Distance learning has been a significant change for everyone at Berkeley High School (BHS), but no one has had to adapt more than educators. While the BHS community has been attentive to the experience and needs of students, the challenges faced by teachers have often fallen into the background. With half as many hours to teach a full year’s curriculum, hundreds of emails per day, and less interaction with students, BHS teachers feel flustered about the transition as well as the greater workload.
Julie Panebianco, who teaches English in the Universal Ninth Grade (U9), said shifting to online teaching made her feel like it was her first year teaching all over again. “I’ve been teaching for 16 years, and I’m working harder now than I ever have! I am 100% spending more time outside of class, and I feel like a first-year teacher. I don’t have much experience, and I’m learning things all over again,” Panebianco admitted.
Other teachers shared Panebianco’s experience. “It’s much more exhausting than just walking into class and teaching,” said Benette Williams, who teaches Spanish. “I’ve been teaching for more than 50 years, and now I’m spending a whole lot more time preparing, and we have more time constraints. We have to decide what we are going to cover, and we can’t cover everything we usually would,” she said.
Technology is a major aspect of remote teaching with which teachers have trouble. “One of the main challenges is that we have been removed from the environment that we would usually teach in,” said Kirk Williams, a U9 Physics teacher. “Science involves a lot of physical activity, and most of that is taken away. We have to figure out how to replicate those experiences with videos or simulations.”
Some teachers are concerned that they lack the experience and training to confidently use technology in the first place. “I didn’t grow up with computers. Back then, we had typewriters, maybe an electric typewriter, and now they no longer exist,” said Ms. Williams, who had to learn to use Google Meet and Zoom by herself overnight. “When you can’t see everyone, it’s really frustrating. It definitely takes a lot more energy
Though distance learning has overextended teachers with its overwhelming workload, changing things can sometimes be a good thing, according to Mr. Williams. “A situation where you have to examine what you are doing and not go on autopilot is good because that will make us better teachers,” he explained.
Mr. Williams also thinks that we should keep certain aspects of distance learning even after school returns to normal. “Starting school later is very good, we should keep that. For years, we’ve known that it’s better to allow students to sleep later, and now they can.”
Teachers also expressed that they wanted their students to understand that they are truly there to support them. “Put yourself out there!” said Panebianco. “This is all we have right now, and we need to make the most of it. You just need to be outgoing and push away the awkwardness. The more we do it, the more comfortable we will get.”
While the spotlight this year has often been on students’ struggles with distance learning, it is imperative to remember that teachers are fighting their own battles as well. As Mr. Williams put it, “Teachers and kids are on the same level, and that’s how it should be, but no one is used to it.”
Looking forward, Mr. Williams also suggested that distance learning provides a good opportunity to take a closer look into the current school system. “Maybe we can make some good changes to our education system — I don’t think we should go back to how it was. A lot of things weren’t working; let’s ditch that and pick things that are working instead. Be imaginative, and create something better,” he said. He shared a takeaway from distance learning, one that extended beyond the walls of the classroom. “Society needs to have more cross-generational communication; the older should be learning from younger and vice-versa. We have as much to learn from you as you have from us,” Mr. Williams remarked.