North Dover teacher guides students through virtual classroom

Shanika Teachey, a second grade teacher at North Dover Elementary, leads students through an activity Monday. Her class began the year remotely. (Delaware State News/Brook Schultz)

DOVER — Shanika Teachey greeted her second grade class with, “Good morning, friends,” as the students began popping up, one by one, into the grid of the Zoom classroom.

Seated at her desk in North Dover Elementary School in front of her decorated bulletin board, with Delaware State University student teacher Kiana Gangadeen placed at a desk across the room, Mrs. Teachey kicked off the day with a warm up.

As students parsed what they “noticed” and “wondered” about the bar graph depicting favorite fruits, jotting it down on slips of paper in front of them, Mrs. Teachey and Ms. Gangadeen (or “Ms. G” to the class) took down attendance.

Monday marked the second week of remote learning for Capital School District, as districts across the state welcomed students back to school last week and this week. How students returned, however, looked quite different depending on the district.

Kiana Gangadeen, a student teacher from Delaware State University, assists with a reading lesson. While she penned details from a short stories, students were able to view her at home to follow along. (Delaware State News/Brooke Schultz)

In Capital, the first six weeks will look a little like this for Mrs. Teachey’s class: students log in, with their microphones muted and their cameras on. After, attendance is collected and the students discuss what they wrote down from their warm ups, while Mrs. Teachey also helps parents troubleshoot technical difficulties.

“We’re trying to develop that routine so they know in the morning or at some point in the day to Check In and to do their daily [exit ticket], so those are the two things that must be done by the end of the day,” she said.

The “check in” has students type in their name, write out any questions and check off how they’re feeling that day.

The exit tickets are tied to class lectures, which Mrs. Teachey records and posts for parents and students on Schoology, along with the various slides she takes students through during the day. Monday’s exit ticket revolved around picking up details from a short story about how a bird, Little Flap, learned how to fly thanks to his bird-friends, as well as math questions.

“The reason that we wanted to do that, as a district, is so that it is more equitable for all students,” Mrs. Teachey said. “For the high school students, as a district, we’re aware that they might be helping out a younger sibling and may not be able to get onto the live Zoom at that time. So if that is the case, a way for us to monitor attendance and make sure they’re getting the content is if they were able to do a check in or do an exit ticket every day.”

After the class listened through morning announcements — recorded by Principal Shani Benson — and stood for the Pledge of Allegiance, Mrs. Teachey led students through a calendar and coin counting activity. She demonstrated what buttons to click on if the students wanted to type into the chat box through laminated Zoom cue cards.

About a half hour into the day, Mrs. Teachey and Ms. G led students through a game of “I Spy” where they gave students a color and 30 seconds to grab something nearby for a show-and-tell. They were presented with a hermit crab, copies of “Harry Potter,” a miniature bridge, colored pencils, cleaning supplies and a mask — along with other items.

Moments like that were sprinkled throughout: stretch breaks to the tune of “head-shoulders-knees-and-toes” when students were getting antsy; a classwide reprieve for bathroom breaks after several hands popped up; or “whole body reading” where the students, Mrs. Teachey and Ms. G stood up to recite the essential question they’d be focusing on for their reading.

As she and Ms. G stood up and moved about the room, in the background of their Zoom screens are snippets of the classroom: bright bulletin boards, pointers, the SMART board and bins of books.

“That really is my goal, to try to make it as if we are really here, we’re in the classroom, we are learning, we are together,” Ms. Teachey said. “The more I can make it feel like we would normally be face-to-face, I think the more the kids appreciate it. They take it more seriously.”

In a typical classroom, if the teachers notice attention waning, they’ll try to do something to liven up the students, like stretching, Mrs. Teachey said.

“I think [breaks] probably happen more often because we are virtual. There’s a lot more distractions at home and also they’re sitting a lot,” she said. “Just being in front of the screen — we know — by the end of the day, we are exhausted. As adults, if we’re exhausted, I can only imagine for the kiddos.”

The second half of the morning was dedicated to reading. The students listened through the text together, picking up on the key words they’re learning for the assignment. Using another camera, Ms. G demonstrated drawing out four circles on a page to fill in with details of the story. They filled in two circles together; the other two would become their “exit ticket;” and Mrs. Teachey demonstrated how to find the assignment on their Schoology page again.

Around 10 a.m., after two hours of Zooming, students muted themselves, turned off their cameras and were placed in the Zoom waiting room while they had time for independent work (such as finishing their first exit ticket) and lunch.

At noon, the students logged back on for math, took part in a special — like art, music, gym, library or technology (Monday was gym). After a break, the schedule has flexible “What I Need” time, which is dedicated to working on specific skills with some students.

Adapting teaching

“The kids have been the best part, I would say,” Mrs. Teachey said last week, during the first week of classes. “They’re just resilient and they make you feel like, whatever you’re doing, it’s OK and they’re flexible that way.”

Mrs. Teachey is a fourth year teacher. She started in North as a paraprofessional, and had actually student-taught in the classroom she now calls her “happy place.”

The first day of school, which was Sept. 8, she had been worried about “coming into the unknown.”

“We were very worried about how the kids would receive it, if they would be very open to hearing it, or if they would just zone out and say, ‘No, I’m done,’” she said.

Monday, she said attendance had been good last week and the start of this week, along with participation.

For the most part, the students are comfortable with the technology and logging on.

“None of them have huge trouble accessing. You have some that are a lot more tech savvy,” she said, noting one student who was particularly adept at troubleshooting.

The first few weeks are typically data collection, looking at the end of testing from the year before and doing benchmark testing.

“All these things will sort of better prepare the teachers so we can focus our content and align it to the student needs,” she said. “Because we started virtually, I’m relying more so on the past year teachers, so speaking to them directly and finding out what sort of things my babies had that were challenging for them and what sort of strengths they had.”

In the coming weeks, she’ll also be planning how the class will transition to hybrid learning. Through the visuals of her classroom, she hopes to bring the learning done virtually through the continuum of in-person learning. For now, it’s helpful to have two hands on deck, to monitor the kids on Zoom, respond to parent concerns and more.

Aside from how last year ended, with students entirely remote and teachers sharing lessons and review from their homes, Mrs. Teachey was able to hone her virtual teaching skills over the summer through the district’s summer boost program.

“As the year started, it’s not as daunting as I thought it would be as far as with the kids,” she noted. “The planning is crazy. You really are planning three times more with the behind-the-scenes stuff.”

What would be two steps in person — Ms. G writing something on the board and the students copying it down — becomes even more online.

“In that short time that the kids see the Zoom, my whole weekend is devoted to ironing this part out, to streamline it, so parents and students are able to access all the tools and try to make this as seamless as possible,” she said. “We are very much a village and we are in it together.”

A parent herself — of a 16-, 13- and 10-year-old — she understands what concerns parents have.

“I know that we all yearn for that normalcy, and getting the kids back in,” she said. “As teachers, my heart is wholeheartedly in it with these students, so I have the same stresses and worries with these kids as I normally would if they were in my presence, worrying about, are they able to understand the content? Are they getting the skills I want them to? Are they growing? Do they understand that Mrs. Teachey loves them very much? I just want them to feel welcomed and feel like a part of our classroom community.”