By Joe Raygor - St. Croix Falls School District

I teach because of the relationships formed with my students. I enjoy the curriculum and the data part of the job, but the relationships formed with the students is why I do it. I like kids. Distance learning has changed my daily routine and that’s frustrating. But overall, day by day we’ll get through this and we’ll be back face to face strengthening those relationships again.

My School
I work at St. Croix Falls Elementary School in northwest Wisconsin. We’re a high achieving school and consistently score in the significantly exceeds expectations for learning on the state report card. We grow kids very efficiently. Our principal, Rita Platt is an educational guru. She’s like a combination of Mr. Rogers and Ms. Frizzle from the magic school bus. She sets goals and expectations that most schools would say are impossible. But she gets us to do it and have fun doing it. I teach the third grade and there’s 4 sections total. Our elementary school is not 1:1 with devices. Our middle school and high school are so they’re using online platforms like Google Hangout and Zoom to conduct virtual learning classrooms. The elementary school I work at doesn’t have that option. Instead, we created distance learning packets. It makes it difficult not having the technology of 1:1 because we cannot assign homework or assessments through any websites or apps. So, we have a plethora of apps for learning that we offer but it’s all encouraged and free will options.

What life is like now?
My new classroom looks and feels a lot different! I connect with my parents weekly through emails, phone calls, and texts. I let my parents of my students know to contact me anytime they need. A parent can communicate with me any means and I’ll get back to them as fast as I can. I gave them my personal cell phone to make this easier. I have some families that are early birds and are sending me images in text messaging of math problems before 9 am and some at 9 pm showing me what they’re working on.  Before Covid-19, I tried to not respond after 6 pm so I would have an opportunity for some me time. Now, with the structure of the day I’m available on my phone 24/7. It’s different but I don’t mind it because parent’s questions and concerns come at different times. It’s not like I’m on technology every waking second but the questions do come in waves it seems. I think teachers everywhere are feeling that wanting to do more feeling because we’re not getting to see our kids like we normally do.

Is learning taking place?
I hope so, but my number one concern is are families are taking care of themselves. We know the benefits of school and distance learning can’t replace that. But I think the goal needs to be to retain as much as we had left off in the hopes we can salvage the year. Weekly I still check in with my students on what they’ve read and what math problems are messing them up. I think in the grand scheme this is going to give a new found respect to educators that hasn’t been seen in a long time.

Several parents I communicate with are still essential employees at their jobs. So, when they get off work they’re more interested in spending some quality time with their kids rather than home schooling them. My message to parents is that’s okay! School is obviously important. It’s my belief a child’s education and mentorship in life can have huge impacts for later down the road! But right now, during crisis, learning can’t take place when there’s anxiety and fear.

We weren’t ready for this crisis, but I think what’s amazing is how fast we adapted to distance learning. My elementary school principal got us substitute coverage when this was starting, and we prepped the entire month of April in a matter of a couple of days. We’ve adapted and learned how to utilize new technology. At the end of the day, educators care about children and we’ll do whatever it takes to make sure they’re okay.

End of the Year
I think the key to keeping our teacher brains sane during this crisis is finding peace of knowing we don’t know what’s coming. Our principal has done a great job communicating with us that things are changing in a blink of an eye on their end, so the administration is going to try to keep us in the loop the best they can. It felt like dominos once everything started closing. The superintendent called me the Wednesday of our last full week and said to postpone our youth wrestling tournament. Each day after that more and more shut down and then Friday our Governor shut all schools down the following week. So, we’re kind of in limbo regarding report cards, coming back for the end of the year, etc. We still have desks full of supplies! But again, we can only control what we can control so I’m going to trust my administration because they do what’s best for kids because they care about kids!

Moving Forward
The positive that is going to come out of this is we’ll be much more prepared for crisis in the future and distance learning. School districts and universities all over are being forced to try to teach in distance and some are finding it’s working. I don’t believe in the younger age range it’s nearly as effective but in the older grades you can get close to the same quality. I’m currently doing my masters through the University of Wisconsin Superior and we haven’t had to change a thing because it’s entirely online. I think distance learning strategies will improve due to this crisis.