Reflections from Payton teachers on the 2020-2021 school year: remote learning

By Alexis Park, Copy Editor

Math teacher Mx.  Lee utilized Peardeck, an interactive presentation tool.

Relentless. Stressful. Exhausting. Depressing. These are all words Payton teachers have used to describe the 2020-2021 online year. Not only have students been feeling detached and unmotivated this year, but remote learning has taken a toll on their educators as well. 

Payton has utilized Google Meet, an online video-communication service, throughout remote learning. However, interactions between educators and students were much more limited, even through such programs. “The disruption to relationship building for both teachers and students felt like an insurmountable obstacle to good teaching and learning.” English teacher Ms. Molly Spooner said. 

Other teachers agreed, such as Physical Education teacher Ms. Rebecca Annunzio, who noted the absence of cameras made it hard to know if students were even present. “I found it very difficult to build relationships with my students,” she said. It was tiring and I felt very underappreciated by much of society and those outside the teaching and learning communities.” 

Several teachers have utilized several learning platforms and functions in order to overcome such obstacles: one being unmuting. Teachers have noted that unmuting in class had seemed unnatural to students, creating yet another obstacle toward more “normal” interactions between teachers and students. In getting their students more involved, mathematics teacher Mx. Lee used Peardeck, an interactive presentation tool that allows teachers to view and follow along with student work. Mx. Lee says that this tool was huge for them, as it “[helped] in getting remote students engaged and responsive if they were not fond of unmuting.” 

Annunzio used the Google Meet ‘poll’ function often, as it allowed her to  “get quick feedback from students or allow them to vote for what we were going to do for the day.” Google Meet functions like breakout rooms and screen sharing, as well as other programs like Jamboard, a digital whiteboard, were also used to simulate a standard classroom setting. 

Curriculum for certain classes were much more adaptable to remote learning, whereas other classes had to completely revamp their curriculum. “We slowed down and covered far less than normal, but I don’t think [changing the curriculum] was harmful,” social studies teacher Mr. Aaron Weiss said. “I think it was essential to keep things in perspective of everything going on and make sure that class was do-able for everyone.” 

In contrast, Ms. Annunizo said that the curriculum for her PE I class completely changed. “Our content for PE I is usually a lot of team sports activities, skills and games, however we were not able to do that this year [due to remote learning].” Instead, PE I shifted to a more fitness focused curriculum with more student engaging choice options. 

The overall online format during lessons was described by Mx. Lee was “relatively well, but it never felt comfortable.” They described the lesson as “a house of cards,” always feeling that the entire lesson could come crashing down at any moment. “The fact that it rarely did so didn’t do much to alleviate the constant fear that it would. In the end it was good enough, and after this year, I firmly believe that good enough is good enough,” they said.

Teachers that held enrichments and managed clubs over remote learning, such as Ms. Spooner, who manages the Payton Advisory Leaders (PALs), said that during the seminar, PALs turned their cameras on in order to replicate the bonding that is usually present in person. “I think many of us looked forward to the difference it made to connect to one another every two weeks.” Ms. Spooner said. 

Teachers are also hopeful about students returning to a traditional school model next year, as Payton has transitioned to a hybrid setting to finish off the 2020-2021 school year. 

When thinking about next year, Mx. Lee is looking forward to covering more topics that were removed due to COVID-19. “I also look forward to thinking about the changes that we were forced to make because of the nature of the year and thinking about which ones would be beneficial for students to continue when we return,” Mx. Lee said. “As bad as this year (and a half) might have been at times, it did force us to shake up our curriculums and force us out of our established paradigms.” 

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