Teachers work to transition into new school year

While students have been dealing with a new set of struggles while coming back to WHS after a strange and abrupt end to the last school year, there is another group of individuals who have been working hard to make the transition go more smoothly. Teachers have been working harder than ever in the past few months to get through all the changes that have been made recently to make this school year possible.

Coming back to school during the COVID-19 pandemic presented unique challenges, and coming back to a brand-new hybrid schedule with a student body divided in half only serves to create more, but teachers are working to figure out how to deal with them.

“This is my seventh year here at Washington,” English teacher Ryan Leatherman said. “I am used to five days a week, seven classes a day, and so a lot of the things I’ve done I’ve done for a long time, and I know the time frame and how long it takes. With a new schedule like this, I had to pretty much take everything I used to teach and kind of put it in a blender and put it back together.”

Scheduling has been challenging for some teachers as well, especially since there are now two separate sets of students to worry about.

“For me, I’m a very schedule-oriented person and I like things in a certain way, and I’ve taught off the same schedule for 21 years, so having that change up has been a bit hard for me to wrap my brain around,” English teacher Melissa Schulze said. “We’re kind of doing a groundhog-type thing, so doing the same lesson twice a week, just with different kids, is kind of a bit hard, not what I’m used to. But we’re making it.”

Some teachers have noticed issues with what students were unable to learn last school year due to transitioning into online learning, as well as struggles with staying on top of work so far this year. 

“The data I have indicates that kids…experienced some loss in what they usually know from the time off they had, so I’m kind of building kids from the ground up…” Leatherman said. “With the digital work, some kids are struggling pretty hard as they’re used to having a teacher with them when they’re asked to do work, and perhaps either not having assistance from a teacher or, frankly, being at home with distractions is really hurting their ability to get work done.”

Technology and online learning can cause issues as well, especially for teachers who have had to switch to a completely different platform for lessons this year.

“I am a Schoology user,” science teacher Jessica Fitzgerald said, “so shifting over to Google Classroom has been very challenging because instead of having folders within folders kind of like your [Google] Drive would be, I had to get used to the idea of having topics and how to set each week up so the students understood that this was in-class work, these are your e-learning days of work, and just kind of how I wanted to set up the classes.”

On the other end of the spectrum, technology can also be a good tool to utilize when teaching.

“The extension Kami has really been very helpful for students as far as being able to submit work…” Fitzgerald said. “Making videos has also been a different experience, but Screencastify has [made it] very easy to make videos and then post those videos for students also, and for them to be able to stay caught up if they’re not in class that particular day.”

Despite the challenges, some teachers have found advantages to the hybrid schedule.

“I think it’s working pretty well, considering it’s very different from what we’re used to doing,” Schulze said. “It is nicer to have smaller class sizes. It can be a little hard to keep track of, you know, what your A students and B students are doing, and try to keep them in basically the same sequential order, so that can be a bit of an issue I think, but otherwise I think it’s going pretty well.”

For many teachers, it’s becoming easier to help students individually as well.

“I really think the hybrid schedule is working well, especially with the size of my classroom with it being so small,” Fitzgerald said. “I feel kind of like the students, when they’re in class, get a little more one-on-one attention, because there aren’t as many students that could ask questions.”

Some teachers have also noticed improvements in the attitudes of students towards school.

“I honestly think that [students] are really realizing the importance of the time we spend here, right, because every minute counts at this point,” Leatherman said. “I really think that kids are internalizing that this is a time to work. Not that it’s bad, but a lot of times school is a social thing…A lot of that’s good, but when we take that away and we focus on the education, I honestly think kids are kind of buying in right now in a way that I think will be very beneficial. Is that going to continue? I don’t know, because this could get pretty darn old after a couple months. But I do think that, as of right now, I can see more focus on the educational aspect, at least from what I see.”

Although the students of WHS can’t all be together for now, there is little reason not to be hopeful for the future.

“I’m hoping that we can return to school as normal soon…and have kids get back to their social functions as well, dances and extracurricular things…plays and going to football games and other sports,” Schulze said. “I just really want the kids to have that high school experience again. We kind of took that for granted in the past.”

Just as students have had to adjust to the changes, many feel that students should continue to be understanding of teachers during this unfamiliar time and remember that both groups are overcoming new challenges every day, so supporting one another through difficulties is more important now than ever before. 

“For us teachers, I hope that you guys understand that we’re struggling with putting together the lessons as much as you guys might be struggling with getting used to this,” Leatherman said. “This is totally new for us. I’ve only been [teaching] for less than a decade. There are people in this building who have been teaching for longer than I’ve been alive. That’s not an exaggeration. This is completely new and no one on planet Earth has tried to do this before…We don’t know how this works. I hope that students are understanding that we’re getting the hang of this as well.”