“This is my 25th year, but I feel like it’s my first year all over again because there are so many new things to learn and navigate to make this work and for it to be rigorous and worthwhile,” said Susan Bogdan, fifth-grade teacher at Field Stevenson School in Forest Park’s District 91.
Bogdan, along with third-grade teacher Kelly Randazzo and fourth-grade special education teacher Seccoyah Dale, talked with the Review about how their year has been going.
The consensus? Better now.
“At the beginning of the year,” Randazzo said, “it was super-challenging to find inventive ways to do the same thing I’ve been doing for 20 years.” Like Bogdan, she’s been teaching for a long time, but teaching remotely full-time was, in some ways, like starting all over again.
“Now that I’ve gotten into a groove, it’s going a lot better,” Randazzo said. The students are familiar with the routines and the websites they need to access. They’re comfortable with the programs they need to use.
The key, said Bogdan, is communication.
“I think, here at Field, we’re super-communicators,” she said. And that’s important to keep everyone on the same page: teachers, students, parents.
As a fifth-grade teacher, Bogdan already knows a lot of the kids who come into her class since third- and fourth-graders are also taught at Field Stevenson during a typical school year. And the kids already know each other.
But Randazzo’s third-graders come from Betsy Ross, and they’re not familiar with the school, perhaps less of a challenge since learning is remote. But they’re also not familiar with her, and creating bonds remotely isn’t as easy as doing so in person.
“I think the hardest thing for me is forming close relationships with [the students],” Randazzo said. “That was a lot easier to do in person. I am getting to know them now, but in person it was more natural, as an extension of the classroom, to just keep chatting because you had an extra couple of minutes.”
Dale, who is new to the district this year, expressed the same sentiment.
“I do miss being in the room with the children and having that connection with them,” she said. “It is tough to kind of go into the career this way, but I’m just dealing with it. It’s not forever.”
And despite challenges, all three teachers have found positives in so completely changing the way they’re teaching.
Bodgan, who admitted she’s “always been skittish to try new technology,” has learned to embrace it. She said she’s become familiar with a lot of new programs, including some she plans to incorporate into her classroom even when learning is back in-person, although she’s also more mindful about how much screen time kids are facing these days.
The need for structure and consistency, always important, has been amplified during remote learning. But it’s a lesson to carry through even when times settle back to normal.
Randazzo said changes and improvements in communication are things she intends to continue. During remote learning, she has started sending home surveys to parents and students, asking how things are going.
“That’s not something I typically did before,” she said. “I sent home letters every Friday, but it was just information going out, not feedback coming back from parents or students.” She plans to continue the two-way transfer of information because the regular feedback from and communication with parents is helpful.
The teachers said they’re grateful that D91 hasn’t gone back and forth between in-person and remote learning; the stability has been a blessing.
“We all want to be back in the classroom,” Randazzo said, “but the district’s choice to stay remote was good. I think the back and forth is a lot harder on kids. For us as teachers, we could make it work. But for the kids, it would be a lot for them.”
Like all the teachers the Review has interviewed, Bodgan, Randazzo and Dale all mentioned the tremendous parental support they’ve seen this school year.
“Props to the parents. Without their support and their help and guidance, this would not be as successful as it is because, obviously, we’re not there. They are. I give the parents a lot of credit for being on top of the students and keeping them on their schedules,” Randazzo said.
And, like all the other teachers we’ve talked to, they made one thing clear: They miss the kids.