Year Two – Distance Learning, Say What?

By: Sierra Hawkesworth, Agricultural Educator, Foothill High School

As a young agricultural educator, we find ourselves in times of trials and tribulations on almost a daily basis. We finish final student teaching and are desperately seeking the next steps in our career path. We find ourselves in job interviews, accepting job offers, and signing contracts. The excitement sets in with having our very first classroom. Areas are designated as the turn in area, supply area, bulletin boards, storage, lab stations, and more. Days turn into weeks, weeks into quarters, and quarters into semesters. In that first year, we have created relationships, built teams, grown as educators, and watched our students grow alongside us. We have just begun to find our place within our new school, chapter, and department. Year two comes hurling at us faster than we expected. More responsibilities begin to be added to the plate, yet we are prepared, being a bit more grounded than the year prior. What none of us were ready for was March of 2020. 

Rolling into spring semester as an agricultural educator is hectic. There are field days to plan for, speaking contests, state conference, banquets, and more. Our families and spouses know after February 1, they will hardly see us again until May 15. We are programmed to understand this lifestyle, yet what we weren’t prepared for was a term that has been thrown our way the few months more times than we can count, “Distance Learning”. In a matter of weeks, the entire state went from on campus, face-to-face teaching to almost 100% virtual communication. Social distancing and a pandemic hit our country like a wave crashing to shore. Yet, here I am as a second year teacher still feeling a bit unsure in my practices, curriculum and confidence in teaching, to now have to modify everything that has been done to accommodate technology and no face-to-face interaction. How is this to be expected? How do I move forward? As agricultural educators we are lucky to have the community that shares and helps in any way they can. So as a second year teacher what can I do to help myself, my fellow teachers, and my students make this adjustment as seamless as possible? The first item I must master is virtual communication. 

Virtual Communication

Communication is a key factor into making virtual teaching successful. Luckily, I already use technology within my classroom which  made this transition from classroom to online easier for my students. Google Classroom is something my students had used on a weekly basis the first three quarters of the school year. They were already familiar with how it operates, where to look for updates as well as turning in assignments. Using this platform was the easiest transition for my students. Yet questions began to arise of how I was going to continue to provide content, lecture, host discussion, encourage interaction, and conversation among my students. Virtual meetings were necessary and there are a handful of platforms that make this possible.The first option I utilized with my students was Google Meet. It allows students to join and see each other face to face, have interactions, provides myself a way to give context to assignments that have been posted, answer questions and more. The next suggestion I received for reaching students on different platforms was creating an Instagram account that was specifically for my classes. I created this account to provide information, links and more to my students in an efficient and effective manner. It also allows me to engage with my students in a more carefree, relaxed setting. It also allows them to come together virtually as friends and create posts for the photo challenges. 

Consistency

Consistency is something that the students now lack in their daily lives. They cannot leave the house, they cannot see their friends, they cannot do the task that they were used to seeing on a daily basis. If this is something that we as advisors can continue to provide the students with, then it may just help ease the struggle of transitioning to this new reality. By making meeting times the same from week- to- week, keeping assignments due on the same day from week-to-week, having office hours consistently and being there when they need us, students will prosper. It is an uncertain time for us all, but consistency will not only help the students, but also us as educators. 

Compassion

Compassion is one item that this world needs the most of right now. Showing compassion to our students during this difficult time will allow them to feel cared for. It will show them how to be compassionate towards others and begin to build a healthy culture not only within your classes, but among their friends and family. Being in their home 24 hours a day, 7 days a week with the same people is going to cause tension. By allowing these students to come to you during their class sessions using different platforms will allow them a break. You showing that compassion and checking in on their wellbeing will allow them to start breaking down their emotions and easing the anxiety they are holding in.  

Virtual communication, consistency, and compassion make this time of difficulty easier. Utilizing applications such as Google Meet and Google Classroom, Instagram, and more will help students feel connected. Our students need us to be consistent and compassionate with all the chaos happening in the world. They are scared and uncertain of all that is appearing on social media. If we can create consistency in their life pertaining to school then it might help ease the tension. In the end, all we can do as professionals is come together, use the resources we have available and to end this year in the most positive way for our students, making sure they know that someone cares.

For more information about the California Agricultural Teachers’ Association, visit http://calagteachers.org/

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