First-year teachers see advantages, drawbacks to online learning

Five weeks into a school year no one expected to be so different, a group of first- and second-year teachers at Perkins Middle School has embraced distance learning, saying teaching via computers and the internet has unexpected adantages and has given them tools for when students are able to safely return to campus.

“Even when we go back to face-to-face I see myself using this platform because the students have the resources available to them any time. They can print it out themselvesand email it to me. It’s all done electronically now,” first-year dance teacher Alejandra Gonzalez said, referring to dance videos she posts. “There was a period of adjustment but now everybody knows how to do this.”

Jorge Rivera said being a recent college graduate he had taken online classes and was familiar with the approach.

“This was something that BISD was already trying to implement last year at the high school level,” Rivera, who teaches eighth-grade history, said.┬áHe recalled that his student-teaching class at Pace Early College High School received about 30 laptop computers just before the pandemic hit and was slowly starting to implement the technology.

“Once Covid started (the Brownsville Independent School District) said OK, we need to implement this into the middle school level, the elementary level. … We’ve just kicked it up a notch and it’s been working great,” he said.

Miguel Hinojosa, who teaches physical education, along with a life skills class, and coaches, said one of the benefits of online learning is that parents get to participate along with their students, something that the life skills parents have particularly liked.

The other teachers also said parents are frequent participants in their children’s classes, which gives distance learning something that regular classes never offered.

Hinojosa, a Perkins graduate, is in his second year of teaching and lives in the neighborhood. Sometimes he does drive-by visits after school as a way of keeping in better touch during the pandemic.

Hinajosa also said he’s posted videos for his life skills students taken in his back yard haresting fruits and vegetables, most recently a watermelon.

“It’s simple stuff these students will need in their lives,” he said.

Rivera said distance learning has had this happy side effect. Every once in a while a teacher’s children interrupt a lesson to ask for help.

“It has allowed the students to come into our lives. Them getting to see us in our environment makes us seem like we’re one of them. … When we come back they’re going to know who we are.”

Principal Beatriz Hernandez said among the 49 teachers at Perkins all but 10 are teaching from home. In addition, the campus is always open for teachers who decide to teach from their classrooms for a day or two due to internet connectivity or other issues.

She said distance learning, while not perfect, is working.

“This morning I had a teacher who is teaching from campus who said he was going to go do a home visit because he had a student who hadn’t logged in for three days. ‘He had a 100 and I want to know what’s going on.'” he said.

“Many of these households are unique and special, and some of the biggest words that came out of this pandemic are flexibility and understanding. Every case is different, whether the child is living with 10 other siblings … the noise, the distractions. You’ve got to deal with all those things, and the teacher has to be flexible to that child’s situation. You have another child where the parents are in an argument right behind the screen. The situation happened to us. The mic is on, so we have to go through the procedures, the documenting, the reporting. It’s a learning experience.”

Not that Hernandez or her teachers are complaining.

“This is our profession this is what we chose. We’re here for our students. This is what we owe to our students,” she said.

The others agreed.

“We love our jobs, Hinajosa said.