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“New Teachers and the Pandemic” - How new teachers are navigating the school year through a screen

Published: Sep. 9, 2020 at 4:27 PM CDT|Updated: Sep. 10, 2020 at 8:37 PM CDT
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MADISON, Wis. (WMTV) - Teachers learning right alongside their students. It’s happening now as we experience another round of virtual learning this fall. NBC15′s Amy Pflugshaupt spoke with two “Rookie” teachers during their first week on the job and then a few weeks later after their first day of virtual learning to see how they’re navigating the school year.

Fiona Milchman is 2020 graduate of Beloit College. She’s a third grade dual language immersion teacher in the School District of Beloit, Milchman decided she wanted to become a teacher while in high school. After working with kids through camps and sports clinics, she said she could see that she could use her work with kids to really empower them.

Alex Lang is student at UW-Plattville studying elementary education with a minor in early childhood education. She’s doing her student-teaching in the Sun Prairie School District. She will be working with kindergartners. Lang said she always kind of knew she wanted to be a teacher, but she didn’t start out as an education major. After taking some education courses, Lang said she knew this is where she wanted to be.

What are you feeling going into this school year in the middle of a global pandemic as a first year teacher?

Milchman: “It’s definitely not where I thought I would be even a year ago as I was doing my student teaching. But at the same time, I went into teaching, went into education because I believe that every student can learn, can grow, and can succeed. And that belief remains true whether we are in a pandemic or not. So now it is about adjusting my own practice so students can still succeed even as we move online with instruction and everything is changing. It’s definitely a challenge to try to adjust to a different kind of learning environment, especially in my first year, but I think the mission for me is clear. Now I can work on the steps to get there.”

Lang: “I’m a little bit nervous about it. It’s a new experience for all of us. I expect this to be a learning experience for everyone. But, I also expect this to be something that will help me grow for the future when I am able to be in the classroom with the students. I think it will really help build my confidence with the students.”

What do you think is going to be the biggest obstacles teaching online?

Milchman: “I think one of the best parts about teaching is being able to connect with students and develop relationships with them – to learn a lot about them, to meet their families, and interact with their communities. Moving online, it is still possible, but it’s more difficult. So I think my biggest worry is it will be more difficult to reach out to students to connect with them and their families.”

She gave the example about the open house at the school was all online this year. “How do I make sure I’m interacting with parents, giving them the information they need, and meeting my students face to face.”

Lang: “I think one of the biggest obstacles is going to be the technology. You are building these relationships through a computer screen. I’m afraid I wont be able to build the proper relationships that I would normally be able to build in a classroom. And that is really hard for me.”

What are you most excited for looking ahead?

Milchman: “I’m most excited to see my students and to watch them learn, grow and succeed. I think that is what is exciting about every year of teaching and I don’t think that will change this year.”

Did your college professors prep you for what it would be like to teach online last year?

Milchman: “It was definitely talked about, but I think in the spring there was still this sort of idea that it was only going to be a few more weeks or a few more months and then everything would go back to normal. As we’ve seen, this isn’t the case. I think now, we need to start looking ahead a little more than what we have been and planning to be online. Not just for a couple of weeks (learning virtually), but it could be months. We just don’t know how long.”

Lang: “It wasn’t a topic of discussion until we went virtual. Once we went virtual, [professors] really tried their best to prepare us for this happening again. Although, it was so hard because it was so new for all of us. They did their best to really prepare us for the technology. They sent us link to prepare us for what this could look like. But, other than that, they didn’t really have much to prepare us.”

<b>Do you think teaching virtually will become part of the curriculum for college students studying education in the future?</b>

Lang: “I think they will try to incorporate it as best they can. I know it’s still going to be a learning experience for all of us, but I think it will definitely help push them to add that into curriculum.”

What are you doing to get ready for the school year?

Milchman: “My first week on the job was a lot of orientation for new hires and new teachers. So that took up a good part of my week. Then yesterday and today, I’ve been in the classroom have had time to prep. Honestly, right now, I’m trying to organize my materials. I have lots and lots and lots of books. And people have been very generous with giving me more books and that is great. I want my students to have a solid classroom library, but it does take a lot of organization and trying to figure things out. I have looked a little bit at lesson planning – students are not going to start for a couple of weeks yet, but looking ahead and working with other teachers to try to see 'Okay, we are not going to be in the classroom, we have this limited amount of time with our students – What are the most essential pieces and what is the best way to deliver that to students? Whether it’s having a zoom meeting or having a prerecorded video for them to watch or giving them an activity.”

What are you doing differently to prepare for teaching virtually?

Lang: “The only thing I’m doing differently is instead of individual lesson plans I would normally do by myself, we are working together as a team this fall. We are writing one lesson plan as a team. We are all going to teach the same material at the same time. We are really going to rely on [fellow teachers] more [for creative ideas]”

What was it like walking into your classroom for the very first time?

Milchman: “It’s definitely exciting. I did my student teaching last year and I’ve done lots of observation hours so I’ve been in plenty of classrooms, but this is the first classroom I can say is ‘my classroom.’ That is definitely an exciting prospect. At the same time, it’s a little overwhelming. Now that it is my classroom, I’m the one who decides what goes on the walls. I’m the one who decides who’s going to sit where, when they come back to school. And how things are going to be organized. How should I arrange the furniture? So, it’s a little overwhelming, but I’m excited to be in my classroom for the first time.”

Lang: “Walking in it was so surreal and know that none of our students will actually be attending. Walking into the school and just seeing what it was like when they left it in March because they haven’t been able to get into classrooms. It’s just crazy. It’s an unbelievable experience that no one has ever had to go through. I felt for the teacher that still have things from their students last year and walking in knowing you’ll never be able to work with those students or get that proper goodbye was really hard.”

What do you think you’ll be feeling on the first day when you sit down to teach in front of your camera?

Lang: “I’m a little bit nervous about how I’m going to feel about that day. As of right now, I’m so excited to meet the kiddos and get into the school year. But once we get there, I think it will be a little more realistic.”

Veteran teachers vs. First Year Teachers

Milchman: “I think while I am a new teacher, veteran teachers are in a fairly similar position to me right now in the fact that they also have very little experience teaching online. This is new for them also. And it does in a sense even the playing field that way. They have lots of experience teaching in the classroom with students, with curriculum and with the resources that we have, but they have a similar amount of experience to me with online instruction. After interacting with teachers here at school and during orientation, really what’s on everyone’s mind is ‘How can I best support my students and their families?’”

How did the first day of school go?

Milchman: “I am pretty relieved to be honest. I think we did a lot of work leading up to this and we didn’t really know if it was going to go. If we would get students? If they would be able to log in? My co-teacher and I together have 33 students and we’ve seen 31 of them today. So we are calling that a win.”

Lang: “It was kind of frustrating and you want to engage with them as much as possible with the kids. So, when you are having technical difficulties, it was really hard to keep the kids engaged while trying to figure out, ‘What am I going to do if this doesn’t work?’”

Both Milchman and Lang encourage parents to keep an open dialogue with teachers this year. Many districts are offering an abundance of resources for parents who may be struggling with technology or helping their students with assignments. In Sun Prairie, Lang said teachers are constantly checking emails to offer help and guidance. She also said in Kindergarten, they are offering small groups and even one-on-one virtual sessions for students. In Beloit, Milchman said teachers are offering office hours in the late afternoon and early evening to address parents' concerns.

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