Educators are facing unprecedented challenges as schools shift into remote learning due to COVID-19. We speak to a New Jersey Teacher about her experience.
As the roles of parents and teachers evolve, and students adjust to their new education processes, it’s crucial that we bridge our relationship with teachers and tap their voices, stories, and experiences as helpful resources for the community.
Here at Quizlet, we want to compile and share the diverse and creative ways in which teachers are meeting the challenge of sudden, universal remote learning. There is no one way to do this. Everyone will have a unique experience based on school district operations, grade levels and technological resources.
This is the first in a weekly series, in which we will be interviewing teachers from all over the country. We will talk to educators who have prior experience with remote teaching, as well as those who are tackling it for the first time.
Each week, you can expect a blog post featuring interviews with teachers navigating remote learning as well as a Youtube video. We hope the information in these posts will help readers understand the challenges of remote learning, shed light on best practices, and inform the reader about tools that might be useful in the remote learning environment.
This week's interview is with Rory Yakubov, a teacher at Old Bridge High School in Old Bridge, New Jersey. Yakubov, who has taught for 14 years, currently teaches Algebra 1 and Geometry.
Quizlet: Can you give insight of your experience with the coronavirus' effects on your school? When did you make the shift to remote learning?
Rory: There was a test, unfortunately, in our town, that did become positive Thursday evening. So they closed us immediately for Friday and Monday as snow days -- not remote learning days. It buys the district some time to say, "Okay, we're giving you a snow day on Friday and Monday. We don't need to make up those days." Tomorrow is when we officially start remote learning.
Right now, the plan is just for this week. I highly doubt we're going back to school next Monday. I'm sure that this is just phase one. We have the fourth largest high school in New Jersey. We are definitely mixed as far as technology at home goes. A majority have technology at home, but we're still trying to figure out, for the population that doesn't, what are they going to do? The district is actually mailing [materials] for K through second grade, so that those kids will all have their packet of work to do.
I feel like I'm pretty lucky, because the 143 students I teach have been doing online homework since September. So I know, whatever I give them online, they have access to. Because they're in high school, throwing them on their phones and doing their work is a no-brainer. It's pretty simple.
I'm expecting that we'll probably be on remote learning through Easter.
Quizlet: That's good that you've had those experiences before, with remote learning, with your students. And leads me to my next question: What advice would you give to a teacher who is new to remote learning?
Rory: I would say for sure that everyone just needs to try things out. Very often, especially on my social media platforms, I get a lot of questions. And sometimes the questions are very good questions and I answer them. And sometimes the questions are questions that people can easily just Google. Sometimes we just have to try things out. So, I posted on my Instagram that I was going to run some Quizlet Live sessions with my students virtually. And I'm thinking in my head, "Well yeah, they're not going to be able to see the progress screen." Right? They're not going to see how their teams are doing. We're a Microsoft platform, so our school platform hub is Microsoft Teams.
But I won't know that things are good or bad unless I just give them a shot. And honestly nothing that bad is going to happen if it doesn't work. It’s the same thing with online assessments. People are asking me, "Well, how are you going to give a test or quiz? Aren't they going to cheat?" And I'm thinking, if they cheat on one quiz or two quizzes or even also a test, in the course of the whole school year, those one or two assessments averaged in with everything else isn't going to automatically bring everyone's GPA up to a 4.0. We have to not worry about the things that we can't control and worry about things that we can and just be really open to things.
There are teachers who have no technology at all. And those are the districts honestly, that are telling the teachers that they don't have to remote learn. That's also happening. A girlfriend of mine who's in Boston, she's not responsible for getting stuff to her kids for the next two weeks because they can't confirm everyone has [technology].
Quizlet: And I guess that's kind of reassuring. Not everything's going to go perfectly, right? So, give yourself flexibility, give yourself room for mistakes and errors. This is temporary.
Rory: I agree. Whatever we learn, it's just going to make us better teachers going forward. I could almost see, if this was so successful, that they made digital learning part of the regular public education.
Quizlet: What advice can you give to parents to keep their children engaged?
Rory: Everyone's really just got to be true to themselves. I have two kids at home. I just want to go with the flow. If my kids are super-engaged in the [educational] activities I have them doing, then I'm going to keep it going as long as I can for the day. If tomorrow pops up and it's a beautiful day and we'd rather play for most of the day outside, then that's what I want to do. But everyone just has to figure out what works for them. You could make a schedule calendar, get all super-organized. Everyone's got their own way of coping.
Quizlet: Are there any other favorite tools or resources that teachers should explore??
Rory: We're a Microsoft district, I'm trying to stay away from now getting all my kids with Google accounts. I tried Zoom, but that costs money. And then [I tried] Join.Me. I'm trying to find more like video conferencing things I could do.
I've attended things through Microsoft Teams, [but the school district had the video option turned off for students]. Once that's set up, then I'll be totally golden because then I'll feel like I have everything that I need. That might not get unlocked until next week. I just wish that my video capabilities were, for my students, ready to go. Most of them follow me on Instagram. I could do an Instagram live and they'd all be in there in a heartbeat, but I don't really think I want to do that.
Quizlet: Any creative ideas with remote learning you've seen recently? You talked a lot about social media, which I think is interesting.
Rory: I created my YouTube channel last week in preparation for this. I'm starting to record all of my videos. Because I know there's tons of videos online there for teachers, but I just want my students to hear the lesson through my perspective because they're so used to hearing me explain things. I don't want to find a YouTube video someone else made and then be like, "Well, don't worry about from 3:40 until 5:15 because that's not what I need to teach you." I just want them to get exactly what I'm doing.
Quizlet: So, choose a few platforms, a few technologies, and do more with less. Don't try to do everything. And I thought it was so important that you talked about kids hearing your voice. Hearing the material from you.
Rory: YouTube is in the process. I wanted to be able to say, "Hey guys, every day at 1:00 I want to go live." Just to answer any questions or just check in with everyone. They'll also just be able to have an ongoing conversation chat-style in Teams. I can just post something and then kids are responding, which they're so used to anyway. When I've been absent from school, if I wasn't feeling well, I'd just post everything on Teams and then the kids would respond and I'm at home on my couch typing back to them like, "Please be good for the sub." It's kind of the same thing, except the sub as their mom at home.
Quizlet: I guess the feedback is the same from parents as well? Also are they reaching out like crazy?
Rory: Yeah, I definitely have a lot of parents of students that I don't teach, like parents just from online that found me that say, "Thank you." Sometimes I get questions, people asking for more directives. I try to give out information when I can. But I'm such a big advocate for saying you’ve got to try things out, see how it works. If it doesn't work, it's really not a big deal. And right now is the perfect time. Right now, you have to have that mindset.
Quizlet: Any last thoughts? Anything else you want to tell teachers, students, parents?
Rory: I've seen people use this online, it's from High School Musical, it's that, "We're all in this together." We really are. And we're all figuring things out and we just have to be willing to try things. Experience success, experience failure, and then be able to move forward. We have to go through success, failure, share everything that we've been through and then move forward and just keep going. And if we don't, then it might as well be 1996, and time has never moved on, and the kids are not using technology in their classroom.
Listen To Full Interview Here:
Key Takeaways and Summary
The enforced remote learning that has been thrust upon most of the world is new for everyone, and it takes trial and error. Don’t be afraid to be flexible, and don’t be afraid to fail. Everything learned by educators, parents and students during this time will only lead to more efficient learning in the future. To avoid becoming overwhelmed by options or spreading themselves too thin, the education community should try one or two platforms or tools at a time, assess what works, and tweak as necessary.
Teachers might consider creating videos to personalize coursework, creating continuity for students and retaining control of the material.
And remember, we’re all in this together.