March 5, 2021
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By Gail M. Williams
Muleshoe Journal Correspondent

Several MISD administrators and teachers took part in an online survey giving their point of view on teaching in the time of coronavirus. They were thorough and frank in providing unique insight into what was happening in their minds and hearts as they made the transition from a physical classroom to a cyberspace classroom.
This is part one of a two-part series. High school and junior high educators will be featured next week.

DILLMAN ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

While kids nowadays are media savvy from an early age, in Pre-K through second grade they focus on learning the basics of reading and writing. Administrators and teachers at Dillman Elementary School receive packets prepared by teachers to achieve crisis learning.
“We use newspaper stands to deliver the packets,” said Letti Tovar, principal “New packets are placed in the stands on Thursday and are picked up following Thursday. Packets are color coded for identification.”
Following coronavirus crisis guidelines, the packets stay in the cafeteria a few days before they are distributed, and another few days after they are returned to the teachers.
Student Services Coordinator Tommie Stiles was a middle school teacher for 15 years and understands the importance of parental involvement.
“Before the crisis, we always had a good turnout at events,” Stiles said. “We’re very fortunate to have very good parent involvement.”
First grade teacher Brianne McDonald said each teaching team at Dillman meets weekly with Tovar and Stiles through Zoom to touch base and plan for the next week, as well as to share ideas and success stories.
“I make weekly phone calls to my students’ parents to check in and see how things are going,” McDonald said. “I especially enjoy these calls as I am able to find out how each of my students are doing and see if there is anything I can do to help them.”
McDonald says she uses a Class Dojo app to post read-alouds, share new information and upcoming events and message parents.
“Using the Class Dojo app I am able to post on our class story and reach all parents at one time,” she said.
Classroom activities that are usually done in a group, like P.E. and music, are also available to Dillman students.
“We have a learning menu on our website that includes physical activities, music and games. Music lessons online include dancing and moving around, things that you would usually use in the classroom,” Stiles said.
“Our music and P.E. teachers have done an outstanding job creating lessons that give the students the opportunity to incorporate physical activity into their daily routine,” McDonald said.
Testing and grading are tools teachers use to assess where students are in their learning. Tovar says that students are given one or two grades per week.
“Teachers refer to the packets not only to grade, but to see how students are performing and whether they need additional assistance,” she said.
“We review how the students did and look for understanding in the skills we are focusing on for the week,” McDonald said. “We then document how each student is progressing.”
Tovar views crisis learning from the perspective of a parent as well as a principal. Some of the normal end-of-school events will not take place this year.
“I have a kindergartner, and she was really looking forward to the Mother’s Day Tea. I explained to her that we’ll be able to do it at home.”
Dillman also plans to have a modified award assembly.
“Cars will come around our circle drive, and students will be handed awards,” Tovar said. “We hope to have microphones set up so we can recognize the students.”
While teachers are not at school every day, they are still working, and in general find crisis teaching more challenging than classroom teaching.
“It has been very difficult and heartbreaking to not be in the classroom with our students daily,” McDonald said. “We teach because we love kids, we love teaching them and we love making a difference in their lives. I miss the daily hugs, stories, smiles, eagerness to learn and so many more things. It’s hard to miss out on the ‘gotcha’ moments when something clicks.”
“The teachers have really stepped up,” Stiles said. “The teachers miss the students and are willing to do anything because they truly love their kids. That’s evident in what they’ve been willing to do, to make lessons and really reach out to them.”
McDonald expressed appreciation for MISD food services.
“They have been able to completely change their daily routines and make it possible to feed our students during crisis learning,” she said.
Tovar and Stiles said they were grateful to the Muleshoe community.
“We really appreciate community support, as well as the staff’s determination for education to continue,” Tovar said.

DESHAZO ELEMENTARY SCHOOL

Communication has always been an important part of teaching. Face-to-face interaction may be the best method of communicating, but with that option taken away, DeShazo personnel have had to resort to other methods to stay in touch with students, parents and other educators.
Principal Jennifer Burrus considers increased use of online communication one of the positives of crisis learning.
“It has been very rewarding to see both teachers and students embrace online learning,” she said. “While DeShazo has always utilized technology, we have not done so to the level we are now. It has been wonderful to see even our third grade students become proficient at navigating Google Classroom and be able to successfully complete and turn in online assignments.”
Teaching during a time of crisis has its challenges as well as its rewards.
“It has been a big challenge,” said special education teacher Jinnie Phillips. “I am a parent of school-aged children myself, and trying to ensure that they get their work completed and making sure that my own students have work that will challenge them but that they can still complete on their own has been very difficult. Many parents struggle to help their own children with the content, so it becomes very stressful on everyone.”
“The biggest challenge for me has been isolation,” said fourth-grade teacher Trista Villanueva. “I still get to talk/text or video chat with my students, but it is not the same as being in a classroom with them. I get calls asking for help, and when I hang up I never truly know if they understand or if they are going to be able to finish the assignment without more frustration.
“It is hard to go from being in a classroom where I can walk them through a hard math problem and see their faces light up when they ‘get it,’ or when they are frustrated, I can comfort them and go sit with them and let them know it will be OK and that they can do this, to just calling to texting students and parents.”
“I think it is more challenging teaching not only remotely, but also in the midst of a pandemic,” Burrus said. “Teachers miss their students and the interaction they have with them in the classroom.
“It is very challenging to teach skills remotely with delayed interaction at times between the teacher and student. So much of instruction is based on immediate feedback to the student, and helping them to correct misconceptions, as well as to correctly practice a skill when it can’t happen in the same space becomes very challenging.”
“Trying to assign lessons that my students will be able to complete on their own is a big struggle,” Phillips said. “Some students have parents at home that will help them complete their work and enforce a routine for learning. Others are home alone because parents have to work, and they are not doing any work. I mostly worry about those students who are home alone during this time.”
Villanueva said crisis learning has been the most difficult time of my career so far.
“I feel like I am working more now than before,” she said. “I spend every day planning, making videos, sending students feedback on assignments and am constantly on the phone helping with math problems or helping students get on Google Classroom and figure out how to turn things in. The list of things I do daily is very rigorous and time-consuming.”
“I am responsible for making sure that they are still learning, but more importantly, I am more concerned with their emotional wellbeing,” Phillips said. “This is a very stressful time on children and their parents. I want to make sure they are OK!”
Upper elementary students are learning higher order thinking skills, and the assignments and assessments they are given reflect that.
“Through the assignments that teachers give students, they are often required to not only arrive at an answer, but also to justify their reasoning, and explain the process they utilized to reach the answer,” Burrus said. “This allows teachers to diagnose misconceptions and areas where students may need extra support to master a particular skill.”
Classroom teachers and parents are also concerned with giving students physical activities for their growing bodies. Burrus credits PE teacher, Shelly Turnbow, with doing an incredible job of providing suggested activities that can be done while following social distancing protocols to encourage students to get up and get moving.
“One of the first things I tell my students at the beginning of the year is that I am not a sit at your desk and work teacher,” Villanueva said. “We would play math games or have activities around the room for them to do. So with the crisis learning, I try to give only a 30-45 minute math assignment a day so they can go out and play. Being outside and participating in physical activities is something I highly encourage and try to give them time to do while we are learning from home.”
While some end-of-school events, such as the DeShazo track meet, will not take place this year, Burrus says they are working to develop a plan to recognize the accomplishments of the students throughout the school year.
“We expect to communicate this to the parents and community very soon,” she said.
Principal and teachers are unanimous in one thing.
“There is no substitute for face-to-face teaching. I miss seeing my students!” Phillips said.
“I love what I do and I truly miss my students, but I know we will get through this together. And I can’t wait to be back to school next year!” Villanueva said.
“While we were all disheartened at the governor’s decision to extend the school closure through the end of the 19-20 academic school year, we understand the reasons this decision was necessary, and want to ensure the safety and wellbeing of our students,” Burrus said. “I pray our students know they are loved and missed by the entire DeShazo staff, and we look forward to when we can gather together again.”

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