By Selah Vetter & Madoline Markham
Photos by Lindsey Culver

With classes online or six feet apart, these teachers are still teaching their students in an A+ way.

Justin Bowlby
Hall-Kent Elementary Traditional Teacher

How have you been able to social distance in PE class?

We have assigned every student a number and a spot that stays with them wherever they are in PE, including the gym, field or playground. This has really helped with organization for activities and staying socially distant as much as we can.

What has been the hardest part of teaching in this time?

We used to see every student every day in physical education. Instead of three classes being in the gym at the same time, we have one class in the gym, one on the field and one on the playground. This means we only see each class once every two to three days. I miss seeing them daily! Also, disinfecting the playground and cleaning all PE equipment between classes has been hard, but we are doing our best to be safe.

What is something good that has happened due to this new way of teaching?

The amount of individual practice time has been great. We always do our best to maximize practice time for any skill we are working on, but this can be limited based on the amount of equipment available or number of students in a class. With the way we have separated classes this year, we have plenty of equipment for everyone and there is very little wait time. They are active from start to finish, which is always our goal!

Carnetta Kennedy
Shades Cahaba Elementary Traditional Teacher

How have you adapted an in-person class to make it safe for your students?

My classroom has always run on collaboration, partnerships, small groups, and one-on-one conferencing. I had to figure out a way to incorporate as much of that as possible while social distancing. I bought a class set of plastic shoe box-sized containers and filled them with individual items that we would use for different activities. I taught my students how to play partner games using Mirror Boards where each student has their own game board, dice and counters. This allowed us to play games, build community and get to know one another.

What has been a challenge for you?

The most difficult part for me has been not being able to see their smiles or facial expressions, or be able to touch my students: no hugs, high fives or fun lunchtime conversations with a table full of students.

What has been a good thing that has happened to your class due to the pandemic?

We spend so much time together as a class that it has allowed us to build community faster. We spend almost the entire day in our classroom with the exception of recess and our daily trip to the lunch room. It has promoted friendships with multiple friends and interactions with different groupings.

Are there any new teaching methods you will keep once the pandemic is over?

I have implemented class affirmations that we discuss and recite daily. I believe this helps with our mental wellness, and builds self-esteem and confidence in their own abilities. Our class affirmations are: I am loved. I am safe. My mind is full of brilliant ideas. My problems have solutions. I am important. I can make a difference. I can do hard things. I am a good human. I learn from my mistakes. I am enough.

Erin Klotz
Homewood Middle School Virtual Teacher

How does your average day look different in the pandemic than it would otherwise?

I have never sat so much in my entire life. I usually sing and dance in my classroom, and we interact with science. Now I come in and post things to (website platform) Schoology, and we do Google Meets with half the class at a time.

What has been challenging for you as you teach?

It is a lot of trying to encourage and generate conversation and stimulate their brains and make sure they are getting the content. You have to build rapport through a screen so they feel that same human connection even through a square. I thrive so much on making sure my students feel energized and encouraged, and building that digitally is hard. I have to make sure I maintain that energy level I would want to have in the classroom.

How do you do science labs virtually?

We dissected a flower together and will extract DNA together through strawberries with materials they have at home. We also use simulation software that allows them to manipulate things. If we were looking at cells under the microscope, we’d do it through simulations.

How has teaching like this shaped you as a person and as a teacher?

It’s made me appreciate how much I love interacting with the adolescent learner, but I’m grateful also for the support of my administration to have time so I can make sure I am providing good lessons. It’s made me be organized in a way that I might not have to create materials so far in advance. Personally, I normally have meetings with kids before and after school, and now I don’t feel rushed with my own kids in the morning. I try as hard as I can to stay positive and remember why I love what I do.

Bevin Gamble
Edgewood Elementary Virtual Teacher

How have you made virtual learning effective?

One of the best things I have done for my students is create a virtual environment that utilizes diverse learning tools. I believe that providing my students with the most authentic second-grade experience possible is important. The activities I have used have been a mixture of digital and hands-on learning. This approach to virtual teaching has kept my students engaged.

What has been challenging for you as you teach?

As a virtual teacher, my work can go with me anywhere, so finding a balance between giving my students everything they need to be successful and giving myself time to recharge has been a challenge.

How have your relationships with students and parents been in a virtual setting?

I have been surprised at how quickly the students have been able to form friendships in a new school setting. Their kindness and genuine care for each other shines through the screen each day. It has been a joy to watch the kids find ways to talk, laugh and play in a virtual setting. A positive outcome to virtual learning has been the rapid relationship growth between myself and the amazing families of my students. In a virtual learning environment, a strong teacher-family relationship is essential to maximize a student’s full potential.

How do you see virtually learning impacting your classroom in the future?

Once the pandemic is over, I plan to integrate more opportunities for digital learning within the traditional setting. We live in a digital world that is ever changing, so it’s important for students, even at a young age, to have opportunities to engage with technology on a regular basis.

What stands out about your students this year?

I have been so impressed with how well the students in elementary school have worn their masks. I wasn’t sure what to expect when we were getting ready to begin this fall, but overall they have done great.

Ansley Vanderpool
Homewood High School Classroom & Virtual English Teacher

How does teaching look different for you this year?

The biggest differences is we are all wearing masks and sitting far apart, and I’m only seeing students twice a week. Half of the students (last names A-J) come two days a week, the other half (L-Z) come two days a week, and Wednesday is completely virtual, so I meet with them for 20 minutes.

What is challenging for you as a teacher in this time?

My biggest challenge is planning content for the students at home and how I can make it so it’s like they are in my classroom.

What is challenging for the students?

I think the biggest challenge for them is adjusting to the autonomy that online learning gives them, but I think they are getting there. I’ve seen an increase in students self-advocating. They have been getting better about reaching out and asking questions and setting up a Google Meet for help. I am really proud of them for that.

 What silver linings have you seen?

For me the biggest one is it’s an opportunity to extend grace to my students and for them to extend grace to me and to each other. Another silver lining is the smaller class sizes. Splitting the class in half has created a more intimate space for learning, so we have more time to discuss and hear what the people in the room have to say. My English classes are about 15 students versus about 30.

What do you think you will remember most from this time?

Teachers are working three times harder to make this year work, and it’s obvious the teachers here care so much about the success of our students. I have heard some coworkers say they are working close to 100 hours a week.