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Teachers adapting to new normal

From an increased need to use technology to practicing social distancing, the start of the semester has brought new challenges for teachers.

Picayune Memorial High School Spanish teacher Patti Argueta said she starts class by spritzing her students’ hands with sanitizer as they file into the room. When she forgets, the class is quick to remind her.

“I’m amazed at how willing these children that come to us everyday, how willing they are to really cooperate,” she said. “I think this whole situation has really hit everybody’s reset button…I think they appreciate what being together in school really means now. They had maybe taken it for granted before, but they really understand that the rules in place are meant to help them and they’re willing to do that.”

Seventh grade English teacher Kerrie Snider said her students at Picayune Junior High have also been cooperative with COVID prevention measures like face masks.

“I think they’ve seen the importance of wearing them,” said Snider.

With 27 years of teaching experience, one challenge for her has been teaching distance learners. Teachers are using tools like Google classroom to create a welcoming virtual classroom for students and to post assignments. She uses Google meet to talk face to face online with students who are learning from home, Snider said.

“That has taken work and that’s a little extra work for us, but as long as we get to teach the kids, that’s really all that matters,” she said.

School days in the district are shorter to allow extra time for students to be transported and for teachers to work with distance learners.

Balancing teaching in-person students with virtual learners is a little like a juggling act, said Argueta. She was able to improve her skill with distance learning tools through a week-long training provided by the school district in June.

“I’m sort of old school when it comes to some of those things, the ways that I’ve approached education. Out of a very difficult situation, I have grown as an educator,” said Argueta.

Snider said she used some of the virtual learning tools in her classroom prior to the pandemic, but isn’t as familiar with them as some of her colleagues.

PJ Williams, a fifth grade teacher at South Side Upper Elementary, has used Google classroom in her class regularly for the last three years. When teachers and schools had to adapt on the fly in the spring, Williams said students at her school were already pretty familiar with Google classroom.
Although she’s well versed in the technology, not being able to have the virtual learners in her classroom to interact with on a regular basis has been a challenge, she said.

“As teachers we want so much to be in the room with students,” said Williams.

The physical classroom has also undergone changes. Williams had to remove a table where she worked with small groups to create extra space for social distancing, while Arugeta had to rearrange the desks in her room so that students would not face each other during class.

Instead of walking across her room through rows of students from white board to smart board, Argueta sticks to the smart board on one side of the room.

The cozy reading corner in Williams’ room is out of commission for the semester, and tables are divided into quadrants with colorful tape to keep students out of each other’s space.

Students have to follow new rules like drinking out of water bottles instead of water fountains and not sharing classroom supplies with their neighbors. Teachers have to follow new rules too, like cleaning their classroom in between each class.

“There are a lot of T’s to cross and I’s to dot to make sure that we’re doing everything that we need to do…that being said it’s exciting to be back in the classroom again,” said Argueta. “For people that teach, being outside of the classroom is kind of a drag.”

Williams said one of her biggest challenges is not being able to high five her students anymore.

“As silly as that sounds, for a lot of our kids they like that high five and interactions like that. You have to remind yourself no high fives…We’ve compensated—we air five and foot bump,” she said.

Although the increased focus on sanitation has changed the way teachers and students celebrate, Williams said it has been nice to have students become so conscientious of hand hygiene. Even though it is an unusual year, her students are enjoying the normalcy of being back in school and around their friends, said Williams.

“Seeing the kids smiling has been a highlight for me,” said Snider. “I have enjoyed seeing their faces and enjoyed getting back to normal routine.”