glimpse of teachers from different states, subject matter, and teaching backgrounds and their adjustments to the new style of teaching.

Meet the teachers:

Kate Ippensen: 7th grade English Language Arts teacher at Hardin Middle School; Saint Charles, MO

Keela Whewell:  is in her 29th year teaching at Southeastern Jr/Sr High School in Augusta, Illinois. She teaches 7th & 8th Grade Math and 8th Grade Social Studies.

Renee Kiah: has been teaching for 28 years and is a current 5-8 music teacher at Immaculate Heart of Mary School in Cincinnati, OH.

Amy Stollberg: teaching career began back in 1987 in Palmyra, Missouri. Has taught at QU since 2005 and fifth year as Director of Choirs. Professor of music history, music methods (for music education majors), three choirs, and applied voice lessons at Quincy University in Quincy, Illinois.

Have you ever seen a situation like this in your teaching career?

Ippensen: I personally have not seen anything like this, nor have I ever experienced anything like this as a student. I remember 9/11 threw us off schedule when I was a student, but we were back to class within a week. Before summer breaks, I have provided a list of free resources to families, but that is nothing in comparison to trying to continue daily instruction remotely.

Whewell: No…this is definitely the hardest thing I have been through as a teacher. It is so hard not to be able to see students on a daily basis. Last year when we had 14 snow/interrupted days was hard, but we new we were going back. The hard thing is not knowing (but assuming) that the I will not see my students again on a regular basis until August…and then the 8th graders will move on and we have a new group of 7th graders. It’s all so surreal.

Kiah: No, these are unprecedented times.

Stollberg: This ‘stay-at-home’ order from Governor Pritzker is definitely something I have never seen in my 30+ years of teaching.

How did you set up your remote learning?

Ippensen: Google Classroom is where all of my core assignments are given. Thankfully, my students were already in a routine with finding their assignments here and can easily navigate the platform. I feel incredibly lucky that my district has worked tirelessly to offer us professional development and link us to resources that allow us to have moments of “normalcy.” I also use ZOOM to hold live discussions with my students. This is a wonderful tool that still creates the opportunity to foster small group discussions and collaboration. I have used the first two weeks of quarantine to review essential skills with my students and practice this new adjustment. Moving forward, we are going to be business as usual and begin an exciting short story unit. Students will be able to practice essential Missouri ELA standards with engaging texts, participate in small group discussions, and work on mini-projects.

Whewell: Our district put together packets for each class. The 1st packet was two weeks worth of work…they have this week to finalize those packets as we are preparing their 2nd packets. The 2nd packets are for April 14- May 8th. They are being distributed on April 7…and our Easter Break is April 8-13. My packets consisted of new materials I felt they could handle on their own and a lot of review topics. Before each new topic, I wrote out a set of notes so they will have something to look at for assistance. I have also stressed for them to email, text, or call me if they need anything from me.

Kiah: As a school, we are using specific platforms that our students are familiar with. We wanted this to be a smooth, easy transition for them (as much as it could be) so we are trying to use those platforms that supply comfort and familiarity for them. As a teacher, I find myself constantly looking for different ideas and options for them. Ways to make the instruction better, more clear so that my students can be successful and not stressed.

Stollberg: During our extended spring break, many of us faculty members attended several sessions provided by the university on how to teach online courses.  They helped me make a path forward for my students.

How will students be graded on remote learning homework:

Ippensen: This remote learning cannot necessarily hurt a student’s grade unless they are not putting forth any effort. My district is very conscientious of the difficult environments that some of our students are facing- helping with babysitting, having limited quiet space, etc. The district has been working with families to make sure that internet connectivity is not one of those issues by offering hotspots. Teachers are also given guidelines on how much work we can assign so that we don’t overwhelm students and families. We are grading students on a pass/fail grade scale this quarter and communicating with families and students about the expectations of work completion so that we can try and continue serving our students.

Whewell: Packets will be graded as pass/incomplete. Packets cannot hurt the student’s grade. We will be looking at 3rd quarter grade…if they earned a B for 3rd quarter and didn’t do their packet, they will receive a B for 4th quarter and will complete their packet later. If they got a B 3rd quarter and return their packets completed they will receive at least a B for the 4th quarter….this is same for all 3rd quarter grades…they will get the same grade for 4th quarter. Packets can help their grade if they are returned done and done well…A good packet could get you a better letter grade 4th quarter than you got on 3rd quarter…otherwise the 4th quarter grade and 3rd quarter grades will be the same.

Kiah: We are using complete/incomplete. I can only help their grade and not hurt it.”

Stollberg: My music history and music methods classes will generally run the same as if we were in class.  I plan to make video sessions of the PowerPoint presentations. I still plan to assign written tests and music listening tests with a little change of format to adjust to this new learning and teaching style. Of course, online choir doesn’t make much sense, but we will sing the music from our postponed March concert sometime in October.  All graduating seniors are welcome to come back and sing!

How do you predict the absence of students’ in the classroom will impact them in the future?

Ippensen: I think there will be some set back, but teachers address a slideback every fall when students come back from summer break. Teachers are working endlessly to still provide educational resources to our kids and families so that they can continue practicing essential skills. While there may be a slightly bigger gap in the fall this year than normal, we will undoubtedly come prepared in the fall to close those gaps.

Whewell: It will definitely set them back. However, we are all in the same position. So it is not like Southeastern students will be set back and other districts not…you can not miss a quarter of school and not be set back. Every year starts with review, because students lose information over the summer each year. Next year will just take a little more review and figuring out what they actually missed that they normally cover. It will be tough to get the students caught up, but we will do it!

Kiah: No, not long term anyway. Obviously, remote or e learning will never take the place of face to face instruction. But it is the only option currently, and we are doing everything we can to help our kids get through this. I’m sure some level of review/relearning will need to occur.

Stollberg: The content of these two classes remains the same, so I don’t sense that online learning will set my students back at all.

How has this impacted graduating seniors?

Ippensen: Since I don’t work with seniors, I can only share what I have heard my students share about their older siblings who are seniors. This is devastating for everyone in our country because so much is changing rapidly. However, for seniors, devastated doesn’t even cover their range of emotions. Their worlds were already on the cusp of completely changing. Now they are having all the milestone memories that so many adults still talk about taken away too. While they all seem to understand the need for the shutdown, it doesn’t mean that the emotions of anger, sadness, and loneliness suddenly disappear. Hopefully communities are able to come together to support their seniors and still help them find closure to their many years of educational effort. I’ve seen that some towns have already begun to post images of families making displays on their doors for their seniors to showcase their accolades. I think steps like that will help seniors cope not only with the current situation, but also the fact that they are closing this chapter to move on to a new one. 

Whewell: The graduating seniors that I have talked to are very down…they do not care as much about the curriculum (they are almost done with that)…but all the social things they are missing. I feel very sorry for them. Our superintendent told us the other day that he has a plan for them, but is not ready to disclose it yet because the state has not made public what schools can and can not do with seniors. I am anxious to hear his plan…I know he/our district will make the end of their senior year as special as possible.

Kiah: This is the part that makes me the saddest. School is life for kids. It is learning, but it is also friends, a social support system, an adult support system, dances, field trips, concert and ball games. So much is missing now. I am not currently teaching seniors, but I know others that are and they are coming up with incredible ideas on how to celebrate our seniors. Virtual proms, concerts online, etc. No, it is not the same—but they are trying to create ‘normal’ for their students.

Stollberg: I do feel especially sad for the graduating seniors, with my own daughter being one of them. Commencement will happen, just not in May like normal. And, we are still planning a party, just not any time soon.  I will miss saying “goodbye” and “good luck” to all those graduating, but they are always welcome to come back to campus anytime!

How has your school been helping students who qualify for free or reduced lunch?

Ippensen: Saint Charles has been amazing about sharing emails, posting social media announcements, and sending phone calls to families about how to get free meals for our kids. Kids who are 18 or younger only need to show up to the food pick up locations to be given meals.” 

Whewell: Our district hands out meals needy students once a week…there are five days of meals in this package.

Kiah: Immaculate Heart of Mary School is a private school so we have not had any students yet who are in an emergency state of needing food.

How has your school helped students with special needs and the learning transition?

Ippensen: My school has been all hands on board to make sure that we are serving every single student during this time. Our ELL and exceptional education teachers are still present and accommodating assignments for students. They are calling to check in on our kids and see what else they may need to be successful; they are recording lessons; They are having live small group instruction; They are popping in on team meetings to communicate ideas to help regular education teachers when we create assignments. Every member on our team, including our office secretaries, are working with teachers to help us communicate with families and students so that no student is left clueless about how to handle the situation. Our administration and counselors are partnering with teachers to check in on students to make sure that their emotional needs are met and letting them know that they have an entire school community here for them. All the while, our lunch ladies are preparing free meals to get out to the community and our janitorial staff is continuously deep cleaning the building each time someone has to enter to pick up resources or whatever.

Whewell: Packets were adjusted to meet the needs of special needs students according to their IEP plan.

Kiah: We are providing the adaptations they need for learning, just like we would at school.

Even in these unpredictable times teachers continue to change and adapt to new teaching challenges. School districts continue to ensure their students have food. Quincy University has allowed students to come back and stay in their rooms so they can utilize access to WiFi and food. Even geography teachers would not have a road map for such an adjustment in teaching. Continue to be patient and kind with our educators. If you know an educator thank them and check in on them every once in a while.

Please let us know what you think!

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