June Rain, who had been a science teacher at Tomlinson Middle School before COVID-19 disrupted the 2019-2020 school year, was able to return to teaching this year only because of Lawton Public Schools’ virtual option.
“I have chronic lung disease, made worse by allergies and asthma, so I knew I’d be safer teaching online,” said Rain in a virtual interview, explaining her decision to become a teacher in the district’s night virtual school, which allows her to work from home. “I would have had to quit if virtual teaching was not offered as an option, and I really did not want to quit. I love my students.”
A teacher with experience at the high school and middle school levels, Rain knows there are differences between traditional and online classrooms. While the knowledge she gained in the traditional setting helps her teach online U.S. history and American Indian studies courses, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have pangs remembering her in-person classes.
“The biggest difference between virtual and in-person tradition is just that, you’re not in the room with the students,” she said. “I miss the give-and-take between the students and between myself and students. I enjoyed my time with students. My classroom was decorated to delight them and to inspire their curiosity. There are few impromptu moments now — giggles and songs and poems that just spring up because the moment is right — and I miss that more than I can say.”
Adjusting means doing things such as replacing writing/drawing on a whiteboard with a short video of herself explaining the point of a lesson, or writing memos on Google Classroom or sending emails to students. She and students also have learned the benefits of Zoom, especially when explaining difficult concepts.
“I do many single-student Zooms on request. It’s easy and the direct approach is sometimes exactly what a student needs,” she said.
And with the digital generation, some concepts translate well. For example, Rain said teenagers already are comfortable texting and Google Classroom works almost that quickly. But, she said teachers have to maintain a personal touch because proving you care about a student is key to education.
“My job is to find a way to let each student know I care,” she said, adding that means persistence for her, parents and counselors. “Some kids can remain uninvolved if they’re left to their own devices. Being a teenager is the hardest job in the world. Being one in this disturbing, anxious past year has been awful to observe.”
It helps that some of Rain’s virtual faces belong to students she had at Tomlinson. She’s able to re-establish a rapport with them that helps her with other students because it proves she’s a human on the other side of the monitor. And, her rapport with all students helps her help students who have had a rough school year as they learn the work habits that make them successful in the virtual environment.
Spending a school year in a virtual classroom setting let Rain realizing she would teach that way again, if the opportunity arose. It’s important for students who need that learning environment and important for school districts to find teachers who shine in that environment, finding ways to make person-to-person contact with students, she said.
“I’ll always miss being in a classroom with students, but since this method has arrived, I don’t think it will disappear after the pandemic goes away,” she said, adding while there are many reasons for a student to be in virtual, it’s a setting that may not work for everyone.
“Everyone doesn’t learn, or thrive, in the same environment. My experience so far is, high school students prosper online more than middle school students do.”