Perspectives from Blaine County Primary School Teachers: Their Challenges and Joys
June 10, 2020
The past couple of weeks, the Blaine County Journal-News-Opinion has been celebrating area teachers who have faced the school closure challenge with a level of professionalism and dedication to their students. This installment, which captures the perspectives of primary school teachers-those teaching kindergarten through grade three-represents the final installment in this three-part series.
To celebrate their efforts and to share their perspectives, we asked teachers to reveal not only the greatest challenges that they have faced with online schooling but their greatest joys and happy surprises since this model came on the scene.
Emily Scofield, Third Grade Teacher at Meadowlark Elementary School in Chinook, described her challenges by saying, "In a classroom setting, it is pretty easy to share my enthusiasm for education and to make learning fun and exciting. However, it has been a challenge to find ways to engage the kids through technology and keep learning fun and easy. To make it engaging, I create little videos of myself as different characters. Some of the kiddos get a laugh out of certain characters and will send me an email telling me I'm silly; mission accomplished.
"Another challenge was finding a way to educate in this new style of curriculum delivery without overwhelming the kids or their parents. Teachers had to quickly develop lesson plans with parents in mind, as well as the kids. In a pretty short amount of time, we had to create a whole new method of teaching! I felt a lot of stress and pressure to not let my classroom down with their education and to try and minimize the stress of this situation for the kids and their parents-all in addition to navigating a pandemic with my own family at home! The support of the parents, fellow teachers, and my principal has been inspiring and a lesson in itself at what a community can accomplish if we work together."
Amidst these challenges, Scofield has found reasons to be proud, not only of her students. "My class has done an outstanding job of having nearly 100% daily participation on our Google Classroom. I also have enjoyed the students' parents having such positive attitudes during this transition. I know it's not an easy task for those parents who are still working and assisting their students in their daily lessons. It gives me a sense of pride seeing how our community is working together during this unique time."
Tammy Edwards, First Grade Teacher at Meadowlark Elementary School, named her biggest challenge as letting things go. "My class was in such a good spot on March 13 when we last met. Students were on track to be way ahead of the game as far as meeting all grade-level requirements. The two weeks spent to transition and then clipping instruction has changed the pace and my ability to make observations of how my students are progressing.
"A second challenge is just missing my students. I don't feel as connected to them as I do when we spend our days in the classroom together. We had so many things planned for the spring, like the annual chick hatching project and a field trip. The students look forward to these things all year, and I am sad that we cannot do them the way we had planned."
One happy surprise for Edwards came with regards to technology. Edwards had to learn a program called Seesaw. A platform for student engagement, Seesaw enables primary grades teachers to build students' individual skills while keeping their learning differentiated. Because students "show what they know" using photos, videos, drawings, text, and links, Seesaw empowers them to create, reflect, share, and collaborate.
"I can see this program becoming a part of my classroom beyond this time. I had taken on the philosophy that children have enough-or maybe too much-screen time, so I had scaled back our technology use this year. Going into this digital learning, I was worried that I had made a colossal mistake! Instead, I found out that students and parents adapt quickly. Fortunately, I did too," Edwards reported.
Edwards also expressed gratitude to her supportive parents, co-workers, and administration. "During this time, we have all worked together to try to meet our students' needs in the best possible way. My students have been rock stars through all of this, and I am proud of them!"
From Turner School District, where Shelly Harmon teaches kindergarten and serves as the school librarian, reporters learned that the Tornadoes are all adjusting and adapting to distance learning. Harmon said she feels fortunate to teach in a small school with strong support from parents, students, administration, and other teachers.
Harmon stated: "The biggest challenge, of course, is missing each other while we can't be together in person. My kindergarteners are social people, so they really do seem to enjoy their virtual time together, and they are quite interactive in class.
"Otherwise, our class is marching forward with a new routine, and it isn't too much different from the old one. They continue to learn and grow. We read every day; I read to them and they read to me. We also continue to write and draw, do math, and cover science and social studies concepts. We even manage art and P.E.
"The challenges of remote learning are similar to those I see in face-to-face learning. From time to time, we experience a few technical glitches. For instance, video streaming doesn't always keep up, but for the most part, distance learning has been a positive experience. Patience, flexibility, and realistic expectations are key components," Harmon commented.
"My kindergarten students still make me smile every day with their antics and unique perspectives on life. They are aspiring musicians, ninjas, ballerinas, cowboys, and cowgirls. I have also seen a close-up of everyone's eyeball, a couple of tonsils, and met a few pets and new family members along the way," Harmon added.
All of the teachers we interviewed seem to fit the definition set out by Charles Bradford "Brad" Henry, the 26th Governor of Oklahoma who famously said: "A good teacher can inspire hope, ignite the imagination, and instill a love of learning."
A similarly positive assessment came from Tony Warren, Superintendent of Turner School District, who expressed pride in the efforts of everyone in the Turner community.
"The community has come together in an exceptionally student-focused way to achieve our educational mission during this difficult time as all of us face a significant public health crisis. What our staff has accomplished in transitioning to virtual classrooms during the course of just two weeks is nothing short of remarkable. Our teachers have not let the challenges get in the way of their commitment to our students, and it shows. While our technology has occasionally hit a few bumps, our staff have worked hard to implement fixes and make changes, and our students have been patient," Warren stated.