BALTIMORE COUNTY, Md. — We're getting closer to the start of the school year and since Baltimore County Public Schools aren't going to be in the classrooms, teachers are spending every second until the first day making sure they're prepared.
"The whole things just surreal, honestly. I was really hoping we’d get back into the building at least in a hybrid model for the fall," said Lisa Berkun, a fifth grade teacher at Wellwood International School. She added, "I’ve been teaching almost, it will be 20 years now and to not start a school year in a building is odd. It feels like there’s something’s missing."
Because of the coronavirus pandemic, Baltimore County Schools are starting this school year virtually. So instead of Berkun decorating her classroom, like she usually does a few weeks before school, she's planning the semester in her home office and she wants all of her students to find their own work space at home too.
"You should be in that same spot every day, that way you’re consistent. I know where to look for you, keep an eye on you and that way you’re ready for school just like I would expect you in your same seat every day," said Berkun. The goal is to make virtually learning as close to a regular school day as possible. So she plans on starting everyday like she normally does, with a morning meeting. She said, "it's just used to get the day going. we may go over whats on the agenda for the day, we may discuss if there's a situation kids are worried about. It’s a way for kids and teachers to check in with each other."
The focus is on engaging with the students. So as Berkun reviews new curriculum and works on lesson plans, she's also looking at what worked and didn't work last semester when classes abruptly stopped.
"One of the things I found really helpful, as students were doing class work I had them hold it up to their individual camera so I could see how they were progressing just as if I was walking around the classroom so I could see where gaps were in understanding or if a student was doing really well and maybe needed a little more enrichment," said Berkun. She added, "I also learned that sometimes you have to improvise cause digital instruction doesn’t always translate exactly right."
Berkun also started using her virtual office hours as a time for small group lessons. Something Abbey Metcalf said is important to develop a better relationship with students, since you don't have in person interactions.
"Those little moments are really where you get to form those relationships and form that trust and those little tiny moments are so important and when we are online it’s this kind of this rapid fire trying to get everything across that you want academically so i think you have to be purposefully to build in time to have those conversations," said Metcalf. She was a teacher of the year finalist for the 2019-2020 school year and has been a teacher at Relay Elementary for ten years. Now, she also is consulting teacher.
Metcalf has been evaluating her teaching methods to better engage the students, really get them involved, so they're not just staring at a computer all day.
"What was the intent of what I was teaching? What was the impact of it? Can I carry that impact forward in an online format and what is the best way to deliver that? Because we don't get them as long online. I don't have my kids all day. I don't get to walk them down the hall and have those conversations with so I want to make sure I'm building those relationships and that I'm getting the content across," said Metcalf.
Each teacher is working to figure out how to best reach their students and make kids want to log on every day.
"It’s going to be challenging, doesn’t mean we can’t do it. It just means we have to a work a little bit harder," said Berkun.