TRAVIS COUNTY, Texas – In this new world of COVID-19, school no longer looks like it used to.
“I think I speak for most teachers, we would rather be in a room, you know, with our kiddos and feeling that heartbeat of the classroom and the community we’ve built," said Cathy Yenca, a teacher in Eanes ISD.
Yenca is one of many teachers who have had to adapt— for the past two weeks she’s been teaching math to her middle school students remotely.
“When we prepare our lessons and plan our lessons, we’re not wondering whether or not our kids are going to have access; they do. So that’s a huge hurdle and a blessing we can overcome from the get-go," said Yenca.
Eanes ISD is one district that already had tools in place that helped smooth the transition to remote learning. Students there already had access to iPads and were already comfortable with them thanks to a variety of programs and tools the district offers.
"Remotely, I'm seeing the kids’ faces and we're sharing the audio, but at the same time I'm able to watch in real time work samples come in. So, we're virtually sending the kiddos to the board, and I'm able to do some commentary and some feedback in real time," said Yenca.
Yenca meets with each of her classes live via Zoom twice a week for direct instruction. She says those real-time interactions are also important for maintaining a sense of community.
“I’ve had some themed days. Yesterday was really cloudy so we did sunglasses, and I had like a beach theme behind me so kiddos came to Zoom wearing sunglasses,” she said. “Some lighthearted things and just some check-ins— math is important but ‘How are the students doing?’ is more important.”
She says that having a little fun and keeping the classroom feeling alive is also important for learning.
“What really gets to the heart of kids is just that relationship and some of those silly things… I know math class can bring a lot of emotion, a lot of people have some feelings about the subject area. And the more comfortable kids are in that community, the more willing they are to share their thinking, to have it valued, to make mistakes, because that’s just part of doing math," said Yenca. "The 10-second time investment just pays off dividends when you get to the nitty gritty of the math because now we’re open to communicate and learn together."
Yenca says she’s doing her best to keep school as normal for her students as possible.
“There's still these moments where some classes are like, 'Oh, we nailed it,’ like, I feel that culture… I just spent that time with those kids, it almost felt like we were in the room again. And other classes you leave, and I just feel kind of like, 'I didn't feel that connection as much today,'" said Yenca. "And it's a little bit heartbreaking because you yearn to be in every way, acting normal, normal life. And so, that's the biggest challenge is knowing that we're all doing our best, and in those days where you feel a little off, it's okay.”
For Yenca, most important thing is everyone is making it work in this new world of learning.
“Teachers always work hard, but teachers are working really hard because we want to make sure our kiddos are taken care of. That the curriculum— within reason right now in light of all this— the curriculum continues. And that our students feel cared for and supported," said Yenca.