Elaine Munday is a high school English teacher at the Agriculture and Science Early College in her 30th year of teaching.
She’s set to retire at the conclusion of a school year ending in the midst of a pandemic with remote teaching being the only option.
“I never would have imagined ending my career like this,” Munday said.
In March, Gov. Roy Cooper extended the ban on in-person instruction for North Carolina public schools to May 15. These days Munday says she is still adjusting.
She has set up an office at home for remote teaching — in the opposite corner from her husband in the house to avoid interruptions.
She said remote teaching has changed the way she communicates with students — and how she teaches. She’s changed assessments to be geared more toward authentic learning than graded learning.
“I’ve tried to maintain standards, but I try to understand the struggles some students face learning from home,” Munday said.
For example, Munday is currently teaching Chinese and Japanese poetry along with medieval literature. She said that she is focused on teaching her students the ideals of the culture of the readings, such as what she said was the reflecting in nature present in Chinese and Japanese cultures.
Munday said that she communicates through Zoom with students once a week. She arranges several time sessions, but students only have to attend one. This provides flexible time slots to students.
“Don’t want to stress the students out too much,” Munday said.
Munday has also been researching ways to more effectively teach from home. These include reading professional journals for tips on how to adapt to remote teaching.
One thing she has implemented are group sessions for her students, where they get in their own Zoom chats and discuss reading material. She has gotten positive feedback from students for this activity.
She also said that she is working with students with unreliable internet connections in turning in assignments. For example, she had one student take a picture of an assignment with her phone instead of submitting it on the school’s remote learning website.
“There are students reaching out to teachers in ways they never thought they would,” Munday said.
Many parts of northern Iredell County, where Munday teaches, have unreliable internet connections, presenting problems with online remote learning.
I-SS is trying to get internet access and devices to students who don’t have them, said Jonathan Ribbeck, I-SS executive director of kindergarten through fifth-grade curriculum. The school system is informing students of free or discounted offers from internet providers.
Spectrum is offering free internet access for 60 days to those who are not already customers and AT&T is offering discounted, income-based payment plans.
I-SS also has Sprint hotspots available from a $1 million North Carolina Department of Public Instruction grant in 2018.
The hotspots allow students that don’t have reliable internet access to receive internet access for one year through Sprint, said David Edwards, I-SS executive director of technology and media services.
This is based on whether Sprint is available at their location.
If the student does not have internet available, Ribbeck said that I-SS is sending physical instructional packets and teachers are calling students to gauge their progress and check in on their wellbeing.
When the school closures first started, I-SS sent out instructional packets to elementary students that had a few weeks of material in them. Ribbeck said that a second set is being sent in the coming weeks to students that need them.
Ribbeck said that teachers are currently recording lessons and posting them for students to watch. Teachers are also doing video chats with students if necessary.
“It’s still new, there’s still some learning going on, but they’re doing an amazing job,” Ribbeck said of I-SS teachers. “They’re going above and beyond.”
Ribbeck also said that social workers and counselors have been knocking on doors to reach out to students that I-SS has been unable to contact due to out-of-date contact information.
“We appreciate the work they’re doing,” Ribbeck said. “Our schools have risen to the challenge to help our students and families.”
Ribbeck encouraged families whose needs haven’t been met to reach out to I-SS because their provided contact information is most likely incorrect.
Kelly Cooper, I-SS executive director of secondary education, said that teaching remotely is very different and requires a completely different style of planning.
She said the teacher has to have a greater understanding of the content with detailed planning for teaching lessons.
“Veteran teachers have told me this is the hardest thing they’ve ever done,” Cooper said.
She said that most of the teachers are relationship teachers in that they rely on personal contact with their students.
“The kids are almost like your own, so being separated is very difficult,” Cooper said.
She said that teachers have had to call students to make sure they are maintaining progress on their assignments while also trying to maintain the level of personal contact they had when teaching in person.
“It has put additional workload on teachers,” Cooper said.
She also said that it’s important for the community to rally and support at-risk students amid the ongoing pandemic.
“It takes a community to raise a child,” Cooper said. “We have a great community.”
Munday said that students are making the most of an unfortunate situation amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“Students are doing the best they can with these circumstances,” Munday said. “It’s easy to get distracted in your home.”
Munday said that I-SS has done a great job in handling the pandemic and giving teachers the resources they need to succeed in remote teaching.
“While it has been challenging, it definitely has been manageable,” Munday said.
In her last year of teaching, Munday said that she is taking this experience as a positive one to close out her career.
“I will miss that face-to-face interaction, but it proves anyone can learn,” Munday said.