What’s it like for teachers doing online school in the pandemic?

by Joseph Gallivan, Friends of Lincoln

We all know what online school is like for a parent (“Turn on your camera!”) and for a kid (“I told you to knock!”).

So, Friends of Lincoln is asking Lincoln High School educators what their work days are like during the pandemic.

Mary Rechner (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.) lives in leafy Northeast Portland, near Laurelhurst Park. She teaches Creative Writing, Mass Communications, Yearbook and Cardinal Times newspaper.

Her set up is pretty basic: Two MacBook pros, one with her camera and sound on where she is looking at faces, one for doing email and looking at students’ work. She has Xfinity home network and a private office with a window view of birds in her garden.

Her work day is a mixture of joys and stresses.

She was briefly an empty nester but now her son is back from Western Washington University and studying at Portland Community College and working part time. Her niece moved to Portland for a few months rather than live in a one bedroom in Queens with her folks. The niece is studying online to be a special education teacher. Her husband is a forester so he is often out during the day.

Grading, grading, grading

This year the LHS Yearbook doesn’t have an editor so nine students formed a leadership pod instead. Rechner said kids are not as experienced leading a virtual group, so she is providing more structure in student led classes (like yearbook and newspaper) than usual.

“(Before COVID) as a teacher you walked around, you can see how much someone’s written on their page. But there's no way for me to know."

Students have asked for larger assignments, because managing dozens of little online assignments is a huge organizational task.

Like all teachers her time spent with students in “live” classes has been reduced dramatically. “I feel like I'm just grading all the time now because there's so many assignments.”

Without books and handouts, just getting the right resources to students has become time consuming. “You’re really trying to refigure your lessons so that everything is accessible. You can't do really anything on the fly. You have to plan everything. You also have to make sure students that can't come to that particular class can access all the pieces about that moment.”

One glitch was that when students sent in a draft of a personal essay or a profile, editing it in Canvas turned out to be confusing. So Rechner switched back to editing on shared Google Docs.

“I'm always trying to figure out what's the most streamlined way, so they're not going to, like, 40 different spaces,” she says.

“These are all great work skills. But it's confusing.”

With breakout rooms, Rechner has learned to give the kids very specific tasks and deliverables. 

“If you don't give them an outcome to come up with no one will talk to each other. They'll just sit there in silence.”

Senior Tommy Brown and the yearbook staff meet in a breakout session to discuss a sidebar made up of things kids never want to hear again after the pandemic.

Remember fun?

“With the time that we have I try to make it so we still have fun, and make people want to continue on with their learning. I probably have more students who have anxiety issues right now than I ever have.”

Rechner can see in Canvas what time kids logged in but she doesn’t really track what hours they keep.

“At first they were saying ‘It’s great, I’m getting more sleep.’ One thing I’m hearing now is, when anyone asks a student how they’re doing, the first thing they say is ‘I’m tired all the time.’”

At home it’s just screens and alternative screens. She thinks it’s far easier for students to concentrate in class when the teacher is walking around and phones are mostly put away.

“As a teacher, I'm multitasking more. I have Remind on my phone, students are texting me with that and I'm texting them. I'm using email. They're using email. Oh, and we also have Canvas that we're using to communicate with each other. Some students get right into the groove of it, and they're able to prioritize. But I think some kids get this avalanche feeling. Because you ask them, did you get that email from me? And they’re like….?”

It’s also hard to know how much support each student is getting and how much stress they're feeling at home.

“Most of my students are feeling confident enough to put their cameras on. I have gotten emails from parents saying that some of our students are just really anxious about online school. For myself, before I teach a class online, there is just something about it that's slightly unsettling. The moment where you're about to log on...”

Technology fails can also be stressful. Rechner recalls being about to text the Lincoln Tech guru Vice Principal Chris Brida in a panic as her WiFi went down 10 minutes before a class. Luckily, she was able to get it up and running and start on time.

So far it has been a lot harder and taken longer to get to know her new students which initially made knowing how to group them difficult. Teaching online sometimes feels like an emotional loss to Rechner.

“I don't have pets and the kids really enjoy seeing people's cats, and when little kids come on and stuff like that. I don't have anything fun like that!”

Rechner wants to remind all LHS kids that even if there were in-person school, it would still be tough to make friends and keep them. She recommends joining a club or affinity group, which are still happening, online.

Her tips for surviving the alienation of online school is to take breaks and reach out.

“It's just important to me to take a break and take a walk for 15 minutes in the middle of the day. At school I could walk around the block. Try to get some fresh air during the day, and have a little conversation with someone. I'll maybe have a phone call with one of my teacher friends, I try to do that a couple times a week. You don't realize how much your life is enriched by casual conversations. It's something that we're just missing.”

She also misses the humor of the live classroom.

“There are a lot of little things that happen in your class are kind of fun and funny. So, I say hi to all the kids and I say goodbye to all of them when they leave, and I thank them. And they thank me. It's similar in that way, but it's also hard to joke around online. Humor hasn't really translated. You know, maybe that'll happen.”

Friends of Lincoln High School: Making it Happen

What we fund

Funds raised by FoL support

  • Supplemental staffing
  • Club and PIL sport teams
  • Classroom requests from teachers
  • Non-athletic club needs
  • Community outreach

Staffing

FoL funds teachers allowing Lincoln to retain excellent staff threatened by budget cuts and maintain a diverse and rich curriculum including Culinary Arts and a Writing Center Tutor.

Athletic Grants

  • Supplemental coaching needs for multiple sports and clubs
  • PIL website hosting
  • Repair of AED units, ice machine, hydroc/whirlpool machines and outdoor PA system
  • Volleyball and cheerleading refreshments and tournaments
  • Travel, meals and lodging support for girls’ wrestling, ski, snowboarding, racquetball, Xcountry and football teams.
  • Rental of indoor/outdoor fields for multiple sports.
  • Funding official timers and referees for multiple sports.
  • Support of college signing day celebration
  • Sports supplies such as soccer balls, nets, tape, softballs etc etc

Academic Grants

  • Support of Mock Trial and Speech and Debate teams
  • Funds for LHS teacher to participate in PPS Finland trip
  • Audio recording of texts for Spanish Immersion students
  • Political Economy grant for Spring Symposium
  • MEChA magazine grant for Wacom tablets, lenses and cases. (photography)
  • Kiln for ceramics program

Grants to In-School support and Outreach/Student and Families in need

  • Fred Meyer gift cards for families in need during the Holiday.
  • Team dues for students in need.
  • Lunches and LHS for students in need.
  • Chromebooks for students in need.
  • Celebration lunch for Sisters/Brothers of Color.
  • Consultant focused on equity for counseling department.
  • Staff training for collaborative problem solving.
  • Staff training for DBT (Dialectical Behavior Therapy).
  • Teacher Appreciation Week and other staff focused events.

Friends of Lincoln is supported by...

Where Inc. Real Estate
Paulson Coletti Trial Attorneys PC
Hoffman Construction
Northwest Neighborhood Veterinary Hospital
Living Room Realty
OnPoint Community Credit Union
Dream Tree Studios Northwest
Marquam Auction Agency
sock eye
BORA
Vista Capital Partners

Friends of Lincoln is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Friends of Lincoln is committed to providing an environment that is free from discrimination in opportunities because of race, color, religion, creed, national origin, ancestry, disability, gender, sexual orientation, or age. We welcome everyone.