When Mr. Tom Baker attended high school more than 50 years ago, it was a different time. High in the Berkshire Mountains of Norfolk, Conn., he sat quietly in his seat, took notes, and carried physical textbooks instead of electronic ones. Now one of Marian’s most tenured social studies teachers, he is in the midst of an unprecedented shift in education where virtual learning has the potential to become a normality, and he is still acclimating to the situation.
However, for Ms. Colleen Follis, Marian’s newest student teacher and Creighton University senior, this is normal. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Follis was unable to spend time in schools last spring, making the 2020-21 school year her first official introduction to a career in teaching secondary education. During undergrad, Follis took a Technology in the Classroom course at Creighton. “Professors knew that this was the direction that school was heading, but they had no idea it would be this extensive or this quick,” Follis said. Nonetheless, Follis said the challenges of the pandemic in the classroom have not deterred her from continuing to pursue a career in teaching. “There is still lesson planning that you always do, the materials are similar and I get to help instill a love of learning in students,” Follis said.
Others have embraced the technology challenges, like Sarah Pattrin, a professional development creator and instructional facilitator at Omaha Public Schools (OPS). “With the district’s 1:1 Technology Initiative, we have been able to ensure all students in our diverse population have equal opportunity to learn,” said Pattrin. OPS is using Microsoft TEAMS for both hybrid and 100% remote learning models. Since March 2020, teachers and staff have collaborated to create a new learning environment with a technology “command” center. Within it, teachers have the ability to display resources via a document camera, divide classes into virtual small groups and work 1:1 with students online. “Technology has helped the district overcome challenges in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Pattrin said.
This new technology-centered education environment has Baker anxious for the return of in-person classes. “I hope education doesn’t lose the flavor of a one on one relationship between teachers and students,” Baker said. “This interaction is where the real learning takes place because it allows kids to come to their own conclusions.” Since 1977, Baker’s teaching pedagogy has been centered around student ownership of their education, making him a fierce advocate for the in-person experience. While he understands the need for the virtual option at this time, Baker said he is praying that it is only temporary.
On Jan. 12, OPS announced that elementary students will be returning to a full in-person learning model on Feb. 2. “A remote learning option will still be available,” Pattrin said, “something that could be around for the foreseeable future until the vaccine is more widely available.”
According to the Marian administration, Marian teachers are scheduled to receive the first dose of the Moderna vaccine in late February through the Archdiocese of Omaha.
While it is not clear what this will mean for COVID-19 protocols inside the school, it is the first step to the safe return of classroom life, no matter what it looks like.