The Laboratory Schools within the College of Education have a wealth of excellent teachers who are going above and beyond in extremely difficult times. We wanted to check in with just a few of these teachers to see how they are coping, to hear about any discoveries they have made throughout this process, and to find out how they are able to keep students engaged so learning can continue.  Our teacher list included:

  • April Davenport, MS ’05, interventionist and MakerSpace teacher, Metcalf
  • Megan Fleri-Sommers, business and social science teacher, University High School (U-High)
  • Andy Goveia ’13, M.S. ’18, Middle school social studies teacher, Metcalf
  • Lin Lin, Mandarin teacher, Metcalf and U-High
  • Brian Rohman, English teacher, U-High
  • Donieka Solberg, chemistry teacher, U-High
  • David Sulzberger, band and chorus teacher, Metcalf
  • Jessica York, first grade teacher, Metcalf

How has your teaching changed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?

Goveia—My teaching has changed in a few different ways, but making the call about which activities or ways of addressing content, including what standards to focus on assessing, has been the biggest change.

York —My goal was to keep remote teaching and learning as simple as possible for my first graders and their families. Providing more wait time was necessary because they were using technology new to them.

Davenport —Aside from not being on my feet walking around the classroom, one change is that parents are definitely more involved in their child’s learning than before. During a typical year, the parents and I meet about every six weeks to discuss their child’s progress, but now I see them at least once a week in a Zoom and can chat with them.

Sulzberger —Traditional music rehearsals were no longer possible via Zoom. So flipping the classroom and motivating the students to discover, create, evaluate, and take more responsibility for their improvement became the challenge.

Solberg —We tend to focus on inquiry and student exploration in science, but when students are completely virtual, we’ve had to adapt these activities tremendously to provide more support and scaffolding.

What is something specific that you’ve had to get creative/innovative about in your teaching during this time? Will you keep doing it once the world gets back to normal?

Goveia—Innovation for me has occurred in structuring activities so that they can be done either on or off Zoom depending on how students are participating. When back to normal, I plan to keep working more on how my activities and lesson structures can be changed and adaptive for all my students, regardless of their learning style and not just the learning platform.

Fleri-Sommers—I’ve had to find new ways to create relationships with students. Sometimes this is students letting me know how they’re doing on a funny scale or just telling me one high and one low they’ve experienced recently. I’ll share my own as well so the communication isn’t a one way street.

Sulzberger—In the spring, I was intent on giving students a year end concert experience. I immediately started learning how to create virtual concerts on Adobe Premier Pro. The recording process was a great learning experience for students with following instructions, playing with a click track and reference recording, and self-evaluation to make their best recordings. I often flip my class for concert evaluations, but the additional requirements required to make a virtual performance is a great process to continue exploring for student learning.

Lin—I have taken our students on a virtual field trip in Zoom to the Chicago Field Museum, and our students have met in Zoom with peer students in China. I have held virtual learning sessions from my home in which students learn Chinese art and Chinese food preparation. I definitely hope to keep doing these things once the world gets back to normal because it is more fun.  

Solberg—We have certainly had to get creative with online “labs”. There are a lot of simulations out there, some good and some bad, and sometimes the students get a lot out of them and sometimes very little. This has caused us to evaluate what we’re using for each lab and sometimes making our own videos of us completing the lab and providing students the data has been more successful.

How have you been able to keep students engaged during this time?

York—I teach in shorter segments, with activities that involve simple directions and have lots of movement. We take multiple breaks to stretch, dance, do yoga, play games, and eat snacks. I also send home materials that require fine motor practice like coloring, tracing, cutting, and gluing.

Fleri-Sommers—I try to use humor to keep students engaged, and I break up my 90 minute block period into a few different blocks of time with individual activities. Usually we will do an all class portion, a small group portion, and an individual portion of class so students aren’t doing one thing for 90 minutes.

Rohman—I have added structure to my group activities that I didn’t have before to help keep more students accountable during class AND be able to closely monitor their progress.

Lin—I have incorporated more movement into class, so I have students stand up to answer True for True/False questions. We also have scavenger hunts for items in the house to help students remember the Mandarin vocabulary for these items. And I have assigned students to complete video projects and to call each other to practice their Mandarin, which helps us learn about each other, create a community, and learn Mandarin. 

Solberg—I’ve learned it’s important to prioritize what I want students to be engaged in. If something is very important and I want their full attention, I have to make it short and put it at the beginning of class. This means I have to save time at the end of class for independent work time. Using this model on a daily basis has helped me keep students engaged in studying.

What would you say to other teachers to encourage them during these difficult times?

Goveia—You matter and your work matters – but this is hard right now and it’s ok to say it’s hard. And it’s 100% ok for you to not be ok 100% of the time. I’m certainly not.

York—I would encourage us all to give our students, their families, and ourselves grace. We are going to make mistakes and that’s okay. I tell my class this school year is new for everyone. We are learning and growing in this together.

Davenport—I don’t want to be trite, but teachers need to take care of themselves. It’s not uncommon for teachers to work more than their typical work week to make sure that their students’ needs are met. Something that has helped me is creating a good mood playlist and listening to those songs at least once a day.

Fleri-Sommers—Focus on relationships with students first and be flexible. Check in with them often and don’t be afraid to tell them how you’re doing as well. Being honest and real with students helps validate how they’re feeling as well.

Rohman—My teaching mentor, Mark Adams (who retired from the Lab Schools), always told me that everything else around teaching is noise and the only thing that matters at the end of the day is what is going on in a student’s mind. Students matter and their learning is not the same, but it is still happening. While things have been challenging for all teachers right now, our panel all echoed an appreciation for the grace, patience and kindness that they have been shown by students, parents, colleagues and administration as they navigate the teaching process right now. They are confident that teachers will continue to make the best of a difficult situation, and will turn challenges into learning opportunities for themselves and their students. A special thanks goes out to all Lab School faculty associates and staff for creating a great semester, despite facing many challenges.