A look back on a semester of both virtual and in-person teaching

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hlester@opelikaobserver.com

Another semester is over, and teachers have now been fully immersed in both in-person and online teaching during a pandemic.

Julie Worth has been teaching for 27 years, but this is her first time to teach during a pandemic.

She currently teaches 9th grade English, two freshman orientation classes and a virtual block at Opelika High School.

Although teachers experienced a taste of virtual teaching in March through the end of last semester, this semester has been a lot different.

Everything was new then. A lot of students didn’t have technology, Julie said, and she helped to distribute Chromebooks.

There were also a lot of questions about how grading would take place.

“We just decided that the fairest thing to do, at the high school, would be, because we were in the home stretch of the last quarter, so we decided [that] if they were satisfied with their grade, they could take the grade they had and if they were not satisfied with their grade, they could continue working and try to raise their grade,” Worth said.

When the semester began again in August, however, there had to be some semblance of normalcy. There were in-person classes again.

“The kids at school have really done well,” she said. “They’ve done well wearing their masks, they have to sit six feet apart at lunch, which is awful. They can’t even really socialize with their friends at lunch, but they’ve been real troopers doing that. So we’ve really been proud of the kids who are here at school. They’ve really done a good job.”

There were challenges that had to be addressed. Some classes were too large and had to be moved into bigger spaces, like the library, Worth said.

“In the first couple weeks we had some quarantines, we had some positive cases and we had to troubleshoot that,” she said.

There were still several students learning virtually. Of course, teachers had to prepare for the possibility that all students might end up learning virtually again.

“When we came back, we were not really sure how long we would be able to stay,” Worth said. “And we were very surprised that we have made it all the way to December, because I would have never thought we would still be here.”

Things were different than they were in the spring, Worth said. Grading and tests were back up to par.

Worth has had to become a jack of all trades, however, when it comes to virtual teaching. She may be called upon to help her students with Spanish, Algebra or History, even though she is an English teacher.

“I have a class full of virtual students; I have like 30 students,” she said. “And in the beginning, I was responsible for every single class each student took.”

For each class and each assignment, Worth grades their work and helps them when they get stuck, even though she has never taught some of these subjects before.

Over the semester, the school implemented changes to make things easier. Now, a Spanish teacher might grade the Spanish work since Worth is not fluent in the language.

If her virtual students come to her with questions that she cannot answer, Worth will direct the student to a teacher who may know the answer.

That comes with challenges of its own, however, since those teachers have full classes of in-person students.

“We’ve all really worked together well,” she said. “People understand that even though they’re not assigned a virtual class, they may be called on to help with something if it’s in their area of expertise.”

Part of the reason for these virtual blocks is so that teachers can focus on the in-person students in front of them. It could get difficult for a teacher if they have 30 in-person students, plus five more trying to learn along from computer screens at the same time.

A lot of students are having trouble with virtual learning, Worth said. Some didn’t understand how time-consuming or challenging virtual learning could be.

“That’s been challenging,” she said. “Just watching some of them just not do well at home and that’s kind of a helpless feeling.”

Worth said it was rewarding to see that students do actually want to be at school too. There were students who were upset when they had to quarantine, and they did not want to have to learn virtually at home.

“That’s a good feeling to know that we’ve created a culture that they want to be here,” she said.

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