In this Aug. 11, 2021, file photo Joy Harrison instructs her second graders at Carl B. Munck Elementary School, in Oakland, Calif. Credit: Santiago Mejia / San Francisco Chronicle via AP.

Teachers have had to make a major transition from remote learning to in-person learning on school campuses. Remote learning gave educators a small glimpse into the lives of their students that they wouldn’t have seen in a classroom. They witnessed the digital divide and the lack of internet access that disproportionately affected Black and Hispanic children. Teachers also facilitated self-led learning and watched students take charge at their own pace and level.

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Not only did educators have to pivot quickly to accommodate the academic needs of students during the COVID-19 lockdown, but now they are faced with a whole new approach and outlook on their teaching methods from pre-COVID until now.

Donnie Walker, a fifth-grade history teacher at Wheatley High School says teaching remotely during lockdown was anything but easy. He considered himself to be a traditional teacher and struggled with the use of technology as well as being confined to a desk and computer screen. He eventually got over the learning curve, only to be met with the challenge of how to instruct his students in a fun and productive way.

“I’m teaching a subject that most kids aren’t interested in, and then on top that there were so many technological resources for educators to learn,” Walker said.  “So after a couple of trial and errors, I chose two resources that help my classes become more interactive and it was easier for me to hold them accountable for doing their work on time.”

The resources were called Pear Deck, an interactive presentation tool, and Microsoft Teams, a video conference software provided by HISD. Walker says Pear Deck operates similarly to a shared document on a Google Drive. He could share a PowerPoint activity and students could make changes and edit on the sheet while he monitors the progress of his students. Walker uses Microsoft Teams as a way to communicate with his students and creates breakout sessions after each lesson.

“Through this experience, I learned that the students don’t need to be pacified as much. You just have to build a connection with them and learn what their interests are,” Walker explained. “These kids are savvy. I had to be taken out of my comfort zone to fully understand the value that technology can bring to my classes.”

Aldine ISD Instructional Specialist, Victoria Omotayo was an HISD 3rd grade general studies teacher during the lockdown. Like Walker, Omotayo utilized the technological resources provided by the school district. Her virtual lessons included social and emotional behavior exercises to encourage the students during the abrupt transitional period.

“Three days a week, I started my class with S.E.L which is ‘social emotional learning.’ This was our way of staying connected with students, asking them thoughtful questions and letting them know they weren’t alone,” she said. “Now that I transitioned into an instructional specialist role at Aldine ISD, I’m focusing more on the emotional support for my teachers. This experience has caused a lot of trauma and hardship on educators who were overworked and underpaid in some instances.”

Meagan Morse, Science Instructional Specialist, Spring ISD. Photo courtesy of Meagan Morse.

Meagan Morse is a high school Science Instructional Specialist in Spring ISD. In September, she presented at the Houston Area Alliance of Black School Educators’ Re-Envision Education Leading the Fight Against Normalcy conference and hosted a session that focused on the use of social media as an instructional tool. 

“During the lockdown, I noticed the benefits and difficulties of virtual learning. We got to know these kids on a personal level than we did when we were in the classrooms. Some flourished with online learning while there were a few more introverted students who needed a little more encouragement, Morse said.  “Now that educators are fully getting immersed in the world of technology, it’s our job to meet them where they [students] are and create meaningful and relatable content on a platform they use all the time…social media.”

Morse created a five-minute TikTok comedic skit that took on the persona of four different bio-molecules. Each of them had their own characteristics and personality. The content was visual, entertaining, and presented a simple way to digest complex scientific terminology for educators and students.

“It’s not enough to just teach anymore. The mode of communication is no longer just face to face, it’s exclusive through a screen or social media,” she explained. “Give them a rubric, give them guidelines, give them an example, talk to your district so you know the laws and policies and procedures to any social media. Talk to your administrators so they aren’t taken by surprise, and incentivize your students. Social media doesn’t have to be socializing, but it can be used as an instructional tool. It’s not the same classroom like it was two years ago. We have to change with the times. We need to be able to cultivate and curate lessons for the kid’s needs.”

Laura Onyeneho covers the city’s education system as it relates to Black children for the Defender Network as a Report For America Corps member. Email her at laura@defendernetwork.com