COVID-19 Challenges Educators to be Innovative in Hard Times

Posted on October 1, 2020 by Amber Day
Amber Day

Courteney Thompson teaching on video data-lightbox='featured'

The COVID-19 pandemic has challenged educators throughout the world. The College of Education and Professional Studies reached out to Department of Leadership and Teacher Education alumni to share their experiences and words of encouragement.

Courteney Thompson (pictured above) graduated in 2017 from the College of Education and Professional Studies with a bachelor’s in elementary education (K-6) and collaborative teacher education. Thompson is currently a graduate student at South in the elementary education program. She has taught kindergarten at Griggs Elementary for three years.

Thompson shared that her school adjusted during the pandemic according to their students' specific needs. “We know our students and parents very well, and we knew that we needed more than one way to provide them with instruction and resources during this pandemic. Along with blended learning instruction, we also offered a weekly STAR TV that provided updates and information for parents during this time. We also utilized great tech apps such as Google Classroom and SeeSaw.”

During the spring semester, Thompson taught on mcpssTV, an opportunity for local students in grades Pre-K through 11 to watch lessons taught by master teachers online and on TV. Thirty of Thompson’s lessons were broadcast on Comcast (channel 15), AT&T U-verse (on-demand channel 99), Mediacom (channel 81), Roku boxes, Fox 10’s channel 10.6, WJTC’s UTV 44, and MCPSS Facebook Live.

“The biggest challenge was not only taking care of my students, but preparing well-planned lessons to broadcast online and on television for kindergarten students in Mobile County,” Thompson said. “Shortly after broadcasting started, we received emails from parents who were watching in Baldwin County and even in neighboring states. It was critical to make sure every lesson was purposeful and provided an attainable learning target.” 

South alumnus Eddie Tyler has served as superintendent for Baldwin County Public Schools since 2015. Tyler is a veteran of Baldwin County Public Schools, having served 25 years in the school system before he became superintendent of the Eufaula City School System in February 2012. In his tenure as an educator, Tyler has served as a teacher, bus driver, assistant coach, athletic director, and head football, baseball, soccer, tennis and track coach. He has also served as an assistant principal for seven years, a high school principal for five years, and for four years, prior to Eufaula, as assistant superintendent of the Baldwin County School System.

Tyler worked at the end of the 2019-2020 school year as an encouraging leader to move instruction fully online. “First, Baldwin County Public Schools have been blessed to have a school board that understands the importance of one on-one technology. If all students had not had a device to use at home, our job would have been much more difficult. Additionally, our teachers went above and beyond. They scheduled ‘office time’ for parents and called all students once a week to provide instructional help. It has definitely been a team effort from all levels within our system.”

Managing WiFi access for students was the greatest challenge for Tyler during the last school year. “To make sure every child had the same opportunity, my curriculum team prepared paper packets for middle and high school students. That way, if a child did not have the internet access or if they simply felt more comfortable with the paper option, it was available. We also purchased workbooks for K-6 students.”

Stephanie Moye is a South alumna and Noyce Scholar who currently serves as a math teacher and assistant volleyball coach at Saraland High School. Moye shared her experiences and the challenges she overcame during the quick switch to online learning in March 2020. 

“It was an interesting adjustment trying to teach my students solely through online resources,” Moye said. “We were asked to personally contact each student to check on them and discuss the remainder of the year. We were asked to attempt this contact multiple times. While this was a big job to tackle, I am so thankful we did this. I was able to know how each student was doing personally and explain expectations and resources for the remainder of the year. We also mailed everything to each student.”

Moye teaches “Algebra 2 with Trigonometry” and “Dual Enrollment Elementary Statistics,” which can be challenging courses for students. She was creative in finding tools to teach students math online via Zoom. “I was able to help them in real time and answer specific questions, not just record a lesson and hope it made sense. Then, I learned about screen sharing. I was able to teach my students through a shared screen with a document camera. I would be talking to them, working a problem, and looking at their faces on small screens. They would be able to hear me, watch what I was doing at that moment, and ask questions. It was as close to a real classroom experience as we could get.”

Dr. Jeremiah Newell, a South alumnus who serves as superintendent of Mobile Area Education Foundation Public Charter Schools, said his team at Acceleration (ACCEL) Day and Evening Academy also worked creatively to overcome challenges during the pandemic. ACCEL Day and Evening Academy is a school that utilizes blended learning to help students move at their own pace. While the pandemic came as an unexpected disruption to normal operations, the faculty and staff quickly redeployed laptops and designed virtual learning courses. 

“Over the course of just a few days, we were able to reconnect with 100 percent of our scholars,” Newell said. “We tracked engagement weekly and found that 83 percent of our students were completing work on time. I am proud to say that our course passage did not drop during the pandemic, and we saw a record graduation rate for the school year. This happened because our team of educators were dedicated to student success, and we had clear systems of communication to keep everyone on the same page.”

ACCEL is Alabama’s first tuition-free public charter school that serves high school students in grades 9-12 from Mobile, Baldwin and Washington counties. Many of the students at ACCEL have struggled to be engaged in the traditional school environment, and the staff works hard to keep students motivated by creating a warm, supportive atmosphere. 

“We know every student,” Newell said. “We know their goals and their challenges, and we take a personal interest in seeing each child find success. Translating this school environment to the virtual setting was the biggest challenge. Our teachers and counselors were constantly calling, emailing, text messaging and hosting live class sessions and one-on-one counseling sessions to keep that warm environment present for students during these stressful times.”

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