Adapting to change: how Conestoga teachers are making a difference at home

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By Umar Samdani, Staff Reporter

As the world is adjusting to a new lifestyle, the T/E School District is adapting to distance learning. Initiated on March 18, distance learning offers a way for students to learn while in quarantine. The coronavirus pandemic has forced teachers to continue to experiment with these technologies as they try to give information in the best way possible. Nevertheless, many of these teachers are facing both technological and practical challenges that make it difficult to do so. 

    On March 12, Gov. Wolf announced that all Montgomery County schools would be closed for the next two weeks. As the situation progressed, it became evident that the school needed to switch to an online learning platform in order to continue instruction. 

    Despite the warning, many teachers were still struggling to adjust to the new schedule that distance learning required. Karcewski found little time away from the computer during the initial days. 

    “I was basically chained to my computer from 7 in the morning to dinner time. I was really on the computer every chance I got. It was a lot to learn, and I was very overwhelmed because I didn’t know how to use a lot of the digital apps,” Karcewski said.  

Making adjustments: Spanish teacher Ann Karcewski prepares to create materials for her students. Karcewski changed her work schedule once the schools switched to distance learning.

    One challenge that teachers face with distance learning is the inability to quickly assess whether their students understand information. Kristi DiRico, who teaches Algebra II and Honors Calculus, is especially worried about this obstacle.  

“Math is different because you can’t just express your ideas, you need to know how to come to the right answer,” DiRico said. “When I’m in a classroom, I’m constantly trying to read my audience and tell if they are with me or not. It’s really that visual feedback that I miss in trying to create instructional materials.”

    One solution to this challenge is the office hours that teachers are offering. During Office Hours, teachers can set up conference meetings through Schoology or Microsoft Teams. When students join these conferences, they can ask questions about the material or listen to a general review of concepts. Teachers are continuing to find ways to make office hours more efficient. 

    For example, DiRico uses the snip application to display homework problems. If the student asks for another problem, the DiRico can use the snipping tool again to display another problem in a matter of seconds. Karcewski, though, finds another purpose in Office Hours. 

    “I find that a lot of kids just want to come on in and chat and socialize, and that’s nice too. It’s been so long since I’ve seen them and it’s nice to hear their voices. It (office hours) really adds another layer of connection,” Karcewski said. 

    Although distance learning itself presents many challenges, there are some silver linings. Now, teachers are required to learn new video-editing technologies. They can also experiment with new resources they may not have the time to use in a traditional classroom setting. Karcewski also sees another positive outcome from distance learning.

“I would have never taken the time to learn screencasting and put my face on a PowerPoint. There’s so many things that we can do with WeVideo,” Karcewski said. “But also, verifying grades is much more efficient. Before, it would be a lot of paperwork but now it’s on a spreadsheet and all automated.”

    Above all, teachers miss interacting with their students. The transition from a faced-paced, interactive classroom to a more sedentary and isolated one has been hard for many teachers, including DiRico. 

“What I definitely miss is the people part of the job. I can still do the content part, but I really miss both my students and my colleagues,” DiRico said. 

Karcewski has similar misgivings and misses speaking to her students in Spanish. 

    “Especially in the language department, we no longer have that in-the-moment practice conversation with our students and giving them feedback immediately. It’s much better when we can see their faces and help them learn in the moment,” Karcewski. 

One piece of advice both teachers gave was to keep on moving forward and trying to learn. Both teachers agreed that the more effort they put in now, the more prepared they will be for the next year. Karcewski wanted her students to understand how flexible the teachers are when it comes to coursework.  

“We’re really thoughtful in what we give out to students. It’s never just for busy work, but rather to reinforce something that would be helpful to the student,” Karcewski said. “So my advice would just be to stay engaged and not let go of school.” 


Umar Samdani can be reached at [email protected]