The announcement that Centennial students in grades K-12 will shift from the hybrid learning model to distance learning resulted, unsurprisingly, in conflicting emotions within the community.
The change is hard for Centennial parents and students, as well as the teachers.
Jessica Robinson, a Centennial English teacher since 1998 known as “JRob” to her students, said the reason teachers go into teaching is because of the kids. “Now they are further away from us than they were,” she said, “and it’s hard work to catch back up to them.”
Robinson explained that she and all her colleagues miss the young people in the actual classroom. Robinson has 147 students she teaches in her 9th and 12th grade classes.
Robinson said the staff has pulled together, but that everyone is experiencing some sort of anxiety. “All of our mental health is being affected by the pandemic,” she said. “It’s an added challenge. The kids are needing that one-on-one attention, but now that’s difficult to supply.”
Shane Rasmussen, a Centennial math teacher since 1993, is also working to adjust while maintaining the same positivity. “Connections are the foundation to good teaching; it’s the reason we all teach. And this learning model is challenging. It’s not just about teaching curriculum. Our teaching is much more than that. It’s being mindful of social and emotional needs.”
Centennial teachers have been prepping and pivoting full time since the pandemic hit. This latest change is another challenge, but one they are ready to meet. Resilience is the word of the year for 2020, and while the teachers are living it moment to moment, they say no one is more resilient than the students.
“It breaks my heart we’re not in the (high school) building,” said Rasmussen, “but I’m amazed at the positivity of the seniors. They are rolling with it. It makes us focus on things we can do something about. We can still do a lot, even though it might not look like how we want it to. We’re moving forward, and there’s hope ahead.”
There are a lot of moving parts in the school system to make this work. Robinson said she is grateful her subject can translate to online instruction easier than other topics. Yet, tasks that were once easy have become cumbersome. While Robinson can pull a PDF of a book they are studying online, there are certain things that are lost.
“When you look at the skills of reading, writing and communication, it’s now all online. Just to get a paper copy to students, logistically, has been a nightmare.”
And even though technology has been a huge player in 2020 education, it brings with it certain barriers for students and teachers. “The lack of nonverbal communication is a barrier,” said Robinson. “If the camera’s not on, it’s hard to create a culture of faith and community space via Google meet. It’s hard enough to do it in a classroom. It takes a long time for kids to share in the classroom, and you’re building relationships, students talking to each other. Building that culture has been more difficult.”
Another big challenge for teachers has been time. “Giving feedback, even chatting with a student is time consuming, and if you multiply that times 147 students,” said Robinson, “that’s 12 hours to assess a piece of writing that is short. I’ve tried to do videos, then save the video upload and email the kids in a message. It all takes time. People don’t understand how much time everything is taking.”
“It’s a long day for all of us,” said Rasmussen, “there’s no teacher that I know of that’s been working (from) 8 to 4. The biggest hurdle that goes along with technology is time. What I’m doing today, crafting individual learning modules, focusing on engagement, scaffolding those lessons together, that all takes time. A lot of time.”
Both teachers and Superintendent Brian Dietz noted that they don’t think education will return to where it was before the pandemic. “The pandemic has changed the way schools operate,” Dietz said.
But sometimes with change comes new inspiration. “Sometimes the knock against education is we don’t change with the times as quickly as we should. We get stuck in ruts,” said Rasmussen. “The pandemic has pushed us to really look at what we’ve been doing. Taking what was good — those connections — and combining that with technology and our creativity and our collaboration is really transforming how we’re going to teach for many years down the road. There’s no doubt in my mind this experience has made us stronger educators. We’re collaborating and sharing more than we ever have in the past. It’s pushed us as teachers, our curriculum and how we deliver that curriculum to students.”
Both Robinson and Rasmussen want to give kudos to parents, who are also struggling with the changes. “Navigating the challenges of being a teacher at home, that is nothing short of heroic,” said Rasmussen, “We’re all in this together, and we’re succeeding the best we can because of our community.
“I’m really proud of our students,” said Rasmussen. “They’ve lost prom, homecoming, graduations last year … I’m so thankful they are resilient. They are just taking and making the best out of a horrible situation. They are rolling with it.”