Another school year is in the books and it’s likely a year that no one will forget anytime soon.
For the teachers in the Churchill County School District, the last couple of months opened many eyes with the numerous challenges from adapting to distance learning to understanding their students’ families better to provide the best education possible.
With a collective effort across the schools to ensure Chromebooks were delivered and internet was installed to those without it, the school district came through in one of its most challenging times due to COVID-19 forcing the state government to close school campuses in March for the rest of the year, which ended last week.
“Dealing with family schedules has been a challenge because every family is functioning around challenging work and home changes, so teachers have had to switch from a Monday-Friday schedule to a more 24/7 on-call schedule in order to support the families effectively,” said Jenny Mitchell, Monica Mayfield, Christine Mori and Aimee Bell, teachers of the third-grade team at E.C. Best. “Teachers and staff have gone out of their way to deliver Chromebooks and ensure families have internet service needed to succeed in this new learning environment, but many students with working parents are unable to complete the work until they are home.”
Challenges varied across grades and schools within CCSD.
From Debbie Swisher’s first-grade class to Lance Lattin’s high-school Spanish class, teachers have encountered obstacles like overcoming the void of a classroom setting, making sure the students stayed organized and handing out assignments.
“A big challenge was figuring out how much and what type of work to send out,” said Swisher, who teaches at Lahontan Elementary. “I worked closely with my partner teacher, Mrs. (Jenny) Young (they plan together and do everything the same), and we came up with a plan that we felt would address the educational needs of our students as well as not overwhelm the parents or grandparents — or whomever it was doing the work with the kids.”
Lattin, who’s taught Spanish for many years, said he misses the classroom setting and had to adapt to distance teaching, which saw his students struggle at staying organized. Another challenge came when Lattin couldn’t sit at a computer all day and needed to find ways to maintain his energy.
“It makes me feel uncomfortable and I have tried to work for 20 minutes and then do something else in the yard or read emails while walking on a treadmill,” he said. “This has been helpful for me to maintain my energy, enthusiasm and creativity. In my classroom, I spend almost no time in a chair as I am mostly moving around the room helping students. I have learned that I really enjoy my classroom and live classes and will never be a full-time at-home desk worker.”
And it’s an approach he tries to instill with his students so they can also maintain their energy and focus, and he’s looking forward to continuing it when classes are back on campus.
“I try to get my students moving around in my classroom frequently in my regular classroom but after my teaching from a desk experience, I think I will make a bigger effort when we return to live classes,” Lattin added.
In the music world, things changed drastically.
Instead of welcoming students in his classroom and watching them take out their instruments, ready to practice the next performance piece, Lucas Koenig had to make bigger adjustments. What stood out for the longtime educator, who taught music at the high school when he first arrived in Fallon, was the feedback in the classroom.
“Immediate feedback is a staple in a music classroom. It should be in all classrooms,” he said. “This feedback is not possible online. A student can make a recording or send it in, but the feedback is often hours later sometimes even a day. This is very hard to overcome but we are doing our best.”
Koenig, though, has seen positives from the situation, in particular, in his home where he’s able to spend more time with his family and work on house projects. When classes are back on campus, though, Koenig said he will carry on new supportive materials from distance learning that helped his students grasp concepts better.
“The videos I created to help the students learn specific skills will be helpful even when we are back in school,” he said. “Sometimes students don't get the idea when it’s been taught in the class. If they can have some extra instructional support through these videos, it might help. I will keep doing these next year.”
For Steve Heck, who teaches technology and computer sciences at the middle school, the pandemic brought out much creativity from his students. Heck had similar challenges to his peers, like having to change the curriculum because school resources can’t be accessed at home, but he’s been impressed with the students adapting to change.
“I have had a few students tell me they really enjoyed having to be creative coming up with materials and ways to complete their projects,” he said. “I have really been impressed with some of the student projects. They have been really creative and have come up with very unique ideas to solve problems.”
While teachers within the school district encountered their share of ups and downs during the pandemic’s school closure, they’ve been able to adapt swiftly to change, providing their students with the best education possible to end the school year. But they miss everything about being on campus.
Swisher misses her second family.
“I miss the daily contact with my students and my co-workers. It's a second family that you are with many hours a day,” Swisher said.
The E.C. Best third-grade team misses the little things.
“We miss everything about E.C. Best. We miss Mr. (Keith) Boone's morning music, and students leading us in the Pledge of Allegiance. We miss seeing those bright little smiles each day and the celebration of successes. We miss the face to face, human connection with our students and our teaching team,” the teacher said.
Lattin misses his students so much that he found more appreciation for his job.
“Students are very intriguing and provide infinite intellectual stimulation," he said. "I am lucky that I spend everyday teaching, talking, joking, encouraging, disciplining and coaching them. Students are really unique and funny individuals and I knew I would miss teaching them, but I had no idea how much. It made me appreciate my job and my students even more.”