The Trials and Tribulations of a Pandemic-Era Teacher

Course: 3rd Grade 

Department: English Language Arts

Institution: North Ridgeville Academic Center 

Instructor: Allie Holka 

Number & Level of Students Enrolled: 3rd Grade & 50 students (two classes) – 10 students are Special Education 

Digital Tools/Technologies Used: Google Slides, Nearpod, Zoom, Google Classroom 

Author Bio: Allie Holka is a 2019 graduate of Cleveland State University. She is currently in her third year of teaching and her second year of teaching in the North Ridgeville City School District. She has taught third-grade English Language Arts and all subjects in fourth grade. Holka tutors part-time at Lawrence School in Broadview Heights and is currently working towards her master’s degree in Curriculum & Instruction with a focus on Literacy Development at Cleveland State.

On March 12, 2020, Governor Mike DeWine announced that all Ohio schools would close at the end of the day on March 16 for an “extended spring break” to combat the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19). The original plan was for school closure until April 3 with districts deciding on “how and to what degree” learning would continue (ODE, 2020). Not long after, it was announced that school buildings would be closed for the remainder of the 2019-2020 school year. Once schools reopened in the fall for the 2020-21 school year, some districts opted for full-time distance learning, full-time in-person learning, or a mixture of the two. North Ridgeville opted for a hybrid model for the 2020-21 school year, and a full-time in-person model for the 2021-22 school year. Now in the 2021-22 school year, as educators, we all know the trials and tribulations of the COVID-19 pandemic have challenged, changed, and charted the future of teaching.

The Challenges in My Classroom

The COVID -19 pandemic has fully challenged the field of teaching by shifting the view of what a “normal” school year is. During the 2019-2020 school year, I was a new teacher that was fresh out of college with my first job and my first classroom. I was a new teacher at Citizens Academy East, which is part of Breakthrough Public Schools in Cleveland. I was teaching 4th grade English/Language Arts/Reading and Social Studies. I was learning the ins and outs of teaching that were not taught in college during observations, rotations, practicums, or internship placements (grading, planning on your own, prepping, time management, classroom management, and cultivating a positive learning environment for just a few examples). I was trying to grow into the educator I dreamed of being when schools shut down for the remainder of the year. I, like all other teachers, had to change my plans for the rest of the year within hours. Teaching fully remote was new and different to everyone. New challenges were presented, such as internet access for students and teachers, digital resources, student attendance, special education requirements, and lack of participation. We were all unsure of how to navigate teaching in the early months of the pandemic.

Digital learning continued in most districts for some portion of the 2020-21 school year where we still had to iron out the kinks in our plans to create the best learning environments we could for our students. Then, with the start of the 2021-22 school year, the shift from digital learning to in person learning seemed to happen almost as quickly as during the first shut down. We are now expected to go back to the “normal” way of teaching during a “normal” school year, as the districts are trying to make it “normal” again for staff, students, and families.

The changes that were made to traditional teaching procedures during COVID carried over into the 2020-21 school year and beyond. Now coming into my third year of teaching, I only have 6 months of “normal” teaching experience from 2019, and I am still becoming comfortable with teaching and successfully running my own classroom. Although students are back in-person full time, I do not think that school environments or the teaching field will ever return to the way it was before the pandemic. Most teachers are now in an entirely new field than they were originally expecting.

The Changes in My Classroom

Pre-pandemic, there was a push for technology to be used in the classroom, but not on the level we were prepared for in March of 2020. Although technology courses were required in the education program at Cleveland State, I did not feel fully prepared to teach online. I had to learn how to use various online platforms under a time crunch, most importantly Zoom and Google Apps. Our classes focused more so on Microsoft programs. If as a recent graduate I didn’t feel prepared, I cannot imagine how more experienced teachers felt. Many schools were not even 1:1 with student devices pre-pandemic! Teaching has changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic through a heavier use of digital components to aid in student learning, and my personal teaching style has changed with the increased usage of Nearpod and Google Classroom (Slides and Forms).

Nearpod is a website and mobile application that educators can use to create interactive presentations or upload their own Google Slides or PowerPoint presentations and make them interactive. These presentations can include polls, videos, slides, and quizzes for students to complete either in real-time while the teacher is presenting for synchronous learning (either in person or remote) or on their own time for asynchronous learning (either in person or remote). When teaching remotely and in person, I use Nearpod to track engagement and assess students in real time to check understanding. I enjoy Nearpod because it collects data and work samples from students all in one place and you can watch students complete work in real time. More ways to use Nearpod in the classroom can be found here.

A Poll for my students taken from Nearpod

I now use Google Classroom daily for assignments. During the 2020-21 school year, every assignment was posted on Google Classroom whether it was for in-person or remote learning. I found this was the best way to give students assignments so papers would not get lost in the shuffle between school and home when we were in person two days a week and remote three days a week. During this school year, I am using Google Slides and Google Forms weekly in my classroom for classwork and quizzes. Google Slides can be set up to fill in worksheets and interactive notebooks virtually, which is what I mainly use them for. I enjoy using Google Forms for the “Quiz” feature. When this feature is turned on, you can assign point values to questions and have Google Forms correct questions for you automatically. This is truly a lifesaver when you have several students taking the same assessment. I also like that there is the option for “locked mode” on Chromebooks where students cannot open any other tabs or programs when taking the quiz to ensure academic integrity. Locked mode will also tell you when a student reopens a Google Form after closing out of it. Locked Mode was wonderful to have when assessing students remotely as they could not open any other tabs on their Chromebook as we were completing assessments.

A Google Form score distribution

The Future of My Teaching

Although the pandemic changed the world of education as we know it, I believe that the future of education is a bright one. The COVID-19 pandemic has charted the future of my teaching and has changed my view of education. I am more mindful about social-emotional learning and trauma-informed practices, as are many other educators and districts. With the passing of the SAFE Act in 2018, the state of Ohio gave districts the chance to apply for grants to support student learning. In North Ridgeville City Schools, we have used our allotment to purchase a social-emotional learning curriculum (Character Strong) that educates students on both social-emotional competencies (self-awareness, emotion management, social and relationship skills) and student character development (patience, kindness, honesty, respect). With the amount of time students spent at home, there is a good chance they have a lack of social skills due to being isolated from their peers in the pandemic, and some may have experienced trauma. Because of this, it is incredibly important to support the emotional education of our students over the next few years as we catch them up to the emotional developmental milestones, they may have missed due to remote learning through COVID-19.

Due to the increasing demand for technology use in the classroom, I have found that it is important to participate in continual professional development with a heavy focus on technology. Technology is always changing, and programs do not tend to stay the same for very long. It is very important to stay up to date on the latest technology that can be used in the classroom to support student learning and engagement. There are many free training programs to become a certified program educator. For example, Kahoot! and Nearpod both offer free programs that are easy to navigate.

If you are currently a teacher in the education field, you are going through radical shifts in curriculum, pedagogy, and expectations. The COVID-19 pandemic will have a long-lasting effect on our classrooms and students. These changes will be difficult to overcome, but it is our duty as educators to support one another and to continue to better our practices to support the students we will encounter in the coming years. I am hoping this case study provides you with some new ideas on how to approach the changes we are dealing with.

References 

Characterstrong. CharacterStrong. (n.d.). Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://characterstrong.com/.

Coronavirus school closure information from the Ohio Department of Education. Ohio Department of Education. (2020, March 16). Retrieved November 14, 2021, from https://education.ohio.gov/Media/Ed-Connection/March-16-2020/Coronavirus-school-closure-information-from-the-Oh?feed=NewsletterRSS.

Google. (n.d.). Classroom | google for education. Google. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://edu.google.com/intl/ALL_us/products/classroom/.

Kahoot! (2020, September 30). Kahoot! Certified. Kahoot! Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://kahoot.com/certified/.

The Nearpod Team. (2021, November 1). 10 ways to use nearpod in the classroom. Nearpod Blog. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://nearpod.com/blog/nearpod-in-the-classroom/.

Nearpod Team. (n.d.). Nearpod Certified Educators. Nearpod. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://nearpod.com/certified-educator.

Nearpod. (n.d.). You’ll wonder how you taught without it. Nearpod. Retrieved November 15, 2021, from https://nearpod.com/.

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