The other perspective: How teachers are doing with distance learning

Lavanchy: “It’s a struggle. It’s hard.”

An enormous digital wall serves as a barrier between students and teachers, creating an atypical, isolated school year. While it is no secret that students have been struggling to cope with distance learning and in-class engagement, few have thought to shine light on the other side of the coin – how teachers are handling distance learning.

Nearly one year has passed since teachers and students have roamed campus, totaling to about nine months in a virtual classroom. And in those months, a gap has formed between educators and their students. The fluidity and inquisitive atmosphere of a classroom is nearly impossible to replicate in a virtual setting; it seems that the computer screen seems to implement a disconnect between everyone.

The first weeks provided teachers with technological hiccups as they attempted to adapt to online school. It consisted mainly of converting the material and curriculum into a digital format. However, given time, teachers soothed out these online problems and now, the second semester poses a new set of issues. Teachers, no longer having to focus on settling into distance learning, can turn their attention onto their students once again.

Math teacher Lisa Bregar shared how distance learning has impaired her ability to meet her students and form relationships with them.

“Now that I’m not dealing with the chaos of just trying to make everything work, I get sad that I can’t make those connections with [my students],” Bregar said.

Yet it is not only teachers who feel this void from Google Meets; some students feel they are struggling on the other end.

“I think that one of the best parts of in-person learning is the connection you can make with you teachers. Being online makes it a little more difficult to get to know them,” junior Olivia Dods wrote to the Talon.

As a result of this disconnect, teachers cannot always anticipate the needs of their students. Without a relationship with their teachers, many students are hesitant to reach out for help. The overall communication has weakened for most.

“I really don’t know what’s going on. I really don’t know if anyone’s listening to me. I don’t know who’s struggling. I don’t know who’s doing okay. I just don’t know because there’s just not a lot of feedback,” Bregar said.

Furthermore, the lack of relationships exerts an emotional toll on both parties. It also sucks away some of the pleasure teachers receive from teaching.

“Teaching math is fun for me, but having an influence on [my students] is mainly why I got into teaching.” Bregar said.

Teachers across the board seem to agree that they went into the profession for the joy derived from working closely with students.

“When I signed up to teach, I never would have opted for an online format. For me personally, being physically with the students is what makes my job so gratifying,” Spanish teacher Cynthia Lavanchy said. “I think that the daily interaction with kids is what makes teaching such an amazing job. And I love teaching high school.”

There are several components that contribute to the detriments of virtual learning. It constitutes more than just mental and social handicaps — there are also the physical drawbacks. For both students and teachers, distance learning has created school days filled with monotony.

“I think it becomes very mundane: every day, the same thing, the zoom meeting, everyone’s quiet. It’s very robotic,” Lavanchy said.

Moreover, virtual learning has morphed simple tasks into something much more tedious. For example, Bregar spoke on the arduous job of grading math homework and tests, adding how technology has heightened the amount of time it spends to do a normally quick task. Math — a class that has maintained the old-school act of scribbling on paper — operates quite differently in a digital world.

“I hate grading math tests online,” Bregar said. “Anyone who’s had me before all this knows I cranked these tests out and I grade quickly, but I just can’t do it.”

Online school has eradicated many simple acts in life: stumbling upon a friend in the hallways, the comforting daily routine and the irreplaceable act of seeing each other face-to-face. Lavanchy agrees that COVID-19 has robbed students and teachers alike of ordinary occurrences.

“I feel like we’re missing all those steps that we get during the day of just physically walking from the car to your classes, back to your car for lunch,” Lavanchy said. “And it’s a struggle. It’s hard.”

Despite the headaches of distance learning, there have been slivers of light that shine through; at-home schooling still consists of its own advantages.

“There’s definitely a lot of good that has come out of this,” Lavanchy said. “Personally, I feel like I’ve bonded with my family and my pets. My dog is going to freak out when we leave.”

On a national level, COVID-19 has hit educators hard, affecting their salaries and overall motivation to teach. According to a recent study conducted by Horace Mann Educators Corporation, 60% of teachers said that, in comparison to a year ago, they were enjoying their job less. On top of that, 77% of teachers surveyed that their work hours had significantly increased since the pandemic. Compounded together, with tighter salaries, lower satisfaction in the job and heavier workload, 27% of teachers were debating leaving their job due to COVID-19.

For many, distance learning has created hardships and tribulation for everyone involved. Yet some of Oak Park’s teachers have continued to recreate a typical classroom environment by placing smiles on their faces in hopes of instigating motivation within their students.

Economics and United States history teacher Tim Chevalier, who has adapted by trying to insert positivity into his students, explained his tactic to wring the fatigue out of students and his hopes for them.

“I’m the teacher, I’m the adult, I’m supposed to hopefully be a kind of a beacon of light for my students,” Chevalier said. “I think my thesis for the last year has just been hope. I guess resiliency and hope… for my students that it’s not a forgotten year, that it’s not a year where we just write that one off and it was a failure and nothing got done. It would be really tragic if we had that mentality like it was a wasted year.”

Similarly, Bregar has attempted to ease the chaos for her students this year by providing a plethora of extra resources and offering additional help.

“I’m trying to do what I can to make [Math Analysis and Finite] as easy as possible and provide support in any way that I can, even if only a few reach out. I just keep offering and offering and offering,” Bregar said.

Everyone is encountering the same problems and issues; nobody is in this alone – not the teachers and not the students. Amazingly, teachers and students have become more sympathetic to the other’s situation, trying to see their hardships from another perspective.

“Being a student online definitely took some adjustments, so I can’t even begin to imagine what it must have been like for the teachers,” junior Hannah Levy wrote to the Talon. “Their efforts to adapt lessons to what works best for us as students does not go unrecognized. I really appreciate all that they are doing and how many options there are to connect with them.”