For the most part, I’ve been doing fine during the quarantine of the pandemic, as I’ve stayed occupied working from home. My schedule, which has been busy, has at least offered me the freedom to complete tasks at a time of day that I desired.

Now, on the other hand, remote “teaching” has not been easy. Some of my students don’t have Internet access; some don’t have any technological devices in their possession other than phones; and others, well, they just aren’t responsive – especially when I, their teacher, am not standing in front of them once a day in order to prompt them to complete required assignments.

This week all of the work that my students were required to complete since the first part of April was due to be graded and posted in our school’s online grade book – so that any rescue plans for failing students can be implemented prior to the end of the semester on May 15. I had the task of working with my three classes of high school seniors, 58 in total, to write and revise their senior project speeches. Their speeches were based on work they had completed since September in learning how to build or repair an item such as a porch swing or a car engine, how to demonstrate knowledge such as photography or the playing of an instrument, or how to convey their work in donating time to a service project or learning about a vocation while job shadowing.

Usually, my senior students write their speeches, completing a rough draft mostly before spring break by following a prescribed outline, and we spend about three weeks after spring break practicing them in class, with me giving them feedback in order to meet the requirements of the grading rubric. Ultimately, when they present around the third week of April, they are required to rely very little on their notes, essentially memorizing the speech, and presenting with it a viable visual, either a tri-fold or computer slide presentation, each to a panel of three to five judges, volunteers from the community, who score them on the rubric. If they meet a preset passing score, they are considered to have “passed” senior project, a requirement for graduation. If not, they must re-present to a panel of teachers after the two days of senior project presentations are completed.

Just before we were to begin practicing, a week before spring break, school ended. We thought we might see students again in May, and seniors could simply present their senior projects to faculty members. However, on March 16, we saw them for the very last day, as they left school, leaving unfinished projects and even items remaining in their lockers. It was the most abrupt, unusual ending that most of us have probably experienced. Our assistant principal, also the senior project committee chairman, confirmed that the only assignment seniors were to complete for English IV in our month of remote work would be the composition of a satisfactory senior project speech.

Getting my students started remotely was a tedious task. Finally, I managed via school e-mail and phone calls to get all of mine signed up on the Remind app, which allowed me to message them on their cell phones via my phone or computer. Most of them could type their speeches in Google Docs and submit them as an assignment in Google Classroom. Fortunately, some had worked ahead and made significant progress on the speech prior to our sudden halt in attending school each day. However, others had to work around the obstacles. One student, who had a laptop but no Internet access, photographed her screen and uploaded copies on which I commented and returned to her using a free online app called Kami.

Remote communication with so many teenagers was interesting, to say the least. We were required to update our class web pages with instructions, and I posted virtual “office” hours on mine, spanning from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. on Monday through Thursday – ending at 3 p.m. on Friday. One Friday night, a student called me at 11 p.m. On Easter Sunday morning, another student called me at 10:35 a.m. Yes, even though I tend to be a “night owl,” some of my students needed to learn boundaries, I learned.

After I began communicating with them, I sent a message to everyone on Remind, saying, “When you’re ready for me to look at your speech on Google Classroom, submit it. Each student MUST make WEEKLY progress.” One student replied, asking, “Which speech?” As I said, we began the senior project last September, and all students are generally aware of the speech that is its culmination.

As we began, students drafted their speeches and submitted them; I offered feedback and returned them electronically; and then students revised them and resubmitted them. Some students finished mid-April.

For many students, this process took up to three or four rounds. After returning a draft – which wasn’t his first draft – to one student, I sent the message: “I commented on your speech again. When you get a revised version, resubmit on Google Classroom. You’re getting there.” I received the following reply: “What do you mean revised version?” I replied, deconstructing it as best I could, “After you have attended to my most recent comments, that will be another revision. Ultimately, you will have a final draft. Hopefully, soon...” For a third student, who did job shadowing in the nursing field, I suggested she begin her missing introductory paragraph, as I said, “with a quote from a famous nurse in history – since nursing is so important to you?” She replied, “I don’t have any quotes.” My reply: “Use Google. Find something you like that is applicable. It takes a little work to find a good quote and integrate it--but not a great deal.” Finally, she got it.

So this week, as we begin to wind down our school work, I am going to miss the routine of the work each day – and communicating regularly with my students, now that we worked out that process. I am about to start feeling a little stir crazy, although I do have a remote summer job with our state department of education. I’ll admit: I’d prefer to be in the classroom any day, despite having to rise earlier to get there.

Daily Corinthian columnist Stacy Jones teaches English at McNairy Central High School and UT-Martin. She will be serving as a Tennessee Education Leaders Fellow this summer for the Tennessee Department of Education in Nashville and has worked as an independent assessment consultant and educational curriculum writer. She enjoys being a downtown Corinth resident.

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