One year in, the challenges and lessons of teaching online

High+school+student+and+elementary+student+using+laptop+computers+to+attend+school+remotely+from+home.+With+many+school+districts+in+LA+county+set+to+reopen+in+March+2021%2C+the+topic+of+resuming+in-person+learning+has+become+a+controversial+one+amongst+teachers%2C+parents+and+lawmakers.+Photo+credit%3A+Photo+by+Sharon+McCutcheon+on+Unsplash.com

High school student and elementary student using laptop computers to attend school remotely from home. With many school districts in LA county set to reopen in March 2021, the topic of resuming in-person learning has become a controversial one amongst teachers, parents and lawmakers. Photo credit: Photo by Sharon McCutcheon on Unsplash.com

Mirella Vargas

“I didn’t know what was going to happen. I didn’t know how to teach online. I was confused, they were confused — it was just a mess,” Brittany Hampton remembers thinking when schools shut down in March 2020.

Hampton is an English high school teacher who works for a charter school serving students from the Compton and Paramount Unified School Districts. Like most teachers, she is currently teaching all of her classes online.

It’s been a year since schools in Los Angeles county shut down and classes shifted to online learning. In that year, there’ve been many unprecedented challenges which teachers, students and parents have been facing.

“I would say that a lot of my students have just declined in motivation. Motivated to learn, to even do school just a little bit. We already work with a vulnerable population of students who drop out of Compton, Centennial or Paramount High School. This school is like a second chance for them,” said Hampton.

The English teacher, who often substituted at Paramount High School pre-pandemic, emphasized how important it is for her to be in a classroom, face-to-face with her students and build connections with them.

“Building a rapport and connections with my students is really hard right now. I’m such an interactive teacher and like, I really like to know my students for who they are.”

She isn’t the only one who feels this way, and many teachers who are teaching their classes via Zoom have been struggling to keep students engaged and even struggle to have them keep their cameras on.

Hampton says she is lucky in the sense that since she works for a charter school, she can require students to turn their cameras on during class.

Many of her teacher friends who work at public schools have told her they cannot make their students turn their cameras on and must continue teaching their lessons to black screens.

“It’s so admirable of the teachers who are literally killing it, teaching online to black screens. I don’t know how they’re doing it — I have no idea. But a lot of teachers that I know who are doing it are losing motivation themselves, they hate it.”

Despite the multitude of obstacles teachers have encountered, there has also been plenty of positive lessons and outcomes from teaching online.

“My time management has gotten a lot better, I feel like I’m more organized, I’m more prepared. Just because I’m not right in front of them. I can easily go to another screen and find something and bring it up and it’s ready for them. It’s not the whole hustle and bustle of being a teacher in a classroom,” said Hampton.

“We’ve learned what type of learners that students are, and I think that it has also given me time to perfect my craft in technology,” said Hampton. “We’ve learned that teaching is not so linear,” she added.

She says that her students have been doing better lately and have gotten accustomed to the new normal, since there is no other choice. “Me teaching now… my kids have a routine, my kids are on time, their cameras are on. They’re doing their work while we’re talking, they’re more engaged in it — they’re getting used to it.”

Hampton believes the tools that are being used for online learning now, must transfer over to the classrooms once they reopen, since students have been learning that way for the past year.

“We also have to be cognizant like, what if something like this happens again? Teachers everywhere know we cannot get comfortable in any way, shape or form.”

With many school districts in Greater Los Angeles on the verge of reopening, the discussion of whether it is safe to reopen remains one of much controversy.

Many teachers feel that their concerns are not being heard or taken into consideration when lawmakers and parents talk about reopening schools.

Hampton believes the remainder of the school year should be left as is, and that students should continue with their online learning rather than returning to in-person classes this month adding, “Not just for our sake, but for our kids. Our students are already used to this, we make them go back and they’re not prepared. I don’t think that the state, health-wise, or anyone is prepared.”

“I think until all the teachers are vaccinated, until we’re in a place where we know that after every class someone is cleaning and that we’re gonna be safe and our kids are gonna be safe – then we can talk about going back.”

She says she understands those parents who want schools to reopen, because kids are home all day. However, teachers are also having a hard time too.

“I hate teaching online. It’s gotten better over time, and we’ve gotten used to it, but I’d rather be in front of my students. See their faces every day. But I don’t think we’re ready to go back.”