Teachers Transition to Remote and Blended Learning

The Spectator conducted interviews with Stuyvesant teachers to gather their input about the upcoming school year.

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As Stuyvesant prepares for a unique school year with both blended and remote learning, teachers have spent time reflecting on the current circumstances. We conducted an interview with English teacher Annie Thoms and e-mail interviews with chemistry teacher Kristyn Pluchino, social studies teacher Svetlana Firdman, and one teacher who wished to remain anonymous to hear their thoughts.

How do you think the pandemic has changed the way that teachers will interact with students in the foreseeable future?

“Needless to say, teaching and learning virtually [have] changed teacher-student interactions dramatically. I think interactions will unfortunately be less personal and less frequent while virtual instruction is occurring. In many Google Meets, most of my students had their camera[s] and microphone[s] turned off. I absolutely respect their privacy, but it made me feel like I was teaching into a black hole. There is so much nonverbal feedback that teachers look for during a class that helps make a lesson personal, relevant, and engaging.” —Pluchino

“[Though teachers are continuing to teach virtually], I’m hopeful that the through-the-screen teaching that we have to do is going to feel more organized and robust than it did in the spring.” —Thoms

“Well, first and foremost, the pandemic has taken away the ability for classes to take place in person so therefore] teachers are now forced to interact with students digitally for the foreseeable future. The digital classroom makes it much more difficult to cultivate a sense of community and create the same rapport we may have had when classes took place in person every day.” —Firdman

“I think we will not see students in person since we are not teaching in the class with them, and I don't know if there are going to be opportunities for one-on-one tutoring.” —Anonymous

Do you think there are any positives to the new way of teaching?

“It was interesting to me as a teacher to see that some students who were very quiet in class discussion were much more participatory when it was on Google Classroom and when it was people chiming in and writing. I was able to see different kinds of participation from different students.” —Thoms

“Trying to find a silver lining under these circumstances is challenging. I think this means of teaching could potentially allow for more flexibility in a student's schedule with some classes being taught asynchronously (video lesson instead of live lesson) […] the biggest positive is that this way of teaching will help keep the most people—students, staff, and family members—safe and healthy.” —Pluchino

“The digital element has allowed for students to be able to have certain discussions and debates that we may otherwise not have had time for in the classroom. It is also easier to do activities, such as webquests and research, that require students to have individual access to the internet that we may not have access to in the classroom.” —Firdman

“I can get real-time feedback during a lesson since each student will be on a computer, so they can do things like answer polls. I can get more data than I normally would in a class where most of the in-class assessment was done by me asking questions and students raising their hands if they wanted to answer.” —Anonymous

How do you plan to support your students?

“It is my primary goal in the first few weeks to try to figure out ways both to get to know my students and for my students to get to know each other. Developing community is vital right now, and we need to use everything that we can possibly use in terms of online resources to try to develop that community.” —Thoms

“When we went virtual in March, I used video lessons for instruction, online assignments for assessment, and live optional extra help sessions twice a week to help answer questions. I made sure to reach out to students and parents when I had not received assignments to check in and make sure everything was OK. Overall, I got a lot of positive feedback from my sophomore classes using these tools, so I plan on doing essentially the same thing as long as we are virtual.” —Pluchino

“I will try to recreate elements of my classroom that I believe most contribute to creating a community. These include teaching live, incorporating break out rooms and forums so that students are able to regularly interact and engage with their classmates, creating regular check-ins with students [and] holding “office hours” so that students can ask questions or receive extra help.” —Firdman

“I am going to have a lot of computer scripts to crunch the data I’m getting, like student responses to in-class questions, homework solutions, and homework completion. Using this data, I will focus on the students who are falling behind as my first priority.” —Anonymous

With the blended model and split remote student population, how do you think the Stuyvesant community will be affected, academically and socially?

“[On finding ways to navigate social interaction online:] One thing that we can do is make a list of what are the social things that you want to be able to do but we can’t do right now and then what are some ways that you can think of kind of an online version. Socializing with people, especially people your own age is vital.” —Thoms

“I can personally attest that the academic rigor of my classes dropped to accommodate virtual learning—labs, hands-on activities, and a lot of the more advanced lessons were cut from my curriculum. I still feel that my students were able to develop a strong foundation in chemistry, but it’s impossible to deny that they missed out due to distance learning […] I think the social aspect is more troubling. Staring at a screen for countless hours a day and living on the internet sounds very isolating. Stuy students are spread out all over the city, so getting together with friends for a socially-distanced lunch or going for a walk is difficult. I worry about the mental health of our students and hope that any time spent inside the building will allow for at least some social interaction (from a safe distance, of course).” —Pluchino

“This school year will certainly be unusual and challenging; students will not have the same opportunities to engage with each other or their teachers as they have in past years. [I, however,] think what makes Stuyvesant particularly exceptional is the dedication and commitment of both students and faculty to our school community. I think everyone will be making their best effort to support each other and create new mediums through which Stuy can continue being Stuy.” —Firdman

“Stuyvesant used to be a vibrant place with so much student interactivity. With this new model, it will be a very quiet place with not much energy in it. If I had a child who was a student at Stuyvesant, I would not have them come in at all since there is no benefit to being in the actual building while there are risks in coming to the building. I also am concerned about the rooms that have 75 students in them. I’m not sure who is scheduled to monitor those rooms, but it seems pretty unsafe to me.” —Anonymous

What advice do you have for students in the upcoming school year?

“It’s incredibly helpful, even if you’re staying fully home to make yourself a schedule that is a regular daily schedule […] have blocks of time when you’re doing certain things, [and] give yourself blocks of time that are for physically moving around.” —Thoms

“Stay focused, and ask for help when you need it! Whether you are struggling in a class or trying to contend with mental and emotional health issues, know that you have people at Stuy who care about you. We are in for a challenging start to the school year, but we will preserve and get through this together.” —Pluchino

“Keep a healthy sleep schedule. Create checklists, agendas, and “to-do” lists to help you keep track of what you have due, and number those items in the order in which you will do them. Put your phone away, and close tabs on your computer that are not school-related. Pretend the school day is going on as usual, and try to stick to the schedule. Reach out to your teachers if you need any support: we care and are here for you.” —Firdman

“Be safe and stay home.” —Anonymous