By Jennifer L. Warren
HUDSON VALLEY – Melissa Tesh has been a high school math teacher for the past 18 years. However, over the last month, she has felt like she’s starting a brand new job.
With the shutdown of all area schools, the Pleasant Valley resident Tesh, like a vast number of teachers across the country, has had to relearn how she performs her job. No longer afforded the luxury (and joy) of seeing her over 120 students in person at her classroom every day, Tesh now finds herself “redoing everything,” making teaching videos, posting assignments to Google Classroom, attending virtual department and staff meetings, while electronically staying in touch with her students as much as possible.
“It’s kind of ironic; I actually work more now than when I was in the building (Arlington High School in Dutchess County), answering emails and questions all day, keeping my students caught up; what I would normally be able to teach in a couple of days, now takes me a couple of weeks,” explained Tesh, the parent of two children of her own also learning remotely. “I’m not able to check for understanding, seeing body language and facial gestures, so it can be a little frustrating at times; it’s really tough not being able to see my students in person.”
Because the veteran educator Tesh, who teaches courses in Algebra and Geometry, knows many of her students are dealing with a host of issues, stemming from the pandemic, her main objective is to keep things as simple as possible for them. That game plan extends to her home life. With one computer and two kids, Tesh has tried to apply as much structure as she can to everyone’s day. Since she is an early riser, she does a majority of her work in the morning. After she wraps up that initial phase of her work day, her 4th grade daughter uses the computer for a few hours to get her assignments completed, followed by her eighth grade son. Later, throughout the afternoon and evening, Tesh will continue to communicate with her students in a variety of means, finishing up other work responsibilities.
“Students send me completed pictures of their work on the phone; others post it to Google Docs, whatever works, and there are always questions to answer,” said Tesh. “Things do end up getting done for the most part; it really goes back to the students and the parents and how they are dealing with all of this, not easy, but people are adjusting.”
That “break-in” period came fast, as schools were provided little notice, left with less time to prepare for their traditional format closure. However, Tesh is quick to cite her gratitude for the ensuing thorough and efficient training she and other teachers received from her Arlington School District employer. Still, even with the virtual teaching education, the new reality “norm” has thrown many for a curve. Stephanie Marden of Hyde Park is a Master Biology Teacher, also at Arlington High School. An award-winning educator, Marden now finds herself in unchartered waters.
“When I closed my classroom door on March 12, I definitely wasn’t expecting it to be for so long,” said Marden, who has three children (Pre-K, 4th and 6th graders) of her own to oversee their distant learning as well as her Arlington students’. “While I have taken many on-line classes, I have never taught a class in this format, so becoming proficient with this has been a challenge.”
Doing her best to teach a course that relies heavily upon hours logged digesting integral lab skills, Marden realizes the learning experience is bound to be modified without that segment being possible and is no longer mandated by New York State. She, like Tesh, is fully aware of the host of other issues facing her students during these unique times: needed to watch younger siblings, having parents at risk (as well as exhausted) due to their essential worker statuses, and some old enough to see (and feel) the financial stressors their parents are facing. Despite these changing dynamics, both Tesh and Marden, remain extremely passionate about teaching and learning, while adjusting some of their traditional classroom priorities, realizing some intangibles need to take precedence.
“In the end, we as teachers, really just want to know that our students are okay; correct answers on assignments are not paramount in these times,” stressed Marden. “Being able to complete their assignments to the best of their abilities at the moment will help students to at least maintain their skills, and I think that is enough progress for us during these challenging times; we will get through this.”
Helpful Tips For At-Home Learning With Your Child:
1. Discuss rules and expectations of the teachers as well as you the parent(s).
2. Get back to as much of a routine as possible.
3. Establish a consistent school schedule.
4. Designate a “School Zone” for schoolwork to be done.
5. Encourage your child to take several breaks.
6. Help your child develop social connections.
7. Stay in touch with school personnel as much as possible.
8. Advocate for your child’s needs.
9. Develop a social support system.
10. Try to have as much patience as possible.