Tanika Mally

Arts & Review Editor

Edward Simon Cruz

News Editor

Ria Prasad

Staff Writer

In the new reality that we are all facing, North students and staff members alike have needed to make many adjustments. The Knightly News spoke to different staff members across different departments to get some of their experiences and perspectives on teaching and working through the new, mostly virtual environment.

Across different subjects, teachers have had to adjust to the virtual environment.

Colin Oettle, orchestra teacher: It’s really hard. I think it’s been hard for everybody: teachers and students. Orchestra and music in general is really built on the foundation of being a community and being together… [sometimes] students come early to help me set up the concerts. We have all sorts of things outside of just coming into class and playing the instrument that go into being a member of the High School North orchestra program. I think students really miss that. I miss it too, because if you’re going to do an activity that requires you to be emotionally vulnerable and such as performing a piece of music- a piece of art- and you aren’t willing to invest in that emotionally, you cannot be an effective artist or performer. That’s one thing that I really respect about all of my students as they step into a classroom, knowing that one of their requirements for what they’re going to do in that class is allow themselves to be emotionally available… That’s the thing that’s missing the most from this school year, because it’s what I think is the most absolutely valuable part of the orchestra experience. Our goal is to learn music and play it well and give a good concert that everybody enjoys… but that’s not the reason that I think music is valuable and needs to be taught.

Michael Santoro, physical education teacher: I think this has brought us as a phys ed department so much closer than we were before … as a junior teacher, I would only work with Mrs. Reca and Mr. Torralba … I’m now working with every other grade level. We’ve collaborated on a lot of different things. We’ve had certain phys ed teachers step up and say, “Alright, I’m going to learn this, then I’m going to teach you it. I’m going to learn this, and then I’m going to have a Zoom meeting about it, and we’re going to collaborate and we’re all going to learn it.” So it’s brought us closer together as a department, not only in school, but outside of school as well. And if I had to take a positive away, for the teaching aspect of it, it would be that, that we’ve grown closer together. And hopefully it shows on your end as a student.

In particular, staff members who interact with freshmen have also been tasked with helping them adjust to high school, already a massive transition in itself.

Venkat Ramaprasad, language arts teacher: I think to help these students, as they transition: clear communication in terms of expectations, a calendar so they see what is coming up so they can learn how to manage their time, especially as they learn the ropes of your courses or their respective courses, and in many ways, trying to feed off of their energy in terms of their position to learning and bringing that energy in the virtual space… especially as the freshman coming into a new space, there’s always going to be those insecurities, particularly, “Is my insight good? Should I contribute it? Should I not contribute?” So it’s all of that positive reinforcement, that even when a student says something that isn’t necessarily what you’re looking for, you give them the positive reinforcement: “Okay, I like what you’re saying in this particularly, so let’s explore that a bit more,” and you open that up to the rest of the class. So the student knows that, ‘Okay, my voice is valued here. I can speak here.’ And that will just continue to … feed into that culture [and] sense of community.

Zoom has redefined the relation between a teacher and a student. 

Aron Tankersley, study hall monitor: It’s much different because previous years we would have anywhere from a hundred students in one block to 150. The beginning of this year we started off at 41 students in one block, and obviously throughout the months a lot of the students went from going hybrid to full virtual. So that number kept decreasing and decreasing, and eventually that class of 41 in study hall — it became 10 [or] 13 [people].  Obviously the big difference is the number of kids in the classroom at any given time, but also the social distancing and mask wearing. If you know me, I like to be fun and make study hall fun for everyone. I still try to do that during a pandemic as well; it’s a lot harder because everyone’s wearing a mask. Everyone has their headphones in; they’re just studying. It’s really quiet, compared to the loud noises in the previous study hall. That’s really the big difference. It’s very weird. Overall even with the decreasing class sizes, it’s still nice to see students in person again.

Telma Juarez-Stucker, culinary arts teacher:  I love that we can explore more cultures inside of the kitchen. For example, we did a unit on pies and I told the students, “That’s the basic recipe, now you can add your “flavor” bringing your tradition into the recipe. We use cinnamon, but your culture [could] use cardamom”. Another example is “peppers”, my recipe could call for black pepper, but at home it may be more common to use jalapeno, red chili flakes, or cayenne pepper. I encourage the students to explore, and because of that we got a little bit of the family culture inside of the classroom too. Being a new teacher in the district, I’m amazed with the community here, not just the students, but also the family involvement in my class. I love that a cooking assignment turns out to be a family event. Students are going shopping with their family or giving them a grocery list, and they are also now food critiques, sharing what they think about the food. They are like my eyes and my taste buds at the students’ homes. On top of that, we are getting feedback from parents saying that, “Oh, my daughter/son never wanted to cook before, and now they are cooking, and super proud of what they are creating”. Every time a student or the community of parents tells me that they repeat recipes at home or the student is making dinner, it warms my heart. I am just super happy that cooking turns out to be a pleasure.

As we enter the second half of the school year, we are all equipped with our own unique virtual schooling experiences, and that is what we must remember. They are unique to us. 

Ashley Warren, kindergarten teacher in the Spanish immersion program:  Despite how we all might feel in the moment, it’s so important to try and remember to be extra kind and to go out of our way and to be overly caring and empathetic because we don’t know what’s happening on the sides of our screen… Teachers went into teaching because they love people. They love teenagers. You don’t choose this profession because you don’t like people. And so everybody deserves the ability to turn off their camera. Everybody needs a day or a moment or a couple of minutes to take a break. But as hard as it might be trying to engage your teacher and your classmates, it goes a long way. And the classes [are] as good as you make it. If all the students, all my five-year-olds turned off their cameras and stopped responding to me, I would shrivel up like a plant and die. I feed off their energy and their love. 

As we enter into the last leg of the race in this prolonged period of strife and difficulty, it is important to keep in mind that both teachers and students alike are facing similar challenges. From the risk of entering the school building present amongst in-class teachers and hybrid students and to the overall hassles and complexities of recreating a regular school environment through Zoom, now is the time that communication becomes the most critical factor, and to be aware that everyone is trying their best.  

Picture Source: The Atlantic/Wenjia Tang

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s