By Jack Abells
Graphic By Jane Wilson
Teachers and students have now made it a whole semester through distance learning this year. Having made it this far in such a strange format of school, there’s wonder as to how teachers have been affected by distance learning. Kerry Ginsberg, a teacher of Human & Social Development and English, kindly gave her perspective on Zoom school for past, present, and future.
Ginsberg explained that when campus was first closed last year, her initial approach to distance learning was to do things similarly to in-person school. She tried to make things feel normal for her students, “Keep having class, do the same lectures I would have done otherwise, but take away some of the intensity and stress as far as grading and assignments. Basically I wanted to make sure my students still had access to the material, but without overwhelming them or stressing them out.” As this year began she explained her slightly developed teaching style. “My approach is still very similar to that! Obviously now that we are back to letter grades, I am taking the grading part a little more seriously, but I am still trying to reduce the workload as much as possible. My goal is to make sure the vast majority of work occurs during class time, while being as engaging as possible.”
Contrasted to last year’s lack of schedule, Ginsberg prefers the consistency of this school year’s structure. With regards to this year’s setup versus last year’s she said, “Honestly, I like Canvas. It’s pretty well set up and makes things really clear. It’s a million times better than School Loop.” However, there will always be struggles with distance learning. “A huge challenge has been reaching a few students who don’t log in or don’t respond to emails. It’s also a personal challenge for me to feel like I’m ‘talking into the void’ – not being able to hear student voices, laughter as often because people mostly need to be muted in order to avoid echoing. The chat feature is a positive though; I get a lot of student participation that way. I do anonymous questions a lot, so that students get a chance to ask the things they really care about.”
After a full semester of teaching online, Ginsberg can reflect on her experience. “Overall, this semester has been both very challenging and a lot smoother than I expected,” she said, emphasizing duality. “The hardest parts of the semester for me were the ‘other’ life parts — uncertainty about what school would look like next semester, trying to help my son with Zoom kindergarten, and not being able to see friends and family due to Covid-19. The actual teaching part of my life, the time spent on Zoom with my students, was honestly often the best part of my day.” She can also look ahead, towards how this can improve her teaching later on. “In the future, my class will be a blend of the pen-and-paper activities I’m used to doing and the more tech-heavy stuff I’ve been doing this semester.”
Even in this arduous year, Ginsberg and other teachers have found some good in it. “One thing I’ll say having just given finals for a semester-long class: I’m surprised by how well I got to know my students this semester, even over Zoom. I still prefer in-person of course, but in some ways, Zoom is more personal than being in class — seeing students in their homes, with their pets and families, having them ‘chat’ me their thoughts directly. There has also been a strong feeling for me in my classes of ‘2020 is rough, but at least we’re all in it together.’ I’m going to miss these kids!”