Teachers go the extra mile for education

Published 1:46 pm Tuesday, March 9, 2021

Teachers and educators have had a tough year of rethinking the way they perform everyday classroom tasks. From going virtual to thinking of creative ways to help their students, to even bringing wireless internet access to them, teachers have been there every step of the way to keep educating while keeping their students safe.

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, educators have had to adapt multiple times and reinvent themselves in the classroom in order to keep their students engaged and learning.

Rebekah Anglian, a teacher at Evarts Elementary School, said it has been a process of changing over and over again to meet the needs of students, and although at times stressful, has proven teachers and students alike are strong and focused.

“I believe that throughout the ordeal, we have all developed a sense of resiliency and strength that would not have otherwise been found. While everything about the way we present information to students has changed, our passion for the profession has not. Prior to the COVID-19 outbreak, I relied heavily on a hands-on approach to learning,” Anglian said, something Tami Brock, a teacher at Harlan County High School seconded.

Anglian said her first grade students at Evarts Elementary School received targeted, individualized instruction that allowed them to move throughout the classroom, explore a variety of learning materials, collaborate with peers and engage in higher-order thinking skills in the most practical manner possible. She noted upon switching to virtual learning, she sought to continue to incorporate as many of the skills and strategies possible into the new platform.

“Although we are not able to utilize the hands-on learning approach to the extent to which we are comfortable, students continue to engage in learning and collaboration via Zoom and Google Meet. Education materials have been adapted to fit into a Google Classroom, and students continue to receive interactive lessons in virtual formats. As a teacher, we are determined to provide the best instruction to our students, regardless of how it must take place,” she said.

Brock also said the use of other technology like FaceTime, phone calls, emails and more has helped her students as well, who are high schoolers.

“My students are very impacted by this virus. In fact, their entire worlds have changed. We think it is tough on us? Imagine being a teenager during all this, trying to navigate it all,” Brock said. “But they are so resilient! My kids, our kids of Harlan County, truly are some of the best and brightest in the state! They have taken on the challenge of learning during a global pandemic and have, for the most part, been pretty successful. I know that all students (college included) are having to deal with the way information is presented, and I am super proud of our HC kids.”

Cumberland Elementary School teacher Taylor Fields said it is the one-on-one interaction that has taken its toll on her the most.

What would normally be a day filled with hands-on activities and in-person learning, has essentially been swallowed by technology for the time being as teachers keep going the extra mile for their students as a way to protect their health.

“The personal relationship side of teaching is what I value most, and with remote teaching, it just doesn’t feel the same. Having the students move away from a physical class where I am there to teach and answer questions immediately, and where I could read the body language and facial expressions of my students, takes away from my effectiveness as a teacher and relationship building,” Fields said.

“The students are missing out on the one-on-one interaction with teachers and peers. They are missing the social interaction with peers. They just aren’t getting the same quality education as if they were here. By being at school, the students can work collaboratively and learn from each other, as well as from the teacher and instruction. Being in person allows more learning opportunities for students as opposed to just a lesson and work each day.”

Anglian added she misses the daily stories from her students, hugs and the ability to witness the struggles and successes of each student on any given day.

“While we continue to move forward and present instruction intended to prepare our students for future success, our hearts are broken that we are not physically with them each day. We love our students, we worry about their health, safety and mental well-being, and we miss them terribly,” Anglian said. “With that being said, I do have to say that virtual instruction has presented a unique opportunity to get to know the students in their homes and with their families. Throughout our Zoom sessions, I have had the opportunity to interact with parents, siblings, grandparents and even pets that I would not have otherwise had the chance to meet. Virtual instruction will always be difficult, but in changing our perspective, we can change the tone for everyone involved.”

In order for each student to have the same opportunities as their peers in virtual learning, many local businesses and organizations across Harlan County have opened up their WiFi signals to allow students without at-home access to continue their education. Laptops and other materials were also provided by both the Harlan Independent and Harlan County school districts.

Brock and Fields said it is incredible to see the community react in such a way that justifies how much locals, even if they don’t know each other, are like family.

“I think it is awesome, but I think it is typical for our people in Harlan County. When our community is in need, we try to come together to help in any way we can. That is just who we are,” Brock said.

Anglian said moving forward, she wants her students to continue to learn and grow, and she wishes to instill in them a sense of independence and confidence in their individual abilities, while still providing them with the safety net of support in their education journey.

“As a teacher, I want my students to understand that we are living in a period of time that will be talked about and studied for years to come, so it is crucial that we leave the most positive mark possible. While we cannot control the situation, we can control the way that we react and what we gain from the experience as a whole,” she said. “While this time has been extremely difficult and trying to everyone involved, I believe that we will all come out stronger and better prepared to handle whatever life throws us.”

Harlan Superintendent C.D. Morton said even though the COVID-19 pandemic isn’t over yet, he wants to continue to stay connected to families.

“We want every student to feel responsible to someone who cares for them and can coach them through this time,” he said. “We are working really hard to make sure they have the resources they need to be successful. There is a sense of urgency to help students stay engaged.”

Morton said as a long-term goal, school officials full recognize they do not get to push rewind on time, and there are events that are important to the life of all students and they don’t want them to miss out. He added strong efforts are being made to keep as many traditions as possible, while also considering ways to do them differently.

“We are committed to trying to prepare our kids for the future that awaits them, whether it is college or the workforce, our long-term goal is to empower them to navigate with the confidence and skills to be as successful as they want to be.”