Thursday, November 12, 2020

Back in School?

Needless to say, this 2020-21 school year has had a rough start for teachers, students and parents across the nation. My daughter's school did 100% online classes for the four weeks of August, and then students, like her, who chose to go back had to wear a mask 8 hours and social distance. She stays home Fridays to take tests and hand in writing assignments online. My husband is teaching his college art classes as hybrids for the first time ever. My sons' college classes have mostly gone online with just a few exceptions, such as art and science labs. For me, teaching art at a school for the blind, was challenging enough; teaching it virtually feels nearly impossible. Hands on experiences are so important. I have a few students coming in person, so I feel like I'm screaming through my mask into the computer to my virtual students, while my face-to-face students sit half way across the room. I've had to create a lot of writing assignments based on videos and slide discussions: big questions like "What is Art?"and "Why do people make Art?" to small questions like, "What is one new thing you learned today?" I've been doing a lot more talking than I'm used to, and my throat can feel it.

We spent the first couple weeks trying to learn the platform: Teams. I posted assignments to Teams, and students could turn their work in there, or to a shared One Drive folder, or email me their work.  A couple of student uses paper and a Perkins Brailler and then read their work to me via video. There are readers on computers to help them navigate and hear the text. I also sent assignments out in Braille. 

Above a student is taking his turn reading (in Braille) a portion of the syllabus while a couple of his peers listen from across the state. 

Putting together weekly care packages of supplies has felt like a part time job. I have to think ahead a couple of weeks and gather materials for several versions of the project, so that students still have choices. And it's been hard to see supplies leaving my room, knowing that I'll never see them again. Plus there's the problem of students who can attend virtual classes from almost anywhere but forget to take their packet of supplies to do projects, or can't figure out where their supplies are or which supplies to use since they're getting materials from other teachers too.

Meanwhile, the students who have come and used the materials I have on the table are able to focus on completing the project and learning the standards without all the distant learning chaos and technical difficulties.

I can't imagine that our schools are going to be functioning full capacity any time soon. Teachers who are feeling end-of-April level of burn out in September have had to push forward, as did the students. But by giving it our best, things have gotten in easier and we're probably better off for having learned more platforms and ways to solve problems.
Above: a virtual student points his lap top camera towards his work so I can walk him through the process of his analogous watercolor composition

It's still not idea, but now that we're in November, everyone has managed
to figure out their own routine. Students have come in and out of quarantine after being in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid, and once the school shut down for 10 days for cleaning and everyone worked from home. The numbers are higher than they were at the beginning of the school year, so we're still taking precautions. Hopefully, everyone will be able to come back for in person school in a couple of months and I can start filling my shelves, and walls and kiln with student work.


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