Kimberly Pantoja, San Jose, CA email@example.com
Distance learning is not what I signed up for when I became a teacher. I did not even really like the online classes I took as an adult learner – so why would I ever want to teach that way? And yet, here we are. Sitting behind screens wondering if what we are doing is right, is fair, is equitable, is best.
In my classroom, math is not the most important thing we do. It might not even be the second or third most important thing we do. In my class, the most important thing we do is build relationships. We talk, we share stories, we let each other know who we really are. We build a place where it is not only okay to make a mistake, we build a place where mistakes are honored. And along the way, we do some math.
My experience with distance learning has been an overall successful journey. I teach 170 middle school students. On average, I see 160 of them in my online classes each week. Of the ten I do not see, I get an email from at least six or seven of them letting me know why they missed class. Are my math lessons riveting? Are students clamoring to learn how many cones it takes to fill a cylinder, or why something raised to the power of zero always equals one? Probably not. So, why are they coming to class, logging in to see me on a screen?
All year, I focused on building relationships, and with that, building a foundation of trust and mutual respect. My students come to virtual class because they respect me and they respect the effort I have put in for them. I communicate with them often. I share my joys and I share my hair-pulling frustrations. I share my struggles, both as a mom and as a teacher. Distance learning is not easy – for any of us. I do not think many students realize that it is just as hard for us to be away from them. It is as hard for us to teach as it is for them to learn. We all miss human contact and live interaction.
When my students miss class, I call them. I ask if they are okay and where their head is at. I tell them that I am not calling them to nag them about school work, or to go on about the wonders of math (and there are many!), but that I want to hear how their days are going. I have heard about lost pets, fights with siblings, worry about family finances (why is a middle schooler even worrying about these things?), and so much more. I have shared so much about myself – how I am worried my oldest son is not going to graduate high school on time, how sad I am that I cannot go cuddle my newborn nephew, what happens when I fight with my family. These are the pieces that make us who we are. These are the connections that bind us together.
And the result? My students work for me. I have been making videos for them to work on their own time. Trying to adapt the wonderfully collaborative CPM curriculum into an individualized lesson is difficult and requires me to be not only creative, but I have also had to teach myself how to be much more tech-savvy. I end with a 7-10 minute video for each lesson. These videos take over an hour to plan, create, and edit. I have told my students this and because of the mutual respect we have built, they honor my time and efforts by engaging with the material I carefully create for them. I have no doubt that if I had not taken the time to build these relationships and genuinely develop an interest in each student, I would not be experiencing this level of student engagement.
So, math? Yeah, it’s great. And distance learning? Well, that’s not great. But it is not horrible either. I have learned a lot about myself, and I realized that teaching is about so much more than the four walls of my classroom. Making an impact happens every day, in every tiny interaction. Build those relationships. Become an active partner in taking these children and raising them into wonderful adults. And along the way, math will happen.