Justice Page teacher: ‘It’s so much crazier now’

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. As the outbreak evolves, we will be checking in with the participants regularly. Read all of the stories here.

All interviews are edited for length and clarity.

Tracey Schultz, science teacher, Justice Page Middle School

I would like more hours in the day, and no matter what was going on, I would always say that at this time of year. But it’s so much crazier now. Every step of preparation for class just takes so much longer than it did before. I’m not real sure how sustainable it is on my end, but I’ll just take it one week at a time and maybe a week from now, some things will feel easier.

Working inside the school building has been great. [While students have started the school year with virtual classes, Minneapolis Public Schools teachers are allowed to work out of their school buildings if they wish.] I feel like I’m in the science lab, and that just helps me to be a better teacher.

Any time I’m in my room alone, I don’t have to wear a mask, but if I have someone else in the room or if I step out of my room, I’m always wearing a mask and observing distance. Our engineering staff does a really intense cleaning every day, and there’s a checklist on my door of things that get done on a daily basis, because I’m there every day. So it has felt really safe to be there.

In virtual classes, microphone management is really one of the secrets to success. We’ve got to get it right, and it’s not something the students have necessarily ever practiced before.

We are saying that when we come into Google Meet, we turn our microphones off. We’re also being really clear about, “Here’s what you do when you have a question,” and, “Here are the times when you’re going to get to turn your microphone on.” It’s not perfect, but I’ve been really impressed with how the kids are managing it.

Helping students who get lost was a big question we needed to problem-solve. At school, there are people everywhere. Eventually someone notices or hopefully you can easily find someone to ask, but that’s not true in this setting. We set up a virtual classroom called our “Help Class” and for the first two days of school, our administrators and counselors and social workers and other support staff members managed that Google Meet.

[At Justice Page], we switched to a block schedule with three 90-minute classes a day instead of six 50-minute classes. We just really felt like it was going to be best for kids right now with distance learning to manage a smaller number of classes each day. For me, the longer class period has felt like a really good fit, but, again, it’s just an adjustment.

Before the school year, my fellow sixth-grade teacher and I were talking about how we were going to create hands-on opportunities for kids at home where they’re not just interacting with a lab on a screen. We ended up putting together 300 science kits — one for each of our students — that fit in a gallon-sized zip-up bag. Each one has a composition notebook, a measuring tape, a dropping pipette and tape, an assortment of rubber bands and all of these different things we brainstormed.

Next week we’ll fall into our regular schedule, so then the day will end with what we’re calling a study hall hour. Starting at 3 p.m., kids could say, “Gosh I really need some extra help with math,” or, “You know what, I missed science today. I want to go check in with my science teacher.” Some kids on a certain day will feel like, “I’m in good shape. I’m good to go with my assignments.” We’re talking about some other things they can do with that time.

If we really settle into distance learning, and it becomes clear that this is going to be the way we go for a long period, there’s certainly going to be a lot of emotions that kids feel. They’re obviously really hopeful that they get to come back into the building, but it feels good to have routines.


VOICES FROM THE PANDEMIC

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