Grace Johnson’s school year started online, then it moved into the classroom and now she may go back to teaching online again.
Johnson is a first grade teacher at Winchester Elementary School. Roseburg Public Schools started the school year with remote learning for all grade levels. On Oct. 5, first through third grade students returned to campus to learn in person. Now that COVID-19 numbers are on the rise, the schools may transition back to remote learning.
“It’s been pretty crazy,” Johnson said. “Online teaching was very difficult, it’s very hard for first graders. But I was surprised at how much participation I still had at the beginning of the year. So it was good. Once they came in person I was really worried about it and stressed. Like every teacher, I think. And I was amazed to actually see how smoothly everything has been going.”
Children knew what was expected of them as they had seen the impact of the coronavirus in their daily lives for months.
Johnson said students have worn masks for months and knew about social distancing, before coming back to school. She does need to give the occasional reminder, but generally speaking, the students know what’s expected, as heartbreaking as that may be sometimes.
“They can’t share anything which kind of breaks your heart a little bit,” Johnson said. “There was a student in my class who broke a blue crayon and another kid was like, ‘You can use mine.’ And then, before I could even say anything, another kid was like, ‘You can’t share materials.’ And we can’t. It’s so kind that the student wanted to share the blue crayon, but we just can’t.”
Johnson said the supplies parents brought to school this year are not communal this year, but instead stay with each individual student. Johnson does keep a few backups in case someone breaks a blue crayon, or is in need of any other materials.
The biggest difference has been in actual teaching. Teachers across the United States have been taught that students learn best in small groups, in collaboration with others. Now, a classroom is small desks lined up in single rows, facing their teacher and a whiteboard.
“For years I feel like I’ve been going to professional development and everything about ‘This is how kids learn best. This is how you should do things,’” Johnson said. “And then this year they’re like, ‘Okay so you can’t do any of that. Here’s a whole bunch of new stuff that you should do instead.’”
Johnson said she, and other teachers, have learned to look at the positive side of things. While students aren’t able to work in groups, they also can’t bother each other during instructional time.
Johnson said it was an adjustment, but she teaches her students “There might be things you can’t do it yet, but you will learn” and she’s taken that advice to heart herself.
She has learned to adjust her own goals. Instead of reading with every student, every day, her goal is now to read with every student, twice a week. She’s made little kits that students can do each day.
“When you’re able to kind of shift your expectations a little bit that it makes it more doable,” Johnson said. “I know I want them to be practicing all of these things every day, but they just can’t. And it’s not really worth my time to, to be upset about that. Instead, it’s worth my time to think about ‘How could they practice every day?’”
A recent spike in COVID-19 cases has closed other school districts in the county, and while Roseburg has yet to make an official announcement it seems almost inevitable that schools will transition back to remote learning.
Johnson said she thinks starting to school year online has helped teachers and students be better prepared for the near-inevitable change.
“At the time — when it was time to go back to school — and I knew we were starting online, when we could have been in-person, there was part of me that was like ‘Hey, we should be in-person,’” Johnson said. “Now though, when I look back, I’m like that was really smart, because all of the kids have experienced it now. All of the families have experienced it now and they’re going to have a reference to kind of build their plan around.”
The constant transitions have been difficult at times, not just for Johnson, but also for her students and their parents.
“It’s important to remember that everybody’s doing their best, the parents are doing their best, the kids are doing their best, the teachers are doing their best, the administrators are doing their best,” Johnson said. “I don’t think this is ideal for anybody. Maybe we don’t know how to do it yet, but I think our community can kind of rally together and take care of each other and stay healthy and try to get our kids learning as much as possible.”