The Quizlet team is committed to sharing teachers' stories as they adjust to remote learning. For this post we spoke to Cassie Caplan, a middle and high-school Latin teacher and field hockey coach in Bronxville, NY, about her experience in the new remote learning environment.
Adjusting to remote learning presented a challenge for Caplan, who is the sort of teacher who cherishes the relationships she cultivates with her students above all. Caplan lights up talking about the feeling she gets when former students return to her classroom to ask her to come see a play they are in, or just to tell her about a great test score they got.
But those in-person interactions came to an abrupt halt due to the COVID-19 emergency. Like many others, Caplan’s school shifted to a virtual environment almost overnight. On a Friday, the students had a half day of school, and remote learning began the following Monday.
Though the school’s transition from in-person to remote learning was remarkably efficient, it was not without its challenges for Caplan. Like countless other working parents, she found herself having to work from home while caring for her now nine-month-old child. Caplan was tasked not only with trying to maintain a sense of normalcy for her own daughter, but for the nearly 100 students she teaches, as well. She describes the first week as “a blur.”
Caplan and her husband, who are both working from their apartment in New York City, have created their own routine to juggle their jobs and caring for their daughter. Caplan teaches synchronously all morning, and then for the rest of the day, she responds to emails and Google Classroom notifications, preps lessons, leaves feedback on student work, and attends Zoom meetings with her school, World Languages department, and grade level teams. She takes breaks to play with her daughter while her husband is on conference calls, often shooing their dog out of view of the camera.
One day, while Caplan’s husband was on a video call and Caplan was playing with their daughter on the couch, the dog started to vomit. Then the baby joined the dog and started to throw up on Caplan. It was a situation that required two sets of adult hands, so Caplan’s husband had to excuse himself from his video call so that he could clean up the dog’s mess while Caplan tended to the baby.
The experience of working from home while caring for her child has given Caplan even more empathy for parents who are in the position of having to continue working while helping their children with schoolwork.
“I don’t have a school-age student, but I can imagine. So, thank you to the parents who are trying to divide and conquer and juggle just like we all are,” she said.
Caplan said many of her students have expressed that they are surprised at how much they miss school. She said it’s also been interesting to see how they have adapted to the change in their daily routine — some have not necessarily reacted as expected. In some cases, students who do well in a normal school environment are struggling, while those who have had difficulty at school are thriving.
“And there are some students who aren’t necessarily as strong or as vocal in a physical setting, but then are really coming to the forefront [in a virtual] classroom discussion board or things like that,” Caplan said.
Though Caplan’s school has switched to a pass-fail grade structure for the final quarter of the year, Caplan is making a priority of trying to keep her students engaged, and it seems to be working. A lot of her students are still performing highly, maintaining and in some cases exceeding her expectations as a teacher. She keeps an eye on their progress while remaining flexible, extending deadlines if necessary.
“The more important thing is that they’re staying engaged with the language and that they’re doing their best. They might miss a grammar term or forget something like a history term, but at the heart of it, I want them to appreciate Latin and to understand why it’s still important,” Caplan said.
Caplan is harnessing available technology to assist in the remote learning environment. She was already using Quizlet Live and making use of vocabulary sets in the classroom. But now she is relying on her Quizlet teacher account to keep tabs on student progress, frequency of logins and to learn which tools they are using.
“I love being able to see that for each student. I’ve been using that more with remote learning,” Caplan said.
Pre-COVID-19, Caplan used Quizlet Live teams in her classroom. Capitalizing on her students’ familiarity with the tool, she is now using the new Quizlet Live individuals mode in her virtual classroom. The new mode has enabled her to incorporate something that was already familiar to her students into her virtual classroom, helping to shore up that sense of normalcy that she strives to create.
A field hockey coach as well as a Latin teacher, Caplan holds out hope that school will reopen for some form of in-person classes in the fall. But she is optimistic that teachers and administration will continue to work to provide the best remote learning experience possible for students.
“We’re praying and looking forward to the day that we can all be back together, and if it could be tomorrow, I would hop out of bed and go to school tomorrow on a Saturday. But if that’s not what’s best for all of us then, then we understand,” Caplan said.
Caplan even finds herself missing student antics that she found annoying when trying to teach in the classroom.
"All those things … that bugged [me], like you doing a TikTok dance in the middle of class or asking us 800 times whether something is graded, all those things that I used to complain about, I now miss hearing and miss doing,” she said.
Caplan hasn’t had much time to sit and reflect on what quarantine has taught her about herself, but when asked, she mused that she had accomplished a lot more than she has given herself credit for. In addition to running her classroom, she is working on the school yearbook. She has tried new platforms and has helped other teachers learn how to use these online tools. She puts out a weekly newsletter with the Middle School Sunshine Committee to boost morale amongst her colleagues. She’s also continued her own education by attending webinars and is even taking a graduate class while teaching her own students and caring for her baby.
“I think I’m learning that I can do even more than I think I can,” she concluded.