This is part two of a two-part interview with Mia Young-Adeyeba and Michelle Touceda on the topic of online education during the pandemic.
Mia Young-Adeyeba is a veteran English teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She has a passion for helping students develop into lifelong learners and for cultivating collaborative partnerships. In addition to being a high school English teacher for Los Angeles Unified School District, Michelle Touceda is also an Instructional Faculty Lead Mentor for new teachers and a past LAUSD Teacher of the Year.
David Starkey: In the first part of our interview, you both focused on a few of the many ways online education can make learning more robust, and even fun. To be honest, I love hearing that there are, in fact, positive elements of online teaching, especially when it seems that the great preponderance of news coverage has focused on the negatives of distance education. That said, it would be wrong to ignore the many difficulties the pandemic has thrown in the way of students. What would you identify as the most pressing challenges for our students, and how can we overcome them?
Mia Young-Adeyeba: The most pressing challenges I have learned about have to do with students feeling isolated, missing their teachers, friends, and their independence. The Los Angeles Unified School District and our union, United Teacher Los Angeles, emphasizes social-emotional check-ins and connecting families who may be struggling. Through these efforts, we have been able to establish strong support networks between school and home to offer support to those in need.
Michelle Touceda: I agree with Mia, the hardest part for students has been the loss of social interactions. Something that has worked for my students, and something I learned from our Facebook group, is allowing students to self-select their breakout rooms based on a selection chart. (Small aside here, most students still pick #2, the Quiet Work Room.) They are able to choose to work independently, but they are also given the choice to work with groups or their friends. It is those little moments of autonomy that helps students feel like not everything in their life is out of control. Since I’ve made the switch to allowing students to choose their preferred work style my classroom engagement and submitted work has gone up which is definitely a positive.
DS: I would agree that it’s the little things that make a difference between face-to-face and distance learning. To provide just one instance: after I’ve explained a concept in a physical classroom, when I look around, I can often tell by a shy student’s facial expression that my explanation didn’t quite click, so I can come at it from a different angle. These days, most of my classes are asynchronous, so I obviously miss out on those cues from shy students who might need a bit more help. I suppose, in that example, there’s a problem for both student and teacher. I’m curious about what challenges the two of you have found most difficult to overcome in your own online teaching? If you’ve managed to surmount those obstacles, how have you accomplished that?
MY: Distance learning has definitely shone a light on the inequities in the education system. Most students want to learn and succeed, but there are often factors that hinder their ability to access the curriculum. Educators are working hard to provide resources and referrals for those students and families who need it the most. We reach out to parents, adapt lessons and deadlines, and try to view distance learning through a lens of empathy and understanding. Narrowing down lesson objectives to what is absolutely essential and pivoting when necessary seems to be a strategy that’s been working.
MT: I miss being on campus and building relationships with my students. It has taken longer than in the past, but I feel like I’m finally making those connections. A real challenge has been technology. Not necessarily who has access, although that has been problematic as Mia mentioned, but especially in the beginning of the semester I spent a lot of time troubleshooting tech issues and teaching students how to maneuver through Schoology, Google Education Suite, and any outside digital platforms I wanted to use such as Flipgrid or Adobe Spark. What might take a minute or two in class could take much longer online and the frustration the kids were feeling sometimes caused them to want to shut down. I decided early on to allow turn-in windows instead of due dates to take some of the pressure off of everyone. That was a turning point. I think it also gave some ownership back to the students when they maybe didn’t feel like they had ownership over much.