Matt Pope, who spent a year in the Peace Corps (Honduras), has been teaching with SVUSD for 21 years.
Q: During this very challenging year of Distance Learning, what are some of the ways you have tried to keep your students engaged? What worked? What did not?
A: I always strive to make things fun and humorous for the students. We never know what is truly happening at home so I like to lighten things up. I always start the day off with a song of the day and talk about the artist briefly. This will often turn into a spontaneous dance party. It's very fun to see kids jumping around in their little boxes. Our grade level has also found time each week for our students to meet in breakout rooms just to socialize. They get to pick who they want to be with and there are no guidelines as far as what they talk about. This, we have found, has been something that they look forward to and helps address the void of the social-emotional component of learning that so many students are lacking right now.
Another thing that has worked well is having "Virtual Field Trips" each Friday. We always try to tie them to what we are learning about. For instance, our theme last week for language arts was the different ways that you could fly so we showed them a live video of a hot air balloon over Sonoma Valley and skydivers in wingsuits soaring the cliffs of Sweden. These field trips are always a great way to start a Friday.
What has been challenging is trying to give help to the students that need it. Some subjects are extremely more difficult to teach online than others. Math, for instance, is probably what stands out the most. Trying to reteach concepts without having the manipulatives for the younger ones and not being able to see what they are doing in real time also adds to the frustration. Apps like Kami, Dreambox, and Bridges Math Apps are definitely helpful but not in comparison to what we have and use in the classroom.
It's also been difficult to meet the needs of the students who don't have parent support at home. Many of my students are with grandparents, neighbors, or in a different place everyday. I think that this is a hard way for a student to find a rhythm with their learning when they are trying to attend class in a noisy multipurpose room, at home with younger siblings, or even at times in the back of the car as it is driving.
Q: Is there something that was introduced during online learning that you hope remains when students return to class?
A: I would like for the district to consider using Zoom and Google Meet for things like parent conferences. I think for some parents having that flexibility to be able to connect with their teacher via a device would be very practical for those that have a hardship of meeting during the day. As far as learning goes, I would hope that certain online learning platforms could still be made available. Things like EPIC, Raz-Kids, Dreambox and many others are excellent resources for reading and for math practice. They make it easy for teachers to monitor progress and provide assistance. Platforms like this would be great to supplement the learning happening in the classroom.
I would hope that we would consider having students and adults wear masks during the flu/cold season. Now that masks are normalized why don't we make this a standard practice at schools during the winter months? If a child is sick and cannot stay home, is it too much to ask them to wear a mask while inside the classroom? This is the first time in over 21 years teaching that I haven't had a cold. Knowing how much learning is lost due to sickness, I think it's something worth considering.
Q: What are you most excited about when you and students return to school?
A: I am most excited to hear student chatter, laughter, and just to see them physically. I am also excited to be able to teach someone and not be at the mercy of having to share my screen, or unmute my mic, or turn on my camera, and not being interrupted by slow internet connection.
Q: Anything else that you would like to share with the community?
A: I want the community to know that Sonoma teachers are very dedicated and care deeply for their students and families. I can't think of any teacher (except for the ones that have specific needs that factor into whether or not they can return) that would prefer to finish the school year this way. We have been wanting to come back for a long time now and we are happy that this is finally happening safely and that teachers have been able to cooperatively work with district administrators so that we have a say in what our work conditions will be.
Lastly, COVID 19 has highlighted the inequity that exists between the haves and have nots. This is very evident in Sonoma Valley. The students in my class who are going to be the least affected by this are mostly the same ones that are consistently showing up for class and turning in their work. In almost all of these cases, these students have at least 1 parent at home that can help and can afford faster internet. Many of these families are not burdened by having to physically show up to be able to work. How are we as a community going to address this inequality as we move forward?