Charlotte Tresslar Interview Full Transcript

Charlotte Tresslar  

It's like I could go to the couch, but it ain't happening.

 

Caroline Gardner  

I love that.  So tell me about your, your video that you made for your seniors. 

 

Charlotte Tresslar  

So, a little background on me I guess it's a good place to start. So, I teach at a Charter High School in East Boston. So it's a predominantly Latino community. And this crisis has been especially interesting for our families because we have, like, a considerable amount of families who are undocumented, and didn't receive stimulus checks, because they don't have social security numbers for that they filed with the IRS. They weren't eligible for those. And something to know too, so we serve the community to East Boston and Chelsea, and Chelsea actually currently has the highest infection rate in all of Massachusetts right now. So it's its own like a separate city but we serve both districts and East Boston has the highest infection rate within Boston proper. So it's like the highest hardest hit community. And I think at least in Chelsea 80% of the families are essential workers. So, a ton of my students, since their high school age are still working in grocery stores, like a ton of them work at Costco, Market Basket which is a really big grocery chain in New England. So they're also going to work, and taking up extra hours, and being students, all at the same time. And that community is facing a lot of food insecurity right now too so right now students are just like balancing a lot. And the reason I posted the video for my seniors, because we received news over April break last week that it will cancel for the rest of the year, so it wasn't called before that. And they were all really excited about, like the typical rite of passage in high school, things like graduation and prom and senior week, and all these really fun events that we had planned, and most of them have been within the Charter School Network, since fifth grade. They've all gone to school together since fifth grade, they're all super bummed that seven years of going to school together, they can't celebrate the end of that as a community. So that's a really big bummer. So I just want to post like a nice little message, say that they can talk to me about things that aren't school related like yeah, you just are having a crappy time right now and just like want to talk about how that makes you feel, feel free to give me a call and I got a lot of texts from students, mostly the girls, the girls have more feelings about all of that. I know a bunch of them are really excited for prom so it was nice to kind of connect with them and just like acknowledge that really screwed over, for lack of a better term, just like circumstantially, and it's a total bummer. But that is why I posted that.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah, so, um, how have your like classroom sessions been adjusted since moving to online school.

 

Charlotte Tresslar  

That's a great question. So, I also teach a really particular subset of students. So I'm a special education teacher and I teach in the self contained setting. So, basically, it's also called substantially separate. So what that means is that the students in my class have profound enough intellectual disabilities to be substantially separate from the rest of the school population. So they still are normal like Gen Ed advisories and everything but my classes are highly modified for grade level standards to compensate for their intellectual disabilities so I can kind of still present grade level material budget in a much more modified format. So a lot of things have been happening with that. So my classes are really really high need. So one big barrier in the first place was just getting comfortable with the technology. I think we kind of anticipated that the closure we're about two days before it happened. So things were happening. The situation was evolving really rapidly so we took like an afternoon as a whole school, school and made half day, because we were like, our teachers need to meet and figure out what we're going to do. And at that point we made a two week plan, because nobody knew how long this would last. So thankfully I already had Google classrooms for all of my classes, and every single student in my school has a Chromebook so we were super fortunate to have access to all that I know a lot of other schools in our district, don't have that capacity. So we were really really thankful that we already had that our disposal and kids can still like access work at home. For the most part, but I'll get to some of those barriers that have come up later. But I've had to really really heavily modify my class content. It's really hard to teach a new material to students with really high needs. When I can't really be with them in person, like most of my students can't log on to zoom independently and their parents are at work so having like a live zoom class wasn't really an option. Because that was just kind of too much, but I knew they already know how to use Google classroom, and submit assignments to that. So I've been posting content every single day. But typically, I would teach a one hour class, I only post content that's gonna take about 15 minutes a day. And it's kind of a mix of review, and essential standards that the state sent out for kids to advance the next grade level. So it's just like the bare basics of like what you should know to be a 10th grader in 11th grade or 12th grader. So I really cut down what I was planning to towards the end of the year. Because of the nature of my classes too. I'm also a math teacher, so I teach math and physics. And typically we use assessments to like get going with certain standards. And, at least for my population of students. It does not seem fair at all to like, assess them when I can't be there to actually teach. So I've been kind of shifting towards a project based model whenever I can. So, instead of doing. I think the last unit one of my classes is like an algebra unit. So, I'm teaching the temporary class for it next year. So I'll have those kids next year so I know what we covered in what we did in. But I've shifted my subjects to things that lend themselves better to computer so there's still like getting exposure to math. But now we're doing like statistics. So, the New York Times Learning Network has amazing resources that are like really relevant to things going on today, and kind of capture more student interest so we did in your class. The first two weeks we did a lot of like analysis of what was happening in the news with coronavirus because kids didn't really know a lot about it and I thought it would be kind of empowering to like make them less scared It's like, yo, we're going to talk about what's really going on and like how to understand all these graphs that are being thrown out of you. So they did their own flattened the curve project and they made PSA videos on tik tok and Instagram and Snapchat and stuff and it was super cute. So they were able to like make videos or PowerPoints, as their public service announcement to their peers about why they should stay inside and like wash their hands and stay away from people, and explain what flattening the curb works. So that's how I've tried to like tie in, like, I don't know some of the anxiety that the whole world is feeling about these events, and just kind of like give them an understanding of what's going on, so it didn't seem as overwhelming. So I really shifted the structure of my classes and the focus in general. So it's still talking about math, but in a way that I think is more appropriate to the situation we're in right now.

 

Caroline Gardner  

That is so cool thank you for walking me through all that, I love that. Um, so as far as your students life like outside of school. Um, what kind of concerns have they been expressing to you? Yeah, just in general.

 

Charlotte Tresslar  

Yeah, that's a really good question. So, a lot of as I briefly mentioned before. A lot of students are essential workers or their families are essential workers. So, a lot of the students in my classes are like their oldest sibling. They've taken on child care responsibilities for younger siblings at home. So that's definitely been a barrier to their work. I'm also trying to think. I think just like anxiety around how hard a thing their community, I think, for students with intellectual disabilities, especially, I think they kind of laughed at least at first, a grasp of what was really happening because think about all the news we were getting like the CDC didn't even really understand how this virus was working, and there were new guidelines all the time, and that's a lot to keep up with so I think they just had anxiety around what's going on. And I think being a teenager can be really isolating time to, like you're very in your feelings I think being alone and just forced to like, interact with people on social media and through texting and not having those authentic interactions at school where you can like, talk to your teacher about something, or just like talk connect with your friends in person. It's also been like a really isolating experience for them, but they have done a lot of really beautiful things like the student council on my school made like a human's of Excel page, that's the name of our school, and they post like profiles of students like what they're doing during this time and like their future goals for themselves and how they're not gonna let this hold them back. So that's been really really cool to see. But I do think a really big implication of this on like students and future lives has been for 11th and 12th graders in terms of post secondary plans as well. So a lot of students are having to make huge decisions about like going to school or not going to school or whether they're going to school in a time where they're like, facing food insecurity and like making big decisions like that and not being able to like tour campus, especially for like first generation college students who have never really had exposure to college campus before they're kind of having to make these decisions blind, not blind, but like, only with so much information that you can get through a screen or on a school website, or see like antidotal Tales from like we've only had one other senior class and those are the same if you graduated last year. That's pretty much all they have the base awesome. A lot of them I've never seen a sibling or parent go to school so I think that's been a big source of stress for older students to having to make those like very real life decisions at a time where you can't really go visit a school and like have that gut feeling like committing the next four years of your life to this especially when it's such a big deal for families who have never sent a kid to college before, but also in my classes, a lot of kids don't go to college and goes through into the workforce. And I think that's especially challenging at this time in the economy is so such a mess. It's really hard for them to like figure out where to start. And we partner with a lot of like transitional work program. So for kids was like, pretty pronounced intellectual disabilities, it'll give them like a training year where, for example, I had a student last year who did a program through a nonprofit in Boston where they have an entire mock CVS in the basement it's like fully stocked and they have a cash register and he spent the year training there on like how to be a customer service agent and run the cash register and like, do all those transactions and then they partner them with employment at like Whole Foods and CVS around Boston. And obviously those programs can operate right now too. So it's just kind of a mess with like future plans for kids. I think even adults are struggling with that. And I think having 17 year olds in that situation where it's like very real for their well being in the next few months and they're about to graduate high school and literally a month from today. I feel like that has been weighing on kids a lot in a way that it did not weigh on. I think by generation, you're graduating high school.

 

Caroline Gardner  

That is so cool the serious training program that's really really cool I've never heard of that. That's awesome. Um. So how has your like school administration been supporting you as a teacher. During this.

 

Charlotte Tresslar  

Good question. So we have all staff meetings once a week, so I will say I'm very grateful the administration has been really transparent. They don't pretend like they have all the answers. Because I don't think anybody has ever been in the situation before, I don't think any living person has had to like run a school. Given these circumstances I think the closest thing we've had they put it like. So they've been really transparent about just waiting for guidelines from the governor. And last week we got an update so we've moved our meeting up this week to kind of give a plan for the rest of the year. So they have kind of rolled out a plan, where we're completely acknowledging that kids are gonna be really behind next year, there's like no if ands or buts about it, but without that direct teacher instruction, kids are going to be buying and grade level standards so we're basically doing a whole school overhaul. So the beginning of the year you make like a scope and sequence. So it's like you plan out the standards, you're going to do in your class and when how long it will take. So you plan out your year like that so we're completely revising how we do that to account for all of this. And I still have weekly meetings with like my manager so like my teacher coach at school. And we always just kind of like, check in on how we're doing. And that really except feedback we've even changed, like expectations for teaching throughout all of this and we thought it was going to be a two week closure. We were just kind of carrying on as normal with our normal content and posting every single day, and teachers have been giving feedback like this is really draining to do all this and catch up with students every single day and also take care of yourself during this time so now they give us more flexibility about posting longer term things so we don't have to post every day, it will take us a couple of days. And the administration has also released creating guidelines. So I think our school priority is to not let this keep kids retained. And I think that's a statewide core priority to at least the Massachusetts. So we have basically everything's graded on completion. It's really cool for kids to complete at least 25% of the words that we post some line during this closure to get a 70, so that's like the passing threshold for our class and the grade. So we've completely revamped our grading expectations and they've set out like a very clear policy about that, which I think is really helpful because I think a lot of times, teachers have different philosophies in their personal classes about their expectations for kids and how to grade and who should go on to the next grade but I think given this it's nice to have some clarity around like this is what we're all going to expect of kids. There's a little room to like be flexible and how you grade things in your class but I think it's cool to have like a standardized thing so kids know what to expect and so families also know what to expect during this time. So that's been a very helpful as the administration has responded.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Do you have any students who have contracted COVID.

 

Charlotte Tresslar  

Not that I know of, They pretty much said we have. This is also something worth mentioning. We have a student supports team. That's a like our head of student support so she works for the counseling department. So like licensed therapists, we have two social workers on it, like one of the deans of the school, the school nurse, and they meet every single day. And basically, the structure is please as we have advisor, so you're in charge of like a group of 15 kids, and we check in with all of those kids at least once a week, it could be a phone call it could be a text, we saw at parent teacher conferences, and they basically administration created a referral form. So if a student discloses to us like, oh my family member has coronavirus. I can't really do my work this week so I have to take care of like my siblings well they're isolated in the room, it goes through that referral form is confidential and student supports kind of doles out resources from there so they can arrange health care through an organization in the community which is really important for a lot of undocumented families who don't have good access to health care. We have a meal pick service that they coordinate every day so families who are food insecure, that comes up and one of those check ins you submit that confidential form, and the administration takes care of it, because they have been recognizing that there's a certain scope of the teacher's job. and right now to meet a lot. So there's a very streamlined way to ask for more support in a way that's not like interfering with student confidentiality so I haven't talked to any students who mentioned family or a family member having it. But if it has come up, it's gone through that, like triage of resources and as directed towards the people who can actually get them the resources that they need to help them out there.

 

Caroline Gardner  

That's awesome. That's really cool. Um, so I was wondering kind of like what I asked this to like all the teachers but I know you brought this up earlier like, How are you, personally, handling the stress of being responsible for like the lives of so many students like how do you like take care of yourself in this time.

 

Charlotte Tresslar  

Ah, that's something. Learning how to do a little bit. I will say the first week I was like, Oh, this is kind of nice like it's not productive with no one interrupting me from home, and then I think more and more students about how much they miss just being in school and I think kids who would actively say, I hate school. Now I really miss school. Um, I think that just weighs on me a little bit because there's nothing I can do to help I think what I've had to kind of consider here is like, just kind of think about what's in the locus of my control and what's out of it. There's so many things that are out of it but I think it's been helpful for me to kind of reflect. Okay, these are the things I do have control over. And that's like the materials I post, and the outreach that I do to students. So I've kind of just have to like realign my priorities and like, Alright, I'm not gonna get through all the things I wanted to this year. That's okay. Circumstances came up and I think, just like identifying things that I have no control over that were like really crappy and hard. I think it's nice to like, identify them as things that are out of my control, and just kind of reflect on. Okay, these are things I can actually do right now and I'm going to do them, because that will make me feel better about like doing my job from my bed and doing the most that I can. So that's pretty much the only thing right now there's been taking it day by day too, because every day is gonna be a little different.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah. Um, how has being so you started, um, last year like last August was your or two August's ago I guess

 

Charlotte Tresslar  

Two Augusts longest ago yeah

 

Caroline Gardner  

um how is being like a relatively new teacher, like impacted this experience for you.

 

Charlotte Tresslar  

I think there's benefits and drawbacks, I think some of the benefits are still I'm really flexible and like developing my teaching style so I haven't kind of fallen into the same routine over and over and over again. And like relied on certain classroom structures for so long that I depend on them. So I think, a benefit is that I've always been involved in what I'm doing better and better but I think I just kind of had flexibility in approaching all of this. Um, I think I've done a pretty decent job creating accessible materials for kids so I'm like very grateful that I still have like the flexibility and open mindedness of a new teacher during the time. But I do think something that's difficult is just like knowing what to say to kids, I feel like a lot more experienced teachers have seen like difficult situations in schools, I've had to have difficult conversations with students and families. And I think now more than ever, that's where I still struggle because I don't know the right thing to say, or how to like guide those conversations, in a way that feels productive, like we had parenthood conferences this past week. I think that was the hardest part of this whole thing is just like hearing from parents and knowing, not really knowing how to respond because what they were thinking is very valid, there's nothing I can do to change it. So I think that's what I've really been lacking is just like the appropriate way to like emotionally support students or this I think is something that like more experienced teachers probably have a benefit over me in doing that just because they've had more experience with those situations in the past.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah, that makes sense. Can you give me kind of like, like what the parent like an example of a concerned parent like what they would be saying to you. 

 

Charlotte Tresslar

Yeah. So, I think I just hear so many things like there's some parents who say my kid doesn't have enough to do during the day all they do is play fortnight. I want them to have more enrichment materials. On the flip side, the next phone call, you'll have with a parent is saying my kid is overwhelmed and at their computer for eight hours a day, it's too much for them to keep up with this volume of work independently and just kind of like a reconciling a middle ground between those two things because it's two completely different opposite ends of the spectrum. And I'm not an administrator so I don't make those decisions, but I feel like that's such a cop out answer. So it's hard because both of those concerns are really valid, like these two kids are experiencing disclosure in a really different way. And I think, just like with my lack of experience and I'm still like developing my own personal teaching philosophy. I think it's hard for me to have like a confident answer to those questions or like, and that's called making poor parents feel heard, and, like, supporting the kid appropriately after that.

 

Caroline Gardner

So, um, part of the reason why I wanted to do these interviews is because I am really interested in, like students with learning this like differences. So I was wondering like you being a teacher who like primarily focuses on that, like, how do you how do you do that like how do you make sure that people are engaged and like able to do their work. Kind of a really general question.

 

Charlotte Tresslar  

Yeah, that's a good question. Um, so, I, when I was talking a little bit earlier about things are inside of my control things are outside of my control. Something that's inside my control it, are the materials that I make for my classes, there's like such a spectrum of needs. Like some kids have great executive functioning skills, others really really struggle unless they have a teacher sitting right next to them and coaching them the entire time. So I want kids to feel feel like they're being appropriately challenged and like the work is meaningful even for now. Cool. So, for that class I created two versions of the classwork, and it really doesn't take that much more work. I have one version that's like even more highly modified and like bare bones and straightforward. And I rely on like a lot more visual diagrams for that so like, for example, class we did a unit, stop doing physics because that is far too difficult to teach online to students with intellectual disabilities. So we did a unit on natural disasters which they loved, because there's a ton of engaging content you can do online so we've been doing virtual field trips, that's accessible to everyone and gauges interest. But for one of them. It was we were talking about climate change, towards the end. And for students who really grasp what we were doing and were really engaged. I have them complete like written responses in their project and like make a pretty complicated diagram so I provided them all of the pieces they need to do it. I guess I do a picture later.

 

Caroline Gardner  

That'd be great. Thanks.

 

Charlotte Tresslar  

Yeah, they drag different pieces into the right places to identify like the ozone layer and everything like that. And then the other more modified version was like, way more picture oriented instead of the names of elements that make up the ozone layer, like, a picture of water, a picture of like oxygen a picture of air. With that, so I think I've just been trying to make formats that can appeal to all different types of learners because the needs are so vast. So I've been trying to do that. I've also been reaching out to kids individually. So a lot of kids struggle with task initiation on their own. But if I send them a text, just checking in, like, Hi Jose how's everything going. Can I help you with this bill actually called me back and we'll go through some work together. So I think, making it the first point of contact. I think a lot of teachers get press where you're just like, well, this could sound engaging. But I found that when I reach out to them. They're. They feel seen, and like someone still cares about their schoolwork. So that's been a good way to like bolster work completion, but something that's really interesting is the completion rates in the self contained program are way higher than the rest of the school. I don't really know why, but I think is like miss having that structure alone, students in my classes really really thrive the schools like predictable schedules. I have a few students on the autism spectrum where that was a really important part of their day. So I think, like, even with a school closure happening. Well some of their peers might be inclined to just play video games all day they like miss the structure of school and like having a schedule. So I try to post things are really predictable time every single day. So even if I don't post an assignment. I'll post, like a Google Classroom announcement at the same time so they always have something to look for. They're like, I know that at 12pm when we usually have physics Miss Tressler will post something in Google classroom and I can look there and go. So I think just trying to provide that consistent structure that we did have in school, the best that I can. has also been a good witness support to really really relied on that structure.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Cool. Um, so yeah, definitely. Again, don't want to take up your whole evening, but I was just wondering if there's anything else that I'm like missing or anything that you think is important about like your students or like your life or.

 

Charlotte Tresslar  

Well there's one thing that I will mention I think this mostly applies just depends on what state you're in, but in Massachusetts, you have to pass the M cast exams to graduate with a diploma, and due to the nature of my classes. A lot of students and now pass them math and cast as full theater so they take it in 10th grade. A lot of students my math class, and who are my 12th graders have taken it five or six times and still have not passed, and they retook it twice this year, and they're supposed to retake it again in May, and they haven't had the opportunity to do that. So, the space is, I think tentatively third in the works of leaving it as a graduation requirement which is huge for them. So that's awesome so I was really worried that that was something that wouldn't happen. But I think going into next year. It's going to be a really important thing for like state governments to figure out what the requirements are. So for example, part of the Massachusetts requirement is in ninth grade you take us, science, Mcast so in our school you take biology in ninth grade, and take the biology on campus, the end of the year. But next year they're taking chemistry. So I think the state really needs to think about, Okay, are we gonna have all these kids who took biology in ninth grade. Take the biology and pass at the end of 10th grade after they've been taking an entirely different field of science next year. So I think that's something that statewide legislature they're gonna have to really really deeply consider the requirements for all these standardized testing situations. Same thing with like AP exams they're being administered online in a completely different format. So I think just like waiting. The importance of standardized test and like prior prioritizing what it means for student teachers, going beyond this, I think it's something that state governments really need to figure out because teachers have a lot of questions because a lot of us plan our school like scope and sequences around it and decide on standards, we're going to teach to make sure kids have exposure to all of that so I think having some clarity around that before the next school year starts is going to be really really important to catch kids up.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah, and what advice, are you giving your seniors.

 

Charlotte Tresslar  

Oh, that's a good question. Um, I'm just encouraging them to stay in touch with each other. So even in our class forum, so we have Google Classroom I post like prompts or they can respond to each other, like please just talk to each other, like even if you weren't super good friends outside of class I think it's really important to like, maintain some social connection. That's not just you sitting alone in your room being sad or just being around your family all day so I've been encouraging them to reach out to people that they miss. Um, and I don't know. I have, I think this is something that's been hard cuz I never know the right thing to say I can't even begin to empathize with my senior year of high school or my senior year of college. I've never had an experience or anything like that so I think they're grieving, and I think just like I've just been trying to support them by sending their feelings are incredibly valid. At the end of all of this, they're like a whole generation of kids who've gone through the same thing. And I've had a similar experience and she was like, on with each other moving forward over this like shared, I would say it's a traumatic experience. Kind of like bond over this share it's like a really sad moment. After all, this is over. I think it's something that I've just been encouraging them to do, to like connect with peers around age, because they're the only people who are really gonna understand what they're going through right now.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah, absolutely. Um, oh I think I had one more question, but it's escaping me right now. Oh, yeah, thanks Charlotte, you're the best. This was really really helpful. I'm sorry, your life is kind of stressful right now, super stressful right now.

 

Charlotte Tresslar  

It's not so bad. But, yeah, so next year will be interesting I decided to stick in school, I was going to pivot before but I was like you know everything's gonna be a mess next year so I want to stay with the kids that I know super well, because everyone else in the Special Ed. Dept is leaving. So if they came back from this after six months with all new teachers, it would be horrible. And I just think it'll be a cool time to be in education to figure out, okay how do we problem solve and come back from this. I'm kind of like excited to see what that will be like but right now I'm just gonna share the like two versions of things that I was talking about,

 

Caroline Gardner  

oh cool thanks so much. 

 

Yeah. Um, thank you so much and then okay I remembered my question. I'm sorry. So, if you could kind of communicate to the state legislature, like, this is what you should do like what would you like do you think they're equipped to make the decision, like, are you, I think,

 

Charlotte Tresslar  

Personally, I always felt like this that the MCAS should be waived as a graduation requirement and like if you showed up to school and showed up to your classes. I don't think a standardized test could prevent you from putting in the work together, blah blah, like you got all the credit pass the class. I think that's always been something that I saw as a barrier to kids with, like, pretty pronounced special needs that one math test that they were two percentage points away from is what prevented them from graduating with a high school diploma, which opens up so many more opportunities for them, job wise, like you could go to trade school you could go to community college later in your life if that's what you wanted to do but a diploma is really essential to all of those things so instead they've been graduating with certificates of completion. So I think just for any kid who's had to like lose this essential instruction on something that they had to take a test on that should be played as a requirement for them personally. Um, please I just don't think there's any way to like fairly expect kids to recover from this when it's not in the locus of their control. So that is my personal teaching philosophy on that one. I don't know, I think if they had. If they were going to make a decision. I would sincerely hope that they would have a lot of teachers and school administrators in that room. But you never fell sorry I'm just looking at what I was think there's two versions of insurance they're the same thing. Okay. Yeah. I have it.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Awesome, thank you I'm excited to look that over. 

 

Yeah, this is the one I have a co teacher for so she filmed a video with instructions for one for kids who aren't great technology too.

 

Charlotte Tresslar  

Oh cool. So, I will send these over to you right now. Awesome. Thanks.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah. All right, well, enjoy the rest of your night, I'm going to turn my recorder off right now.

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