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A fifth-grade teachers learns that remote learning requires a little flexibility and patience

Staying Connected During COVID-19 [Teacher Spotlight]: Stacy Salter

A fifth-grade teacher learns that remote learning requires a little flexibility and patience

In partnership with eSchool News, Illuminate Education is spotlighting teachers in a series recognizing educators, the way they have moved instruction online during COVID-19, and how they have prioritized the needs of their students.

Stacy Salter
5th Grade Teacher
Walnut Creek Elementary
Henry County Schools, GA

“You need to let your students see you sweat a bit and see that this is as hard for you as it is for them.”

What made you want to go into education and begin teaching?

I have only been a teacher for three years but I have wanted to be a teacher my entire life. I’ve been loving every moment of teaching and I know this is my calling. Even though I wish I started a long time ago, I realized the kids now need somebody a little bit older. It allows me to be somewhat of a motherly figure to these kids who don’t have one.

Related content: 5 ways technology can help schools meet CDC guidelines

How is your day-to-day schedule different from when you were in the classroom?

I’m a fifth grade teacher that covers all content. So in a six hour period, we would go over math, social studies, language arts, reading, writing, and science. Our school is a Title 1 school and some of our students do struggle with behavior issues. So to help with that, we kept a very regimented schedule.

Initially when the schools closed and we moved to remote learning, we just picked up where we left off. I had no clue really what to do and I thought the best thing would be to make it as normal as possible. In the classroom when the students walked in, there would be an announcement on the board, we’d go over our class vision and recite the pledge. So now that everything is virtual, we start out with a PowerPoint every morning and I’ll have one student read the class vision and another student will do the pledge. I also make sure we do something light-hearted such as watch something funny or share our pets. I also play music in the background to help wake them up. I made the mistake of trying to start class at 9 o’clock but none of the kids were wanting to get up and start working that early. As soon as I pushed class back to 10 o’clock, I had a lot more participation.

What does remote learning look like for you and your students?

I was fortunate enough to have a lot of technology in my wheelhouse thanks to my background in Corporate America. So when the closures happened, I was already doing quite a bit of technology in the classroom, including using Illuminate a lot.

When we came back from spring break, our county decided that they only wanted kids and teachers to be online for four days a week. So I create a daily checklist for the students and give that to them on Monday so that they have a breakdown of what is expected of them the rest of the week, and then Friday the students are off. We do an online lesson in math and language arts for about an hour and a half and then the kids go about their merry way to work on their assignments. We have had to figure out what was working online and what wasn’t. Unfortunately we haven’t been able to do a lot of science or social studies so we’re really focusing on reading language skills and math.

My students are about to transition to middle school next year, so it has been important for us to focus on the skills they may not have yet that they will need next year. We were fortunate in our school that we had already finished our math and language arts standards when the schools closed, so really we’re just spending time on review. We’re also working with our Title coach and picking the standards that are going to be heavy hitters for next year. The last seven to eight weeks during remote learning has been just to keep their brains going and keep them wanting to still learn.

Do all of your students have equal access to a computer and internet to do their schoolwork?

In Henry County Public Schools, we have been extremely fortunate to have received some funds from county taxes, so every student from 3rd grade to 5th grade has a Chrome notebook assigned to them, and the younger students have been assigned iPads. One of the things we had to do before we walked out the door was make sure the students all had their computer and their charger so that they could work from home. Most of my kids also, thankfully, have access to the internet and for those that didn’t, our vendors like Charter and Spectrum, provided free internet for the entirety of remote learning.

How are you staying connected to your students and their parents?

I am lucky in the sense that I taught 4th grade last year, so I have been with my kids and their parents for two years now. The biggest hurdle initially was just getting the kids online. But I am a little privileged in that I have a really good connection with the parents and the kids and connectivity problems have more or less been resolved. Out of 25 students, I get an average of 18 to 21 logging in every day. There are a few students though that I haven’t heard from and it does scare me. Some of these students don’t speak the same language or they have health problems, and it’s just a little hard on your heart to not know what’s going on with those kids.

For the students that do log in, we use a program called GoGuardian that allows me to see every move they make on their Chrome notebooks and has a chat feature so that they can ask me questions while they work. I have set hours from 9 to 2 where I am available to my students and parents. Even though all forms of connecting are through some sort of technology, I am grateful that our county enabled the video feature for our online classes. I miss my kids and I want to see their faces. It’s funny now because a lot of my students don’t want to be seen on camera—they are embarrassed of how they are looking. But I tell them I don’t care about that, I just need to see them and make sure they are okay.

As for the parents, they probably think I’m an overachiever because I over-communicate with them. As a parent of four kids, I was always frustrated when I didn’t know what was going on in their classes and I wanted to make sure none of my students’ parents felt that way. I usually send out communications 4 to 5 times a week for the parents. Some parents laugh about it but I know they really love it. And again, I’ve been with a lot of these parents for two years now, so we have a really positive relationship.

What have been some of the biggest challenges with remote teaching?

Just one right off the bat is the toll it’s taking on our bodies. We’re not equipped to sit and teach like this all day long. I’m the teacher that used to put in 20,000 steps a day at school, and now I’m lucky if I hit 3,000. Not to mention my arms, wrists, and back hurt from being on the computer all day.

It’s also hard to be away from the students. I have been having a hard time disconnecting from them because there is no “bye.” At school, the bell rings at the end of the day and I can give them a goodbye hug and put them on the bus. I’m struggling with letting them go at the end of the day when I should be walking away from the computer. Also, seeing what’s going on the news and how school will look different in the future has been kind of discouraging. Most of us are teachers because we want to love students and be a safe place for them. If we can’t high-five or hug our students, that’s going to tear my heart out.

Speaking of that, how do you think these closures are going to affect your classes in the future?

As far as academics go, I think we’re going to see a lot more technology and online programs being used. I already considered myself a tech-geek and even still, there are a lot of things I want to change when I get back. When I was in the classroom, I would assign the students about 5-10 questions using Illuminate DnA after first modeling a question in a PowerPoint presentation. When we get back in the classroom, I want that to be more interactive. While being remote, it has been extremely powerful to take one of the rigorous questions in Illuminate and put it on an active slate board to allow the kids to work on it with me. I’m already planning to use the computers more for interaction, such as pushing the lessons out to my students so they can watch it while I teach it.

The way students learn is also changing. I’ve noticed that some of them are thriving in this remote learning environment. They have had to take a lot of ownership of their learning. I also think the whole world’s mindsets are going to change about the role of the teacher. A lot of things are going to change, I just hope that the heart and soul of the brick and mortar building and why teachers go to the building, is not taken away from us and the kids.

What advice would you share with other educators?

Be flexible! I made the mistake at the get-go when they said this was all happening by trying to act like everything was the same—like we were still in the classroom. I started out too matter-of-fact and too rigid. But then I realized that anything can happen. I had some Google Meets where the power would go out and I understood then that you can’t control what you can’t control.

I’d also say to be patient and real with your students. These kids are not being allowed to be kids. They’re having to be adults in an adult world, taking care of adult things. You need to let your students see you sweat a bit and see that this is as hard for you as it is for them. It makes it more relatable to see their teacher not all put together because the kids are also having days where their life feels upside down. If you fake it and put on your best face every day, the students will see right through that.

What message would you like to share with your students?

Our classroom number is 213 and we would always say that we go the extra, extra degree because water boils at 212. So I would tell my students “I miss you, I love you, and I challenge you to continue being the 213 that we are!”

Share your remote learning story

Our education community is facing unprecedented challenges around teaching and learning. In these times, more than ever, we are each other’s best resources. We invite you to reach out and share how you or a colleague, friend, or family member is approaching remote learning.

Looking for more resources around supporting remote learners? Check out Illuminate’s Remote Learning Community Page for free resources for your team, including webinars, professional learning activities, articles, product tips, and more.

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