East Lansing High School teachers discuss struggles of teaching two groups of students at once

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East Lansing teachers have had mixed reactions since going back to in-person classes March 1.

Cody Harrell teaches advanced and regular freshman English and advises the newspaper and yearbook. After his first full week back, he didn’t feel that great.

“Teaching to two audiences at the same time… is very difficult,” Harrell said. “Because that’s where we’re at, we’re teaching online and in person students the same curriculum at the same time.”

The school provides two monitors and document cameras to help teachers instruct two separate audiences at the same time.

The school refers  to the arrangement as concurrent teaching, a hybrid model with  a virtual and in-person classroom at the same time. 

Classes go from Monday to Friday but are only in-person Tuesdays through Fridays for the students that elected to come back. Classes are completely virtual on Mondays but this may change as of next week.

Harrell said that it’s easy to accidentally or unintentionally neglect the online students in favor of having people in front of you that nod when you’re talking, and look at you, and laugh at your jokes and respond to you.

“You know the online students don’t have cameras on most of the time. They don’t usually respond super well and so what was already difficult has been even more exasperated by a hybrid teaching situation,” Harrell said.

English shifted the curriculum to be more online and hybrid friendly, so teachers had to learn to use Google Classroom and make class as interactive as possible. 

Harrell said the best way to teach students is to ask them for feedback and to not take it personally but as a learning opportunity. Students want to see teachers teach well and teachers want to see them do well, he said.

“This is hard. This is the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life is teach hybrid. The second hardest thing I’ve done in my life is teach online,” Harrell said.

Klaudia Burton teaches earth and space science to juniors and life science to sophomores at East Lansing High School.

She and other teachers in the science department have had to meet and figure out how to structure everything to be online. Any required lab had to go online. They looked up different simulations that went over the same lessons taught in class. They tried to fit what curriculum they were teaching with what platforms were best. 

East Lansing is a Google district, so it uses G Suite for Education and pretty much use all the Google platforms according to Burton. Students have Google Chromebooks or laptops that are school issued.

“For us we just really did a lot of research centered around what we thought would be best for students to try to streamline their learning process so they didn’t have to go to a ton of different places,” Burton said.

In the science department teachers use Google Classroom to post assignments but also use GoFormative in order to create the lessons or assignments. 

For Burton, the best part about being in-person again is just having the engagement of students. One thing that’s been really hard for her is that in fully remote classes students aren’t required to have their cameras on.

“It is definitely tough to have talked to… a bunch of black boxes for the better part of almost a school year,” Burton said. “So I will say that having students in-person has definitely added an engagement piece.”

She has also noticed that it’s taking students who are back in the building time to adjust. 

Students are at least 3-6 feet apart, in classes there are plastic barriers around them, they are still required to bring their devices as teachers are not collecting any paperwork to keep transmissions down. Students are only in class three or four hours a day, they don’t have a normal lunch period. A lot of socialization has gone away, Burton said.

She has also seen that a lot of students who struggled remotely have done a 180 and are being more engaged in-person. They complete assignments. So, for Burton, it’s literal proof that being in-person is so important for a lot of students from both an academic and mental health standpoint.

Diana Sanchez, a Spanish 1 and Spanish 2 at the high school and a Spanish 1 teacher at MacDonald Middle School says her department is one of the more fortunate ones. This is because it has made a lot of shifts in the curriculum and has purchased a social justice curriculum this year that was made for online teaching.

The department was able to transition pretty seamlessly or as easily as it could have to online and in-person learning, but it is still difficult.

According to Sanchez, a lot of teachers are taking it in stride and she’s been really impressed with what they’ve been able to do, but it is a whole new level of exhausting. 

To her, the biggest thing about teaching concurrently is making sure every student still feels seen and heard. Since it’s easy to concentrate more on your in-person students than your online ones and vice versa.

“It really is, in my opinion, it’s doing two jobs at one time,” Sanchez said.

When talking about the exhaustion, she thinks about how she has to try to talk super loud, look in three places at once, keep an eye on everyone and make sure everything is going well. To her, it really is a whole other kind of job this year. 

She just wants to emphasize how much teachers deserve, as they are really being asked so much more than they can handle on some days, but still rise to the occasion.