CHARLES TOWN – Before Jefferson County schools closed in a rush due to coronavirus contingencies, Beth Caltrider gave her Charles Town Middle School students a list of five different ways to digitally reach her as they prepared to continue their math lessons at home.
Caltrider, working on a touch screen from own home, produced a video lesson last week on the Pythagorean Theorem that her students accessed online.
“I can talk the students through the lesson that they’re seeing on the screen,” she said of the software platform she used. “I’m actually drawing on the screen. I’m recording my voice in the background as I’m talking them through how to do this problem.”
Among the more than 600 county teachers tossed abruptly into the challenges of remote online teaching last week, Caltrider sees some opportunities for students as they now will have to switch from classroom learning to a virtual education for the rest of the school year.
“There are definitely some students out there that are going to realize that that little [smartphone] device that they’ve had in their hands now for some time is actually a minicomputer and it will actually be incredibly beneficial as ways to learn and not just take pictures,” she said.
Parents and teachers will be doing some creative and constructive scrambling to their mental and physical routines as well, said Jamie Ritzenthaler, an English sixth-grade science teacher at Charles Town Middle School.
“It’s been kind of crazy, but we’re getting through it,” the English teacher at Charles Town Middle said. “Everybody is dealing with so many different things.”
County teachers are logging into a variety of educational platforms that have quirky, zippy sounding names like Nearpod, Screencastify and Zoom. Both students and parents are adapting to the new learning environment, one where a teacher can’t be over the shoulder to point out an error or to highlight a gold star accomplishment.
Ritzenthaler was recently arranging video chats to touch base with her students. Caltrider has been hopscotching through texts and emails and other communication channels. She planned on calling some of her students this week.
“There are some that I just want to check and make sure they’re OK,” she said.
Both teachers said they hope to establish a stronger daily routine for learning and study for their students in the coming days. Students and teachers are working out new schedules and rhythms together.
“There’s definitely some different types of earning and life skills that are happening,” Ritzenthaler said. “That’s actually a good point in some ways.”
Her advice to parents adjusting to the change as well?
“Just take it one day at a time,” she said. “It’s different for everybody. Everybody is learning something new.”
Ritzenthaler said it’s possible that parents might receive multiple phone calls or messages from their child’s different teachers. Be patient with those, she asked.
“We are doing it because we do care about our kids and we want to make sure that they’re doing OK and that the parents are doing OK,” she said.
And Caltrider’s at-home teaching advice for parents?
“Talk to your children,” she said, “because I think a lot of the times students will tell you how they feel, and once they are able to tell you how they feel they’re much more invested in what they’re doing.”
Patience will go a long way too, she added.
“I answered a friend’s post on Facebook the other day,” she said, “and I just said we all need to be kind to each other because this is new to everyone, including the students, including the teachers, including the parents.”