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Q&A: Kalama teachers discuss  at-home learning
Q&A: Kalama teachers discuss at-home learning
Nick Shanmac
Friday, June 12, 2020

For Kalama School District teachers, the transition from traditional, in-person classroom learning to distance learning has presented both a series of challenges and opportunities. 

We asked our teachers to share some of their experiences with at-home learning this year, and here’s what they had to say:

What has the transition to distance learning looked like for your class?

Kristy Delashaw, English: Our transition from in person to online learning has certainly not been without a bit of trial and error on both sides. English was already using Google Classroom before covid-19, and we have continued to use it as our digital platform. The hardest part for me has been not being in daily contact with our kids. 

Bryce Pollock, Choir; Shop: For my shop classes I have been creating a series of instructional woodworking videos in my own shop. It has been fun to see student responses to videos come in and interact with them online. In choir we have done a lot of listening and analyzing exercises. We are also currently putting together a remote performance, so stay tuned!

Kelli MacLeod, Visual Arts; HS Yearbook: Individual packets of supplies and notebook materials for each student, demo videos on YouTube, and lots of late nights.

Francisco Patitz, Special Education: I just had to get comfortable with being on camera.

Jaime McNeil, Algebra 1; Geometry; Geometry in Construction: I have tried to maintain my normal style of instruction, just recorded and posted on our Google Classroom. Assignments for practice have been trickier, and I’ve been using Khan Academy so they get more immediate feedback than I’m able to give from a distance.

Nicole Becker, Alternative Learning; Academic Support: My transition to remote learning was a challenge. I miss my students. Online learning was basically what I did prior to school campuses being closed. I was responsible for 108 online classes before the closure. After remote learning was put in place, I now have 212 classes from 8th through 12th grade spanning all subjects matters. 

Chris Stone, Biology; Robotics; Natural Resources: Students have lessons once or twice a week, these lessons revolve around completing a virtual lab, coding, learning about drones, looking at video and PowerPoint lessons around forestry. Not a lot of common instructions between the various subjects. However, when doing a new task, I typically have a video introduction and a tutorial for students to watch, to help them out with completing the lesson.

What are your priorities as an educator when it comes to at-home learning? 

Jaime McNeil, Algebra 1; Geometry; Geometry in Construction: I want my students to have a consistent routine they can count on. I want them to know I am available to them and care about their needs – all while helping them to learn the basics of the remaining standards for my classes so they are better prepared for next year.

Lori Byrnes, Math: My biggest priority is to make sure students are safe and have everything they need, and then I want to keep them motivated to learn. I want them to realize the importance of their education and how much teachers care about them.

Sucrea Hutchinson, Kindergarten: My students’ health, happiness and safety are top priorities, even more so since I don’t have a daily connection with each student. I want to help parents become the teacher that works best for their student. This type of learning isn't the best for quite a few students. I want to make sure that I am available to try to help learning continue and be as smooth as possible. We don't want tears!

Kelli MacLeod, Visual Arts; HS Yearbook: To keep kids creating as much as possible, building their artistic skills and appreciation, and just making sure that each student has the materials needed to do so.

Francisco Patitz, Special Education: I just want to make sure that each family is getting exactly what they need.

Bryce Pollock, Choir; Shop: As a teacher of electives, I want students to remain passionate about my subjects. Shop and Choir are an outlet for student creativity and from the get-go I wanted to avoid giving them material that felt like busy work. When we return to a normal schedule I would like to have students be excited to get back to singing or building, not disenchanted by it because the online work didn't feel authentic. 

Nicole Becker, Alternative Learning; Academic Support: My priorities are to keep caring, keep connecting and keep teaching students. In addition to that, it is a priority of mine to also connect with parents to help then in any way I can. These times are difficult and if I can make it more manageable, I will.

Kristy Delashaw, English: My highest priority has been the kids! The well-being of students and their families impact each and every decision I make. I'm not perfect at it, but whenever I interact with kids and families I try to look through the lens of emotional health. 

Chris Stone, Biology; Robotics; Natural Resources: My main priority, especially for 9th Grade, is to prepare them for 10th Grade and science as they advance through high school. 9th Grade Biology is ecology-based, and we are currently learning about human impact on the environment. This is something they will deal with for the rest of their lives. Understanding these concepts will hopefully make them better citizens of the world. 

How has this experience changed your perspective? 

Katy Pietsch, 2nd Grade: I’ve learned that I am absolutely fueled by the daily interactions with my students; the high fives, the hugs, the laughs that I was able to share with my second graders each day.  If I could wave a magic wand and put things back to “normal,” I would happily trade these (although wonderful) unlimited bathroom breaks and everyday “Pajama Days” in a heartbeat!

Sharon Irwin, Algebra I & II; Math Fundamentals: Teachers and students are learning to use more online resources than ever before. Some of that is good, as I have been recommending Khan Academy for years, but not as an assignment. Also, students and teachers are learning to communicate in more ways. I’ve heard from some students more than I ever did in class as they were very quiet. Others far less.

Caitlin Sonn, English: I like having online lectures available to students. I also really like using the question feature on Google Classroom. It is really cool to have access to a running list of student ideas and for students' peers to be able to easily access these ideas and comment on them. It is a good record of student learning and a great formative assessment. I also like talking to kids using video. I have been working one-on-one with some students, and they have really been doing some of their best work. I also like having students submit work on Google Classroom. I can give them immediate feedback and return work immediately. I think the Google Classroom component has made me an even more organized teacher.

Bryce Pollock, Choir; Shop: It has made me think more critically about my woodworking techniques in my home shop. One of the results of making a video that contains a bad habit or unsafe technique is that it can be repeatedly watched online for the rest of time. It has also made me realize that access to fast internet would be really useful for everybody to have!

Lori Byrnes, Math: It has really just solidified the fact that relationships are key in teaching.

Colene Risner, 2nd Grade: Personally, I am still trying to wrap my head around just being a teacher! I graduated with my teaching degree in Dec. 2019, started substitute teaching for Kalama School District and Kelso School District immediately, and was then hired as a long-term sub by Kalama for the rest of the school year the day before they announced the first school closures. This is my first experience with a classroom of my own. I can tell you that I am extremely thankful for the amazing 2nd Grade team of teachers I have, and a school district that has tackled this hurdle head on.  

Sucrea Hutchinson, Kindergarten: I have always appreciated a relationship with parents, but I think we have even more of a connection now. They are learning how their child is as a student while I am getting to see how students are at home and their interactions with family. It is really seeing the child as a whole instead of just a student.

What's your advice to families who are still trying to adjust to this model? 

Nicole Becker, Alternative Learning; Academic Support: Reach out and ask questions; we are here to help. I know this is hard on you, but we are Kalama strong and we will all get through this together.

Kelli MacLeod, Visual Arts; HS Yearbook: Set a schedule, stick to it and stay patient. Stay in contact with teachers by sharing questions and concerns; we want to help however we can, but can't if we don’t know you are struggling. But to please remember that we too are learning through all this as well, and a little grace is appreciated.

Francisco Patitz, Special Education: Just do the best that you can. Don't feel bad if you can't do everything that some other parents might be doing. Try to have a schedule so that each day looks as similar as possible. Do whatever works best for you, whether it is accessing online work or having your child read books to you and some worksheets.

Jaime McNeil, Algebra 1; Geometry; Geometry in Construction: Be patient and compassionate with yourself. If you need a break, take a break. Rest assured, teachers are still trying to adjust too; we are all just doing the best we can. Some tips that may help your student focus better with less anxiety:

  • If possible, help your student find a dedicated workspace. This space is only for school work, so they know when they are there, it’s school time.

  • Help them set a routine that isn’t overwhelming. Maybe one hour in the morning and one in the afternoon. Outside of those times, they are free to rest their brains.

  • To help them organize their minds, have them pick one or two classes to work on per day.

  • Find opportunities for them to go outside, even just to walk the dog or get the mail.

But most of all, take care of yourself and each other. Reach out to your student’s teacher(s) if you need help or flexibility. If your children are older, encourage them to do that. We understand that things are weird right now and we will help however we are able.

Ronda Christensen, 1st Grade: Don’t push yourself to a breaking point. Do what you can and understand that’s okay. Continue to communicate with your teacher!

Lizzie Sheldon, Special Education: Just do your best. If that means not everything gets done, it's okay. Ask your child's teacher for help prioritizing the assignments. We are here to support you! And read, read, read!


Note: A shortened version of this article appears in the district’s June 2020 Hilltopics newsletter.