Carson High teachers give perspective on teaching during quarantine
Carson City School District teachers couldn’t just grab their books and materials from their classrooms and set up a computer at home when they learned schools were shutting down in March.
The process was more like going into battle or triage, Carson High School social studies chair Jenny Chandler recalls. They had students to find, equipment to make sure they had access to for themselves and their class members, processes to sift through, logins and passwords to secure – all the details to get on the same page about in a short amount of time.
“It was very much a ‘grab and go’ situation,” she remembers. “One of the miraculous things is we were able to switch gears and that it was messy but under the circumstances, we were able to offer quality instruction in the midst of what I call an overnight platform change.”
For at least two CHS teachers who already were balancing home and work life before coronavirus worries came along, the sudden move to remote learning became a test of their own skills to reach their students differently in a virtual setting.
Still, the week starting March 15 as Gov. Steve Sisolak announced the emergency school shutdown for all Nevada schools provided Carson City teachers a chance to find a new perspective on education: that they as teachers might be equally if not more invested in what they were doing from the confines of their homes. It also showed that their students overall could still perform well apart from a physical classroom.
Prepping for duty
Chandler, a teacher for 16 years and a self-described detailed planner, said one of the first concerns upon hearing they would be going to the digital platform in March was making sure students would be accounted for and they would have Internet access at home. After all, how could they learn from home if they didn’t have the proper resources?
“It was like triage and all hands on deck,” she said. “It was a lot of collaboration and hard work. I think problem-solving has become our second nature.”
Changing her private home into a teaching space took the cooperation of her husband, a teacher at Eagle Valley Middle School, and two children completing their senior year.
“We draw straws for who gets what, and I think the only winner’s the dog,” she said with a laugh. “It’s a challenge for teachers with younger children. We’ve got new parents at home with little kids teaching class all day trying to carve out space for family life. As teachers, who are big givers to kids, I know I struggle. … Teachers are perfectionists and want to take care of every single kid and they get compassion fatigue.”
Making sure there are enough activities to complete through Google Meet or Classroom often is its own challenge because while teachers experience that draining in empathy, the students might face “Zoom fatigue” from spending too much time on their computers pent up indoors, she said.
Then there’s a chance to reach others on a whole new level that Chandler never thought possible because they feel unafraid behind a webcam or by texting.
“I have been remarkably impressed with my students’ reticence,” she said. “After boredom, they’ll do anything. I have the whole gamut: I have really low-performing students and those who are off the charts. … Some kids are overwhelmed … but it’s a unique opportunity to teach a child because of the access of the digital format.”
‘It came kind of quickly’
In Carson High’s math department, Levi Grabow, who teaches algebra 2 and Advanced Placement Statistics, said distance learning in his situation has worked to his advantage. The new father had just left on fraternity leave two days before the announcement came from Carson City School District officials on Sunday, March 15 that Gov. Steve Sisolak would be closing all Nevada schools as of March 16 through April 3 at the time due to concerns about COVID-19.
School staff members immediately began preparing for their campus closures, but Grabow, with his longterm substitute in place, realized going over to distance learning might be better for him.
The students have kept up well meeting through Google Meet, where everyone logs in and Grabow presents his lessons.
“They can see my screen and I’m writing my notes and doing examples,” he said. “I’m usually talking through the lessons, and they’re asking questions through the computer or in the chat or turning their mics on and they’re doing well, honestly. I don’t want to say I’m shocked, but I’m happy with the amount of work I’m getting.”
He posts quizzes and homework for his students, takes attendance, goes through the lesson and makes himself available. Then, Grabow said, the students are on their own to work as needed.
“Mostly, (the teachers) have been bummed we haven’t seen the kids and they’ve been stepping up for seniors who haven’t had their big moments,” Grabow said, referring to the recent local “Be the Light” campaign and the school’s student-created Instagram page honoring graduating seniors who have plans for college.
Grabow said the change into distance learning didn’t place as much pressure on him, but he misses the daily interaction with the students.
“I was kind of surprised; it seemed it came kind of quickly,” he said. “We didn’t really worry about how we would do our job. Carson High in general knew we were committed to our students and that we would make it happen. But it puts it into perspective how great it is to see the kids interact. It’s really fun and it’s a bummer to miss out on that right now.”
Advanced Placement testing
This month, with COVID-19 taking its toll on the end of the school year, Advanced Placement testing, too, will adapt to the changes. The College Board, the not-for-profit organization that administers the tests, changed its protocols in response to the pandemic. Exams take place May 11 to 22 with makeup opportunities in June. The format is open notes and open books and they will have 45 minutes per test.
“My AP kids are doing great,” Grabow said. “They’re obviously really hard workers … and I’m excited to see what they can do.”
Chandler typically offers a boot camp to prepare her AP classes. During this season, since she hasn’t seen many of her kids since Christmas, she said, they’ve been meeting via Zoom six different days of the week at six different times, and taking the test itself is considered a “rite of passage.”
“It’s a heavy burden to bear,” she said.
Chandler said she admired students in the elementary and secondary levels for adapting to remote learning in a brief period of time. She also praised her colleagues for motivating each other when needed.
“Teachers are heroes, but I think kids are heroes if they’re sticking it out,” Chandler said. “It’s a testament to their resilience and their families who are helping them out.”
‘A lot of gratification’
The end of the year is still a long way off for Grabow and Chandler, but administrators and teachers have their sights set on helping families and students close 2019-20 with success.
“It’s hard to tutor when I can really only talk to everyone through the computer and show them through the computer,” Grabow said. “…But in this crazy situation, I want to make sure the kids are learning what they need to learn.”
For Carson High’s educators, they’re still making sure they can take care of their kids and plan for what’s ahead, Chandler said.
“Teachers are still in professional development license renewal courses, they’re in Gifted and Talented endorsement classes – it doesn’t end at the end of the school day,” she said. “Coaches are planning for multiple scenarios to plan for the fall season. There are club meetings, gatherings to anticipate scenarios. It’s super challenging, but it’s rewarding.”