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Alberta teacher speaks to educating during the COVID-19 outbreak

By Admin User on April 29, 2020

Annika Smith is a first year teacher. After subbing in Edmonton for a few months, she took a maternity leave position in Whitecourt in January. But with schools closing mid-March, her expectations for her first semester took a sharp turn. Along with teachers across the country, Smith is now navigating her way through online classes.

I imagine this isn’t the first semester of teaching you were expecting.

*Laughs.* Yeah, definitely not. Definitely not. I’ve been learning new things like every week.

What has the transition from in-person to online been like?

For our district it was pretty smooth because we waited for what Alberta Ed[ucation] expected us to do, so we kinda had a week to plan and prep for online learning. We assumed we’d be online learning, but we didn’t jump the gun until it was actually mandated to do online learning. It was still hard to do though, as we didn’t take as much time as other districts to prepare; we kinda just hopped into it. It was like a week of awkward uncertainty because we didn’t know if school would come back in two weeks or if we were actually doing online learning ‘til the end of the year, so it was a weird time.

What’s been the hardest part of online learning?

Honestly, not seeing your kids. Like, the human connection, where you can have fun with them. What makes teaching fun is being with the kids and making them laugh and help them understand things and with online learning you miss all of that. You just give them the content and then you try to Google Meet with them but they’re too busy because of what’s going on in their lives. 

Speaking of the students, how have they been responding? 

Yeah, the kids are having a really hard time transitioning to online learning. Like, across the board for my kids, at least. You have to find a lot of motivation and time to do the work. And if you have questions, you can’t just go and talk to teachers like you would during class. So a lot of my students struggle with motivation for sure. But I get it, totally. 

Has anything pleasantly surprised you during this time?

I think I’m impressed with how teachers flipped from in-class teaching to online teaching, like fairly quickly and smoothly. There were a few small hiccups, but generally, everyone did really well and there weren’t any major catastrophes that happened, you know? Everyone’s trying to still make learning fun and connect with the kids. I think that’s been really good.

I noticed you’ve started making TikTok videos for your students.

*Laughs.* Yes, TikToks are like the perfect tool. Kids love TikTok so it’s such a good way to connect with them digitally because you can’t be with them in person. Using social media is really good. Spending time with them on Google Classroom or making jokes or, I don’t know, playing games, that’s really fun. I did pictionary online with my kids on Friday, that was okay. *Laughs.* It wasn’t the most fun; trying to make that bonding moment that you’d have in the classroom can be really hard… but it’s been fun.

Annika Smith and her colleagues in a TikTok video made for their students. Video provided by Smith.
Are you worried at all about maintaining the same level in quality of education? Or how easily students will be able to slide back into school in September?

Honestly, it just isn’t going to happen with the restrictions. For example, for high school students, it’s three hours per subject per week [for online instruction], when usually you have 80 minutes everyday for five days with them. That’s incredibly condensed. I don’t think there’ll be any teachers that get through all the content that they’re supposed to. You can’t in three hours a week, that’s just not possible. It’s really hard, all the kids are going to have a hard couple years after this catching up, I think.

So are diplomas still happening, or have they been cancelled?

Diplomas are cancelled, but if you require it for the program you’re going into, then they’ll make special accommodations. But only in really special circumstances.

How has the provincial government’s response to the education sector during this time affected you? Has it helped? Hindered?

Well, cutting all the educational assistants and bus drivers and secretaries, that was awful and no one saw that coming. Just because the kids aren’t in school doesn’t mean they don’t need the extra support. What are we supposed to do with all these kids with special needs or ESL learners, or you know, kids who are on the autism spectrum? That’s why they had EAs and now there’s just no one to help them. And now it’s all on the teachers to try and do that, but how do you do that as a teacher when you have 120 kids?

So with those educational cuts being made, jobs may be harder to find. There’s this interesting dichotomy where teachers are being praised for being frontline workers, but at the same time, you may not have a job next semester. What are your thoughts here?

It really sucks. I’m first on the chopping block because I’m a temp position and they’re already making cuts internally at schools. Some schools are not renewing contracts that are ending at this time, which is really scary. Like, the students are at a huge disadvantage and I think it’s really going to impact them in the next few years while Alberta tries to recover from this.

Whether you return to school as a teacher or a substitute, what are you most excited for? 

Seeing the kids in real life. We’re still working at the school, and working in an empty school in a room by yourself is so depressing. So just seeing the kids and seeing them smile, it’ll just be the best.

With in-school classes cancelled until September, Smith and teachers like her will need to continue with online classes for the rest of the semester. 



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