By: Audrey Lent, Student Teacher, Santa Ynez Valley Union High School
Before I started student teaching in January, I met with my co-teacher, and we discussed what class I would take over first when I started my term at Santa Ynez Valley Union High School. When she told me that she had a Veterinary Science class, my heart nearly leaped out of my chest – I loved working with animals, and had taught animal science courses at summer camps, so I knew it was a subject I would be confident teaching. Everything about that class was amazing from day one. The students were highly engaged, the activities I developed for each day were creative and hands-on, and I walked out of that classroom every day feeling as if I was on top of the world.
Fast forward to the beginning of April, and my once unshakeable confidence was gone. One memory stands out in particular – I was holding a Zoom meeting with that same Veterinary Science class, and we were reaching the end of our lesson. I asked the students if there was anything I needed to clarify before I ended “class” for the day. There was a long, silent pause before one student said that she did not have a question, but a comment, she wanted to thank me for running the online class so smoothly. This was the only class of hers that met regularly, she said, and the expectations and directions for the weekly assignments were always clear and easy to understand. I thanked her, quickly reminded students to email me if they had any concerns about their work, hopped off Zoom, sank down on my living room floor and cried.
I can only describe my feelings in that moment as an overwhelming sense of inadequacy. I did not think I was deserving of that praise, the work I was assigning to my students mainly consisted of online activities and discussions. I was trying to make the work as entertaining and experiential as possible,encouraging students to bring their pets to Zoom meetings and demonstrate for their classmates the skills they we were learning, using online games to enhance lectures, but it felt like the class was a shadow of what it had once been.
However, feeling sorry for myself wasn’t getting me anywhere, so I turned to the almighty Google for answers. I typed “struggling to teach during the pandemic” into the search bar, and at the top of the search was an article from Edutopia called “Teaching Through a Pandemic: A Mindset for This Moment”. A comprehensive piece by former high school teacher Stephen Merrill, the article shined a spotlight on the exact problem that I and thousands of other teachers are struggling with, and more importantly, how to address it.
The first step Merrill identified is to acknowledge that these are unprecedented times we are living in, and the transition to online learning is not seamless. We all need time to adjust our teaching styles, and it is unrealistic to expect ourselves to make that change overnight. Giving ourselves time and the grace needed to make mistakes will help us learn from these experiences so that we can continue to become better.
Secondly, we have to remember to ask for help. This was the hardest step for me to take, I did not feel it was fair to burden my co-teachers with my problems when they already had so much on their plate, but their responses were overwhelmingly positive. We now have scheduled regular weekly meetings on Zoom and communicate via email and phone almost daily. Having this support has helped me immensely, and has reminded me how important it is to reach out to others who have been struggling during this time.
This brings me to the final point of Merrill’s article: remembering our purpose. Ultimately, we are all in this profession for one reason, and that is to create a brighter future for our students. That goal has not changed during the transition to online learning, and it should continue to be our guiding light during these dark times. We did not enter into this profession because we thought it would be easy, we did it because we understand the difference that an agriculture teacher can make in the lives of students. They might not get to participate in the labs, class discussions, and extracurricular activities that they used to, but that does not mean that our students have stopped learning. They are going to continue to look to their teachers for guidance, and although we are uncertain of what happens next, we must take strides to reset our mindset and continue to be the mentors and role models our students deserve.
For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit http://calagteachers.org/