With the ongoing pandemic, severe changes have been made in all aspects of life, especially in the field of education. However, it is important to think about a teacher’s perspective during these challenging times with emphasis on students and education. Teachers are, arguably, one of the most impacted occupations during these trying times, and it is important to understand the challenges they face, especially in regards to the changes they have made in educating their students.
We interviewed Matthew Gain, a history teacher at Marvin Ridge High School. Gain coordinates and teaches within the International Baccalaureate program. He offered his perspective on COVID-19 policy and how it impacts schools.
Do you mind describing your role at Marvin Ridge, the classes you teach and the clubs you advise?
I teach mostly 11th and 12th grade, exclusively the IB courses of IB history of the Americas and the IB Theory of Knowledge. I coordinate the extended essay for the IB, as well as the CAS component for the IB. I also advise the student council.
Since we haven’t had school on Fridays, has that been more flexible for you as a teacher?
I preferred the virtual Fridays personally, just for the students.
I felt like it was a good day for them to catch up on anything that they were missing and use that as essentially a workday. They could seek out the help of their teachers to use that as office hours, tutoring times as good for club meetings as well. There were a lot of advantages to having that time built in, to support students in various ways.
It was also very helpful in terms of planning purposes, from my end, and to be able to effectively grade various assignments using technology that we didn’t necessarily have to do before using technology.
Getting used to that takes a little bit more time.
With this last term, has having school on Fridays greatly impacted your schedule in any way?
Yeah, I haven’t been able to be as on top of supporting my students in terms of student feedback and making sure that I have the time available to be able to meet with them one-on-one.
I think not having that time built in has limited that support for students in a way that I think was very valuable for students.
Do you have any concerns about yourself coming to this school?
Generally, no. I’ve felt pretty safe for really the entire year.
I feel like the different protocols we put in place as far as masks and distancing have been pretty effective for the most part.
At Marvin, we really have not had a lot of outbreaks, which has been really great. Even with the increase in students after spring break, I really haven’t necessarily felt any concerns.
Have students as a whole been performing better or worse this year?
I feel as a whole, I’ve seen more F’s this year than I’ve seen in my entire 12 years of teaching. So I don’t know that students really are performing as well as they have in the past.
I think a lot of that is because they’re not here in person and not being able to touch base with them in person and stay on top of them. I think it helped in the past, whereas now they don’t necessarily have that accountability. They can kind of hide in their rooms, whether they’re actually online or not.
Having that communication is a little bit more easily available in person versus sending an email to a plan D student and kind of waiting for a response, knowing whether they got it or not. I think that has limited how successful students have been.
There is an inability of those students to meet with teachers face to face and get tutoring and help. But, they certainly have the ability to conference digitally via Zoom or Canvas or something like that.
That motivation just really isn’t there. I think some kids have really thrived in virtual and other ones that basically just see this as a big vacation and some are willing to kind of take the hit grade-wise, which is unfortunate.
Have virtual students been performing better than or worse than in-person students?
In-person students, generally speaking, yes. I would not say that is across the board. There are some virtual students that are at the top and then consistently have been there throughout the year.
But the vast majority of them, no, they’re, they’re underperforming compared to their face-to-face peers.
How would you say you’ve adapted to the challenges you face whilst teaching? Both in-person and online.
I think one of the more helpful ways of adapting was the fact that we had to start figuring that stuff out last spring and when COVID first hit. So I spent a lot of time playing around with Canvas to try to figure out what the conferences feature, which I had no clue about before that. And really starting to do more through Canvas, and so I felt coming into the school year that I was in a better place, a more comfortable place than most.
But the hybrid model really kind of threw me off probably for the first couple of months of trying to kind of balance the needs of the students on the computer versus the ones in front of me.
There were times where students online would be like, “Hey, are you paying attention to us?” Good questions. And because it’s so easy to kind of fall back to that, just the kids in front of you because. The norm is, that’s what you’re used to.
Finding ways to kind of balance that has been one of the greater struggles with the hybrid model, but I’ve found little tricks here and there to help them with that.
Would you change anything in the current Marvin or countywide COVID policy?
I probably would bring, I wouldn’t say necessarily like, Fridays back per se, but I do think a remote day, or even like a remote half-day, something like that, where it wouldn’t matter what day it was, whether it was Friday, Monday or Wednesday.
A break that allows students to still spend time learning, but at the same time have that time to be able to catch up if they need to and to be able to meet their teachers and get that support if they need to.
Because the reality is, students are busy before and after school with various activities. You know, some even during the day for various things. Family situations play a large role with things.
I think having that one day, and even if it was a half-day just to have that kind of break, to be able to do those things. And even with club meetings, like we’ve seen a huge decrease in. The activity of clubs over this year, but having that time built in like frees up our students in so many other ways if we reduce their stress and certainly obviously reduces the stress of teachers, it gives them a greater ability to support students in various ways, such as planning and grading, but even just meeting the students.
So I would probably advocate for that. Again, it wouldn’t necessarily have to be a Friday, but a remote day I think is super, super helpful.