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Teaching during a pandemic: lessons in distance learning

Posted at 3:20 PM, Dec 11, 2020
and last updated 2020-12-12 12:01:55-05

TULSA, Okla. — School has not looked the same for students and teachers since March.

Many districts are in and out of distance learning. Some Tulsa Public Schools students spent just two weeks in the classroom.

Teaching and learning away from the classroom is not ideal for students or teachers, but Arianna Place, a 3rd and 4th-grade Emerson Montessori teacher, said they're doing their best.

"Let's make sure we're all sitting down paying attention ready to go," she said to her students in their Zoom class.

Her day starts with as many students as she can get on Zoom. They start with the whole class then break into smaller groups.

"Just finished my last small group lesson," she said in a video diary. "The 4th one. And I already had my whole group lesson in the morning at eight. And it is 11:11. I am exhausted."

Instead of a whiteboard, she's using a camera and a rug and creating materials to teach students at home. While Place has a document camera, she said not all teachers do.

"I think that we are doing the best we can with what we have," she said. "I think our district is giving us everything it possibly can. And we need more."

Place said one of her biggest challenges with students at home - making sure they're in class and learning.

"When I don't see them on Zoom for a while or I don't see any evidence of work, that is definitely the most difficult part for me," she said.

While her days in the classroom are long, they don't end there. When a student gets disconnected or needs something she's there to help.

"I go to students houses with my mask on and they wear their masks," she said. "And we meet outside to talk about work. And to give them lessons, things that they aren't understanding."

And in return, she's learning how difficult life is for some of her students outside the classroom.

"This student is at one of the shelters," she said. "So I went to visit her family and her there. And when I was there I just realized there were many families at the shelter and trying to do distance learning."

Lower elementary students at Tulsa Public Schools had less than two and a half weeks of in-person learning in November-- the only in-person learning they've had since March.

"The learning that happened in person was pretty incredible," she said. "Like the amount of engagement was just really cool to see."

But at the same time, Place said she began having nightmares. Her anxiety is through the roof. She's worried about being exposed to COVID-19 and bringing it home to her own family.

"There are so many students who really really need to be in the classroom. And I also don't want to die."

No matter how they're learning she said she and her fellow teachers will always be there, reaching out to the next generation.

“I think that my colleagues have done an amazing job of reaching students," she said. "And we’re going to continue to evolve and get better. Because that’s what we do. Because we love our students.”

All TPS students are currently scheduled to return to the classroom after winter break on Jan. 4.

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