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‘Treading water': Teachers reflect on return to virtual learning

'Parents are already exhausted, and it’s week one. It’s on me to just make sure we’re bringing it,' says Innisfil teacher
2020-01-25 Saad JO-001
Steven Saad, a teacher with Goodfellow Public School in Innisfil, is shown in a file as he engages his students remotely.

The first week back to school after the winter break has been a rocky road for school boards, families and students, but Simcoe County teachers have taken up the torch to keep things fresh and interesting despite the return to virtual learning as of Jan. 5.

Bill Hewitt is teaching Grade 9 woodshop at Collingwood Collegiate Institute, after spending 20 years teaching the subject. He says this gives him an advantage when switching to the virtual platform.

“You switch focus. Last year, I had a metal shop class online, so I’ve taught hard tech online before,” said Hewitt. “I feel for teachers who are teaching a course they have never taught before, or if they’re a new teacher.

“Some people are just treading water now in those cases,” he added.

Prior to the winter break, Hewitt said he had taught his class in-person how to make a wooden speaker, a ping-pong paddle and a box. As there has always been both a practical and a theoretical component to his class, he has shifted his curriculum to focus on the theoretical component of woodshop for the two weeks students will be in virtual learning.

This has included showing students how to apply for apprenticeships, reviewing technical drawings and looking at opportunities for students to go into skilled trades.

“I can definitely work with what I have structured for the next week,” said Hewitt. “The tech classes are all about learning that spacial relationship between a drawing on the paper and then building something in real life. It’s too bad.”

Steven Saad, who teaches Grade 3 at Goodfellow Public School in Innisfil, says he’s spent extra time this year focusing on teaching his students about troubleshooting and working independently.

“I feel like there are different expectations now because we know so much more,” said Saad. “A lot of families have parents working from home and we had their assistance last year, but I am finding that in order to accommodate a lot of parents I’m trying to really build the independence skills with the kids. I’m continually encouraging kids to work through things on their own rather than asking their parents.

“I think that’s one of the things we’re really missed out on over the last two years,” he added.

Saad has worked throughout the pandemic to create online videos to accompany his lessons, which have been shared across the Simcoe County District School Board network and on social media. He says it’s important to him so he can keep up with previous students, as well as find new audiences who might benefit from his content.

“If I wane on my enthusiasm, (my students) are going to be gone as well,” said Saad. “Parents are already exhausted and it’s week one. It’s on me to just make sure we’re bringing it.”