“Give a lot of grace.”
That was the one overriding guideline handed down to teachers in Leanne Edwards’ Texas district in spring 2020.
“The only real requirements were that teachers had to post our assignments in Canvas [Learning Management System] for the students to get by 9 a.m. every Monday and that we schedule one Zoom time a week with our students,” the middle school teacher explained. “One hour-a-week period is what we were supposed to offer. They called it the minimum. … But I don’t know any teacher that did only that.”
Edwards (not her real name) and her colleagues prepared multiple 7th grade interactive Zoom lessons a day and worked to draw students to those class sessions, spending weekends recording lectures and creating online materials. But attendance lagged.
One hour-a-week period is what we were supposed to offer. But I don't know any teacher that did only that.
The district made student attendance optional, passed policies disallowing failing grades, and limited the introduction of new content. These policies had the unintended effect of discouraging student participation.
Of 380 7th graders in Edwards’ school, which draws from both suburban and rural areas, only 15 showed up for even one online session a week. That is, until the 7th grade teachers launched a weekly two-plus-hour trivia lunch game based on the curriculum. Suddenly, 180 7th graders were joining the class, laughing and engaging with the lesson content. Still, the remaining 200 students never attended any online meeting.
Edwards describes her school as a place where it is safe to be a “true teacher.” In general, she added, the district gives teachers a voice and a lot of say in their curriculum.
Edwards ended the 2020 school year exhausted but feeling uplifted by the work she and her colleagues had done in an emergency.
“I left school in May on a good note,” she recalled. “ I felt like we had done everything that we could given the situation that we had. Like I felt fine, like we did it.”