Teachers take on 'new normal'

Teachers take on 'new normal'
Posted on 04/16/2020
Teachers take on 'new normal'

It’s the new normal.

Teachers and administrators in Nacogdoches ISD – not to mention, across the nation – have been thrust into rapid response situations, crafting online and distance learning packets as schools have closed down due to the spread of new coronavirus.

In Texas, public schools are closed at least through May 1 on order of Gov. Greg Abbott. For that time period, Texas Education Agency, which oversees the more than 1,200 school districts in the state, has created guidelines and expectations for continuing some form of instruction during the extended closure.

It’s not been easy, NISD’s educators say, whether it’s elementary or secondary students that teachers are engaging. The first hurdle? Overcoming a lack of reliable internet access in Nacogdoches County, especially in rural sections.

“Online resources have been difficult because, along with our students, many of our staff do not have reliable internet service at home,” said Nacogdoches High School Principal Dr. Rom Crespo. “Teachers are able to come to school and work in their classrooms, but many have children of their own and other responsibilities they are taking care of due to the situation we are in.”

All NISD campuses are making paper educational resources available for student and parent pickup, which creates additional challenges considering the virulent nature of COVID-19.

“We are using a small number of staff members – to follow social distancing guidelines – to make our paper copies,” Crespo said. “We also need to make sure we are taking every precaution to keep our staff members safe as well as parents and students who are coming up to pick up paper copies.”

Ensuring students are receiving the packets, either online or in paper form, is complicated, at best.

“The hardest thing about this time is knowing if all of our students are able to access the instructional materials and are getting enough assistance to be successful,” Raguet Elementary Principal Julia Well said.

Crespo acknowledged similar worries.

“Finding ways to ensure all of our students are receiving the materials has been difficult,” he said. “We need to continue to make contact with our students to understand their personal situations that may make it difficult to come up to school and pick up paper copy materials. For students in this situation, we have been mailing materials to their homes with self-addressed and stamped envelopes to return the materials to school.”

The challenges of distance learning aside, teachers simply miss their students.

“The hardest thing, first and foremost, has been not teaching and seeing my students,” said Debra Delcambre, a first-grade instructor at Raguet.

Additionally, there are concerns about the health and safety of her students, their families, as well as her own family, Delcambre said.

NHS social studies instructional coach and AP teacher Elyse Williams also lends voice to anxiety about her students’ well-being.

“This experience has complicated the challenges students already carried with them every day,” she said. “Several of my students are on the front lines, working in grocery stores, restaurants, or fast-food establishments and are still dedicated to keeping up with their school work.”

The distance learning environment is an obstacle for all involved, said Penny Long, instructional coach and dual credit math teacher at NHS.

“So many aspects are different with online or packet-learning,” Long said. “Basically, the students are used to the teachers distributing the information in a structured setting, orally. Now, the students are responsible for reading the packet or watching the videos in a setting that is not structured.” 

Raguet teacher Brittany Rustin is grateful for the efforts made by parents of her kindergarten students.

“The majority of parents in my class have a positive outlook and are being proactive by setting aside time to communicate with me, get materials and provide this information and learning opportunities to their children during this stressful time.”

Streamlining the process of getting paper materials to students has solved some of the distance learning difficulties, Rustin said.

Those packets are crucial for all teachers, regardless of grade level. Delcambre said just half of her first-graders have reliable access to the internet in their homes.

Some complications could not have been envisioned beforehand. Long said recording a lesson for broadcast has proven difficult… largely because there are no students in the audience.

“We are trained to continually engage the students and question students,” she said. “With a video, I have noticed teachers asking the questions and trying to engage the learners, but then the teacher has to ultimately answer the question.

“But, through the struggle, I think that the teachers are adapting well. Online teaching is definitely not the best-case scenario, but at least we have the technology to meet with our students.”

Williams said students are hungry to communicate… with teachers and with classmates.

“They are so excited to meet their teachers via an online video chat platform,” Williams said. “I hold optional lessons for AP Seminar twice a week using video chat, and the first 10 minutes is excited chatter about their pets, their experiences during COVID-19, and their general observations about the world. They are craving connections with their teachers, with their peers, and an educational structure of some kind.”

The teachers themselves are making adjustments as they go, Williams said.

“Teachers, myself included, are experimenting with so many new technology resources,” she said. “At first, it felt ‘sink or swim,’ but now, we are getting pretty creative and becoming quite tech-savvy.

“It's definitely a trial and error process, but we are learning so much and collaborating in ways we’ve never done before.”

That’s something Wells, the Raguet principal, noted.

“Our teachers jumped in to take on the challenge of providing online resources and making sure they connected with their students,” she said. “Some of our teachers who were unfamiliar with using a lot of online resources immediately asked for help and became learners themselves.”

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