We asked Arizona educators what they learned from this challenging year of teaching remotely through a global pandemic and how it may have changed them as teachers or changed education overall. Some have been re-energized, others a bit humbled by their digital classrooms. Here’s what they shared.
“Due to the pandemic, I am interested in more flexible teaching and learning options. I think differentiation can be revolutionized within our systems. I want to push for us to rethink our systems and think about how technology, project-based learning, growth-based assessments, etc., can enhance student learning. The hurdle we have is to convince districts and lawmakers to invest in this type of innovative thinking. … I already used Google Classroom and the Google Education Suite on a daily basis, but I would like to expand the use of it even more to keep my class organized. I think Google Meets will be useful for tutoring; I would love to give virtual office hours. I think it is much more accessible to have virtual open office time for students to call in and ask a question. I also love Pear Deck — an add-on that accompanies Google slides. It gives interaction with all the students virtually. Only the teacher can see their responses, unless you set it differently. It is a formative tool that I think has brilliant in-person potential.
— Sara Wyffels, Chandler High School Spanish teacher and 2021 Arizona Teacher of the Year.
“This pandemic has made me a more reflective and thoughtful teacher. Before [COVID-19], I took a lot for granted: resources, my physical classroom space, my relationships with students and families. The pandemic made me look outside the box at resources, creating an online classroom from home and building relationships with students and families from afar. I have become more reflective in that each lesson I teach I am asking myself if the lesson resonated across distance and allowed students to demonstrate mastery. I am also more aware of the challenges students face to just be a part of an online learning community. For some students, it does take a lot for them to get online. The infrastructure for having an online learning community was not in place. It took time to build, and of course it takes time to learn. I admire my students and families for their willingness and bravery to venture on this journey. … I am so proud of how my students have stepped up to the challenge. The online platform we use is Microsoft Teams; I am hoping that this online platform will remain even after we return. What a great way to reach students for reteach opportunities, or students who are not able to join us in class for whatever reason.”
— Lynette Stant, third-grade teacher at Salt River Elementary in the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community and 2020 Arizona Teacher of the Year.
“I have been doing a half-hour long one-on-one teaching session with individual students. I am going to make a one-on-one station in my room to continue with this work. My students thrived in that setting. I also used Unique Learning Systems for a lot of my online instruction, and it was fantastic. I will continue to use the lessons from the site as often as I can. [The challenge of teaching during the pandemic] actually re-energized me. Being a 23-year educator, I really thought I had it all figured out. This has made me rethink the gaps in my pedagogy. I’m excited to get back to in-person teaching to see how much I’ve improved.”
— Kareem Neal, special education teacher at Maryvale High School in the Phoenix Union High School District and 2019 Arizona Teacher of the Year.
“This pandemic has taught me so much about technology and how to counsel online. [But counseling] is so much better in person, especially with the elementary age. I used to hug kids all the time, and they need it. … I do think kids will be okay, BUT we will be seeing many issues from depression, anxiety, isolation, grief and falling behind academically. I do feel that schools are equipped to deal with these issues if the teachers are vigilant and report concerns to the counselors. Teachers take students where they are and push them forward. Counselors are very aware of the struggles our students have right now and the consequences of this pandemic. There are many forms of grief these students are struggling with. We must all be the village to help support and love each other.”
— Jaime Clemens, Mesa Public Schools Counselor and Arizona’s 2020 School Counselor of the Year, who will teach a 14-day summer school session to address learning loss and “give students the boost up many need, and then, they will have plenty of time to be carefree and have fun.”
“I don’t think the pandemic has changed forever anything about how I teach. I believe in building positive experiences for children through art, and have done my best to do that both online and in-person. I have been very fortunate to have taught art for 34 years, and the essence of what I teach is focused on helping students develop confidence in themselves and their creative abilities. However, as a veteran, the hardest thing for me has been becoming proficient with technology. I started out teaching when mimeographs were still in use! Now I teach via Teams to students in kindergarten through eighth grade, as well as in-person. The only thing that has really changed for me for in-person learning is that in the past I asked students to share art materials such as paint sets to help them learn soft skills such as cooperation and sharing. Now, each student has their own art materials for their singular use. But our classroom climate of supporting each other by sharing a positive attitude has not changed. I love seeing my online students when they turn on their cameras and work on their art projects just as much as I love seeing my in-person students making artistic decisions and creating in my classroom.”
— Laurie Eldridge, art teacher at Ira A. Murphy Elementary School in Peoria, and winner of the 2021 Excellence in PreK-12 Art Education Award for outstanding national recognition in art education from the United States Society for Education through Art.