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Oct 1, 2021
The Washington Post Teachers are grappling with the best way to educate students in a partial or fully virtual environment Loading... Johnson County High School teacher Michael Caneege teaches anatomy to his students online on Aug. 20 in Wrightsville, Ga. The school district had to shift to online instruction for a few weeks as many students had to quarantine or isolate amid coronavirus cases. (Stephen B. Morton/AP) By By Share this story MaryRita Watson says her job as a fourth- and fifth-grade reading specialist is 110 percent more stressful these days. As the delta variant continues to spread across the United States and leads to more coronavirus exposure among students, Watson says she has been forced to embrace the hybrid model of teaching, where she simultaneously has to educate students both in-person and virtually. “It’s difficult. I feel like the students who are at home aren’t getting the best of me, and then at times, the students at school aren’t getting best of me,” says Watson, who teaches at Oakbrook Elementary School in Summerville, S.C. She has switched between in-person and virtual classes over the last year and half due to the pandemic. Story continues below advertisement Watson is among millions of teachers across the nation who are in their second year of teaching either in-person, online or both — depending on the state, city and district they live in. Like many other professions, teachers’ jobs have become increasingly complex due to the pandemic. This year, many students are back in the classroom, but teachers have to constantly adapt if there is virus exposure. There aren’t specific guidelines on how best to teach students using the many technologies that are available. Teachers are also struggling to keep students engaged while learning new tech tools that are required to make online classes successful. “Teachers have been doing heroic things to keep kids learning during the pandemic,” Sal Khan, founder of online education platform Khan Academy said in a Washington Post Live interview. “They’ve been thrown into the deep end of the pool with the technology and it’s been difficult.” Advertisement Still, the pandemic has also made virtual learning tools and classes less of a lift for students, teachers and parents who want to consider the option, he said, and a lot more schools are talking about the need to personalize education for students with online tutoring and other tools. Story continues below advertisement During the pandemic, some teachers have created YouTube videos that students can watch when they need help with a lesson. They’re using Google Forms to give students a quick and easy way to submit assignments. Others are using Whiteboard. Fi , which gives students individual digital whiteboards, game website Math Playground for math competitions, and online learning tool Quizlet to make custom sets of virtual flash cards. Teachers also are learning how best to use the capabilities within video software Google Meet, WebEx and Zoom — which they use to host classes — to make lessons more interactive. For example, small virtual breakout groups help keep students engaged. Reactions and chat functions get more students involved without the pressure of having to speak in front of an entire class. “ Advertisement Roberta McGuire, a Fayette County teacher in West Virginia who has taught for 37 years, said the pandemic has forced her to quickly understand the learning styles of her students since she can’t see them in person. McGuire said that in-person, she could quickly pick up on whether students were more visual or whether they learned better through instructions. Now that she’s teaching virtually, she has her students read to her over video so she can get a better sense of their reading levels. She also has to educate some students and parents on the tech — sometimes even the most basic digital tools. Story continues below advertisement “I’ve been teaching parents how to copy and paste, how to upload a document, how to do things with email,” she said. “Those things are a challenge, and you have to have patience.” As online teaching continues, the American Federation of Teachers, a labor union that represents more than 1.7 million professionals including teachers and school-related personnel, said it’s worried about the possible lack of resources for teachers that ultimately could make online learning less effective than in-person classes. The union says educators need access to professional development focused on remote teaching and advises against “ineffective strategies” like hybrid teaching. It also worries about hurdles for students in a virtual environment. “It means working to bridge the digital divide for students through heavy investment in devices and broadband,” said AFT President Randi Weingarten. Some teachers have more resources than others to be prepared for a long-term virtual teaching environment. At Mesa Virtual Campus — which opened last year as a part of Mesa Public Schools in Mesa, Ariz. — teachers were given standard operating procedures for a virtual environment over the summer and have been offered training on digital tools for student engagement. They’re also finding ways to make the virtual classroom more interactive. Advertisement Story continues below advertisement “Something very simple that I do is say, ‘Type the answer in the chat, but don’t hit enter until I say waterfall,’ ” says Heather Gookin, a sixth-grade teacher at Mesa. “Then I say ‘waterfall!’ and ‘Okay, scroll up and see if anyone has the same answer as you.’ ” Jennifer Echols, director of online and personalized learning at the largest school district in Arizona, Mesa Public Schools, said enrollment in virtual school continues to rise due to safety, flexibility and preference. It has about 70 full and part-time teachers who are able to teach virtually from a repurposed elementary school two days a week. The campus serves about 1,050 students full-time and has been on a hiring spree for teachers.