Irene Montano packed up her belongings at Cutler Bay Senior High in Miami and said farewell to her students face-to-face for the last time on March 13.
High Schools across Miami were forced to shut their doors and move students online as known cases of coronavirus began to sweep the nation. Like hundreds of other teachers in Miami-Dade County Public Schools, Montano faced the challenge of rapidly adapting curriculum to teach students via distance learning. As the spring semester comes to a close, teachers are reflecting on the unprecedented experience.
Students began their courses online on March 16, according to Montano. She said the school put out a survey beforehand asking parents if their child would need a device to use at home. The final Friday of school, devices were handed out to both students and teachers in need.
In addition, Montano’s students had already been using online programs like OneNote and Teams throughout the year.
“The only new program for myself and my students that I began to use at the end of the year was our online textbook and Zoom, which is embedded into Teams for us,” Montano said.
Nathalie Milian, an English teacher at International Studies Preparatory Academy, said the district held three professional development days to help faculty learn to use any new technology. They provided teachers with an extensive list of technology to use, but this wasn’t done until after they had already moved online.
“I already used a lot of online technology, so I felt comfortable,” Milian said. “But I didn’t feel comfortable with the planning and organizational aspect of distance teaching.”
Gulliver Schools, a private co-educational college preparatory day school, was also forced to shut its doors and send students home.
Gabriel Medina is a history teacher at Gulliver and said the school provided its faculty and students with an abundance of resources to aid the transition.
“The school offered laptops, internet hotspots, and headphones with mics to anyone in need and paid for online learning platform services like Nearpod and Zoom.” Medina said. “They also put members of the IT department on call nearly 24/7.”
Although schools provided a variety of resources to ease the process of distance learning, teachers felt their students faced difficulty learning remotely. Montano said the experience and the absence of a physical classroom had an emotional toll on some of her students.
“They are struggling to complete online assignments and missing the social aspect of the classroom,” Montano said. “I am not sure how the long-term impact of that will manifest itself.”
However, Medina and Milian admitted a few of their students have benefitted from learning online. At Gulliver, Medina said students with attention disorders reported that remote learning was better for them because the class periods went down from 85 minutes to 60.
Milian said the experience “gives them a good sense of what earning an online college degree would be like and what kind of a commitment it requires.”
As teachers look forward to the 2020-21 academic year, they are forced to prepare for both a return to campus and a continuation of distance learning.
“I think they are hoping for the best, returning to campus on a normal schedule, and preparing for the worst, full online or some combination of online and in-person,” Montano said.
In addition, Gulliver Schools is providing online workshops for teachers to continue learning the platforms necessary to teach remotely, according to Medina.
“A lot will be known based on how Europe, who is opening school, completes this process,” Milian said. “But talk of social distancing and masks is definitely in the air.”