Wyoming — Spending the school year teaching her 29 students remotely has been a new experience full of challenges for Wyoming Public Schools fourth-grade virtual teacher Lysa Stockwell — but there is a lot going on that is positive.
“This is a huge change,” the veteran teacher said. “Normally kids are at school and we educate them in building spaces. Now I am literally in a child’s home (virtually) two-to-three hours a day. I have never known my students’ families better and have never had as much communication with them.”
Stockwell, in her 26th year teaching in the district, approached the year with a sense of optimism. Despite the obvious and unknown challenges of teaching in a pandemic, she knew that new skills could develop for both teacher and students and different approaches could prove effective. Before the first day this fall, she encouraged a shift in mindset when talking to colleagues about an unprecedented year.
“This may be the best year we’ve ever had. Why not go in with that attitude? Kids are not only learning academic stuff, but they are learning more.”
It’s a sunny outlook that paired with the knowledge that things seem really upside down. As Stockwell put it, “We had to take everything we knew as teachers and reconstruct it for this virtual world.”
She added, “We have had to completely readjust our career. Everybody is a brand-new teacher. Do I still love it? Yeah. At the heart of it is kids learning and I love to see kids learning. Doors may be locked and buildings closed but the most important things to come out of the school year are relationships and friendship and learning, and that’s still happening.”
‘Really, Really Tough for Parents’
She empathizes with parents concerning the difficulty of maneuvering multiple children through different schedules with varying lunch and break times.
“It’s really, really tough for parents. The ones who are home have never had all their kids at home. Kid number one needs to be on Zoom at 9, kid number two at 9:15, kid number three at 10.”
Stockwell is doing the best she can to keep students at grade level and beyond. While they aren’t using formal assessments, she keeps notes daily on each student to track their progress and any deficits they are showing. She meets with all students every day for reading, writing and math, and breaks them into small virtual groups to work on different skills she’s pinpointed that they need to work on.
“As a teacher, I am jumping from Zoom to Zoom to Zoom and my job is to help every kid learn,” she said. “You are constantly doing it every day and you are completely paying attention to what kids’ needs are at all times as you’re flipping through Zooms.”
Engagement is key, and teachers have collaborated constantly to share ideas and best practices, she said. They must maintain a high level of energy.
“Sometimes I feel as a teacher we are actors all day long,” she said.
Cupcakes and Curiosity
What works best is appealing to children’s natural sense of curiosity and interest. She’s given math problems about cupcakes to one student who loves those tasty treats, she said.
She also peppers her instruction with new things, switching up formats and tech tools, keeping tech-savvy students interested.
There have been delays, snafus and flops, but Stockwell sees learning happening in those situations too.
“That’s where kids are learning things like forgiveness and grace and that nobody’s perfect. You just have to be able to laugh.”