March 21, 2021
We as a community need to take every step to make online learning equitable for EVERY student until they can safely come back into the classroom. As a first year Teach For America (TFA) corps member, teaching has come with many challenges and triumphs. Teaching in 2020, with all the online technology resources, opened so many opportunities for varied instruction, engagement, and mastery. However, many of my students are still lacking the resources they need to succeed in school.
One major challenge I see my students facing is lack of basic technology resources. My students at Jean Ribault High School were all sent home with a laptop at the start of the pandemic, but due to overuse, many of these laptops were not fully functional by the time the new school year began in the fall. I constantly received calls from online students stating their laptops were shutting down during virtual class calls, that their chargers were no longer working, or their wifi was unreliable. I would first troubleshoot some of the problems with my basic knowledge of computers and then referred students to a technology staff person at our school. After the first few weeks of school, those students started to inform me that the school had run out of resources; no more chargers, laptops, batteries, headphones, etc. But as a teacher, I did whatever I could think of to get students to learn and turn in work. Students would join the calls on their phones or parent’s phones and do the work on paper. For some students, I would record class so they could do the work on their own time when a device was available. The students were resilient this semester and did whatever they could to keep up with school.
Although online teaching came with its challenges, it provided greater opportunity for creativity in tandem. I would constantly chat with other TFA corps members and staff about online engaging resources. Nearpod has become a favorite for my students; it is engaging. I can see who is viewing the slides in live time, and I can see their work as they type. I’ve also used A LOT of memes, gifs, and videos. Pretty much anything to give the content a pop or give students a mental break. I even started “check in Thursdays” where students can tell me which meme or gifs they’ve been feeling like this week. My online students also love music while they work. It’s something simple I can do for them to make us feel more connected. I’ll ask students who are participating and working hard for a song request, and I’ll also play a favorite song of mine. Just through music sharing we’ve been able to build relationships. And I am finding more and more ways to entertain and keep students engaged during virtual learning while fighting burnout and fatigue.
For my particular subject of reading, my students already struggle with the content and are in the course for extra support. Adding in a lack of computers, chargers, a quiet space to work, and unreliable internet, makes school feel impossible some days to these students. Some finished this past semester on their phones by typing essays online which is not right nor sustainable. Thankfully, new laptops were finally made available for all students in late January 2021. However, the rollout of these laptops poses an entirely new barrier for these students. Many of their families work during school hours and students don’t have a way to pick up their laptop. Duval County Public Schools is trying to be as accommodating as possible by allowing families to pick up the resources on certain weekends. The resources are available, we just need the Jacksonville community to come together to get the technology to the students. We as a community need to take every step to make online learning equitable for EVERY student until they can safely come back into the classroom.