Teaching in the Pandemic

Amy Zientek's students working during Science class.

Before the pandemic Amy Zientek’s students could work closely together on hands-on science projects. As schools closed, her science teaching became virtual.

Amy Zientek, a three-time School of Education alum and science teacher, was chosen as the 2019 Celebrate Teaching and Teachers teacher of the year last fall. (See story at https://uwm.edu/education/uwm-science-teaching-alumna-honored/). Recently Zientek, who accepted a position at Brookfield Academy, shared some of her experiences in teaching at Greendale High School after the pandemic hit. Here’s what she had to say about the experience of trying to be a hands-on science teacher virtually while helping her own three children learn at home:

Teaching in the wake of COVID-19 was a challenge for me. Virtual learning pushed me to rethink how to facilitate student learning of standards, and how to prepare my Advanced Placement students for a new version of the exam.

My toolbox went from understanding and using Google Suite to using various learning apps, including: Explain Everything, Screencastify, Zoom, Google Meet and FlipGrid. After feeling disconnected from my students, I embedded BombBomb videos into my emails to students, all in the hopes of adding a personal touch to lesson expectations.

Because my high school students were juggling seven virtual classes at a time, up to 21 virtual lessons each week, I knew my lessons had to be efficient, purposeful, and manageable, and communication on expectations had to be crystal clear. I spent most of my week responding to and emailing students and parents along with helping my own children with their Zoom sessions.

Amy Zientek honored with the 2019 Celebrate Teachers and Teaching Award.My weekend was spent planning lessons for the following week. While lesson planning, I barricaded myself in my room (my three little kids outside my door), revising lessons to make sure I was delivering a plan for students that was meaningful each week. My lessons for the week were posted by Sunday night, and assignments weren’t due until the following Sunday to allow students flexibility as they navigated school with at-home responsibilities.

I had grades entered by Tuesday each week. All the while, I felt the guilt of what this new normal was doing to my own children’s social and emotional health. Yes, mommy was working from home, but mommy was working from home. My children were confused because I was home, but unable to give them my full attention. I wondered what other home lives looked like in this new normal.

A handful of students did not turn in work and did not respond to my emails. I reached out to parents. Sometimes, there was a response, sometimes not. Guidance shared that students were struggling with work in other classes, too. My heart ached for what I didn’t know about my students, both past and present. Were they okay? Was there something that I could do to help them?

I drove to student houses to drop off award recognition from SEPA/WInSTEP. I mailed cards out to my AP students. I missed my students. I worried about my students. I’ve reflected on ways to facilitate learning and engage social and emotional needs better next time we are virtual. If we are virtual. My worry now is how to facilitate learning in a hybrid model. I was able to reflect on virtual learning, but hybrid will again be a new challenge.