Trial by fire: Teachers learning to teach via ‘Distance Learning’

Trial by fire: Teachers learning to teach via ‘Distance Learning’

With today, May 8, being the end of Teacher Appreciation Week, it is very fitting that we were honored to have a teacher with more than 40 years experience share her story with us. If you have been wondering what it must be like to be a teacher and suddenly thrust into a whole new method of trying to reach your children, particularly in a world filled with fear and questions, Island School teacher Jane Bengston is here to explain. With more than four decades of teaching experience, her world was turned upside down in March of this year.

She was kind enough to tell us her story, in her own words.

And to all teachers, everywhere, from the bottom of our hearts … thank you. Thank you so much for all that you do.

BY JANE BENGSTON – In 2016, I retired from Sarasota County Schools. After 44 years of teaching, my life was to be the beach, travel and relaxation. After a few months, I realized that really was not my dream.   

I missed the students and the classroom that I loved very much, and found my way over the bridge to Boca Grande. Fortunately, The Island School needed a substitute teacher and I needed a classroom! The past four years have been a gift that The Island School has given me, a match made in heaven!

On March 17, our Governor announced that schools would be closed and distance learning would begin …

WHAT?   

I was not prepared for this! I was not trained for this!  And, honestly, I did not want to be part of this! In my mind, distance Learning was moving the desks farther apart. I have LOVED every minute of my time at TIS, but now the Governor was forcing us to shake-up our perfect little school in paradise and that terrified me. They say, “The first step in solving a problem is to recognize that it exists.” No problem, I recognized that the problem was me and technology was my new unwelcome collaborator.  Reminding myself, with every reluctant click of the mouse, that I was doing this for the children I love and would not want to disappoint, so onward I forged.

First, there was Zoom! This was a new and intriguing – and sometimes annoying – computer-learning opportunity to face students one-on-one at their desks, on their couches and even lounging on their beds. Then, there was Google Classroom, a platform for students to complete work I assign each week.

Of course, to make all of this happen there were on-line training sessions scheduled. The trainers, the best in these fields, went just a little too fast for me, and when they asked if anyone had questions…I wasn’t even sure what to ask! I cried every day, sometimes five times a day, just trying to prepare for this new way to teach. Of course, sheltering-in-place did not relieve any stress.

So, I called for backup and in rode the cavalry. First, it was my son, who arrived from Los Angeles, and calmed my fears and “patiently” showed me the ins and outs of Zoom. As a television producer, he was also able to convert the guest bedroom into a studio/classroom, complete with lighting, cameras and props for my new adventure   

Then the other teachers from The Island School shared their own expertise, always willing to help and give each other support. And of course, Jean Thompson, Head-of-School, did it all. Not only was she there to advise and “hold” my hand, from six feet away, she found materials I needed and dropped them at my door. Every time I doubted my abilities, she was there cheering me on, showing me another idea to try, and even troubleshooting my computer’s software issues.

Now, keep in mind, all of this was happening before the students even touched a computer.

Finally the teachers were ready … we just needed our students. Mrs. Thompson made sure they were ready by driving all of their materials to their homes.

So, how am I doing, after five weeks of distance learning? Fantastic! I wake up every morning anxious to see the faces of my fabulous fifth grade students and my sensational second graders. It is their smiles that brighten every day and keep me going.

Work is getting done, progress is being made, and the kids seem happy. On a recent Saturday, I took The Island School on the road. With my son  driving, we visited the homes of all 25 of my students. To see their smiles and expressions of gratitude as they selected school supplies, books, or a special treat from the trunk of my car, made all of that early frustration and exhaustion so worthwhile. It made me realize, that even after 47 years of teaching, there could be no better job in the world.

I am grateful for the village who helped me understand that this new approach to learning could work be successful. It’s not perfect, but we are all doing our best, which is pretty darn good! Thank you to Vicky Winterer, who sits in on our Thursday class with the fifth graders and makes things seem a bit more normal.

I remind myself every day that while the governor may have closed the schools, he didn’t stop education!

As this marks the end of Teacher Appreciation Week, I would like to salute and thank my fellow teacher-heroes at both The Island School and around the country.