Reflections of a Year of Teaching Spanish in a Pandemic

March 9, 2021 Sra. Shaw

Oh, hey there! Long time, no see! I don’t know about you, but I’ve been a little absent for the last 11.5 months. And by absent, I mean constantly stressed to the extent that I sometimes have trouble taking a full breath, working 12 hour days 5-6 days a week while trying to digitize 3 levels of curriculum (and teaching my own children), so I apologize that I’ve been off the grid. It feels good to be back!

If you’d have told me (Jen AKA Spanish with Sra. Shaw) on this day in March of 2020 that I would not set foot in a physical classroom with my students for an entire calendar year, I’d have laughed in disbelief, and yet here we are 12 months later. Also, I bought this sign from the Target Dollar Spot last February, so if you’re looking for someone to blame for the pandemic, I accept full responsibility.

I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m finally starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel. In some ways, I feel like the last 12 months have been kind of a wash of anxiety and working way too much, but in other ways, I really feel like I’ve grown. I’ve seen tons of growth in my colleagues as well and today I’d like to take a moment to reflect and celebrate some of the victories of pandemic teaching.  There’s way too much focus on the negative anyway, right?

1. Teachers adapted overnight.

Last March, when the world shut down, teachers stepped up. We instantly started relearning everything we do, figuring out how to deliver content to our students in ways we’d never imagined. Was it smooth or perfect? No, not necessarily, but I can’t image any other career where people completely changed everything they did literally over a weekend. For a sparkling moment, we were heroes as parents finally appreciated what we do all day, every day.

I don’t know about you, but I found out on a Thursday afternoon that schools would be closing on Friday. I was in the copy room by 6:30 the next morning figuring out what paper components would helpful to my students and made enough paper copies to get through the next 1.5 units. I’m sure you were all equally scrambling to figure out you’re next move, but we managed!  And not only did we manage, but we reimagined what education looks like with little to no support.

2. We connected with students in new ways.

Sure, before COVID we emailed our students and some teachers used different social media tools to connect, but after COVID, I’ve never seen such an outpouring of resources geared toward building authentic connections with students.

I saw teachers rocking it out with Flipgrids so they could see there students faces and hosting game meet ups with kids to do familiar things like play Quizlet Live or Gimkit just so our students knew we were there for them.

It was clear that our students were struggling and we bent over backwards at all hours of the day to meet our students where they were. We’re still doing the same thing a year later, with so many teachers instructing students in the classroom while simultaneously providing lessons for those at home.  Go back a year and imagine contemplating that scenario. We couldn’t have imagined it in our wildest dreams.

I don’t know about you, but those moments of connecting with students after so many hours of teaching to black Zoom screens brings me such much joy. I love when I see get a glimpse of a students’ face or hear one of their voices.

I’d love to hear about your biggest success connecting with students? Add to this collaborative Padlet below to spark some joy in our WL community (and give people more ideas).  Also, yes, I know Padlet is so 2019 and Jamboard is all the rage, but you can’t embed a Jamboard as it turns out 😉

Hecho con Padlet

3. Teachers upped their tech games. BIG TIME.

I have to pause on this one. Before 2020, you didn’t need to be a tech guru to be an amazing teacher. For all of your rock stars, but previously not-very-tech savvy-teachers, I am in awe of the skills you’ve learned (mostly on your own) over the last year. It’s incredible. Hats off to you.

For me, transitioning to a fully virtual classroom took some tweaking, but I figured it out pretty quickly because technology integration has always been one of my strengths. This was not the case for so many of my colleagues. I’ve watched some of my coworkers go from not knowing how to assign an Edpuzzle to being able to write a 90 minute lesson with 5 different apps built into the activities. People who’d run mostly paper-based classrooms suddenly had Google Classrooms full of fully-digitized materials. THAT IS INCREDIBLE!

If this is you, stop and give yourself a huge pat on the back. Reflect on all of the skills you’ve gained in the last year. It’s inspiring and we should all be so proud of ourselves. And then breathe, knowing that there will probably never be another reason in our lifetimes to learn so many skills so quickly. THANK GOODNESS!

4. We did this together.

Teachers across the country have banded together to share resources, teach one another, and support each other ways we’ve never seen.

I’ve seen so many amazing lessons shared out on social media. Teachers took to Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snap Chat and more to share their ideas, ask questions and connect. As an example, after I saw enough questions about Google Classroom and SeeSaw, I spent several evenings on Zoom showing other teachers how they could use these tools to reach and teach their students.

All of those conferences? Fully virtual. As if it isn’t enough work to plan an entire conference for hundreds or thousands of attendees, conference planners presenters found ways to reach an even larger audience than they would have in a physical setting and presenters completed scrapped their original topics to include topics for virtual learning. It’s been inspiring to watch.

5. Teaching won’t even look the same again; there are new “best practices” to benefit our students.

After all we’ve learned and experienced, it’s safe to say that when things are back to “normal” education will look different. We’ve all, teachers and students alike, acquired new and better ways to approach learning.

No, that doesn’t mean that we’ll need to be staring at a screen all day (thank goodness), but I think many teachers learned a lot about new best practices to reach and teach students, how to “cut the fat” or the extra fluff in our curriculum that really wasn’t essential anyway, as it turns out.

We’ve figured out better, more efficient ways to assess our students’ skills and to see their thinking. Tools like Jamboard, Go Formative, NearPod, and Pear deck have changed the game so we can see, in real time, whether kids are in our physical classrooms or at home, what they are learning and where they need our help.

Before COVID, I couldn’t understand why Pear Deck was so awesome, but now I use it once a week. I’d given up on Go Formative because it was glitchy when it came out in 2015, but it’s the most powerful teaching tool I’ve ever seen. I can’t imagine not teaching with them when I go back into the classroom.

What is the best practice that you’ve learned or implemented over the past calendar year?

Summary

For some of you, I know that the past year has been a back and forth of fully virtual, in-person, hybrid, back to virtual, and so on. While virtual teaching (and parenting virtual learners) has been incredibly difficult, I feel for those of you who’ve been back and forth and hybrid; it sounds EXHAUSTING.

In April, I’ll be heading back to my classroom, finally, after what will have been 13 months to teach hybrid. I’d love to know, despite all of the difficulties, what is your biggest takeaway and celebration from the last year of teaching?

As I head back into the classroom, I know that my most important work will be to connect with my students and connect them to one another. I’ve been having TONS of success with getting them to participate, turn on their mics (no, not their cameras, sigh), and talk to one another with very structured information gap partner speaking activities. Want to see what I mean? Get this freebie info gap activity here, perfect for virtual, hybrid, or face to face.

What advice do you have on how to connect with students or get them connecting with one another in a hybrid setting? I’d love to know. Comment below.

Sra. Shaw

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