James Interview Full Transcript

Caroline Gardner  

Okay, cool. So, if you wouldn't mind, start by introducing yourself and telling me what school you work at and how long you've been working there. 

 

James  

Sure, yeah. My name is James McGrath. I am 25. I'm from Scranton, Pennsylvania and I have been teaching at Scranton Preparatory. School for I'm in my second year now. 

 

Caroline Gardner  

Awesome. And what subjects do you teach? 

James  

Last year, I started teaching Latin one, and eventually picked up an international affairs course. Just the school needed me to last year and this year, I continued teaching Latin one and International Affairs and I also teach world history to freshmen.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Cool, um, and then just kind of like a basic. You can answer this however you like, but what's changed since your school went online?

James

So much. It's, um, it's been hard. I mean, just, we now use zoom to teach the kids Every day, um, we actually were on like break for Easter last week. So I haven't taught in about 10 or 11 days now, but basically, instead of our normal schedule, which would have the kids getting to school at around 815 every day and starting class around 830. And going to about 235, we now have condensed our schedule somewhat, but kept the kids have pretty much the same basic schedule on zoom, where they spend about 35 minutes in each of their classes going through the day. So I'm basically on zoom from about nine like 850 to 235 with like sort of my normal breaks in the day like I had like a couple free periods where I would maybe like grab lunch or do some grading at work. I have about the same amount of free time during the day. But the kids have a little bit more free time and we just like to start a little bit later. 

 

Caroline Gardner

So you start at nine instead of 8:15?

 

James  

So yeah instead of 8:15 we start at, they have to be ready to learn at eight at nine. So I usually get into my classroom at 850 

 

Caroline Gardner  

and then 

James  

classroom that's when I open my zoom 

 

Caroline Gardner  

make sense and are they required to like, wear their uniforms are they required to like be like in someplace quiet and away from people?

James  

We don't make them wear, So we have like a pretty standard like Catholic school uniform, but we do not make them wear their uniform like the boys wear coat and tie every day the girls have to wear like a button down in a sweater vest or sweater and the skirt. On zoom, we do not make them wear that they have to wear like something that would essentially be appropriate if we had like a dress down day in school. So most kids are wearing like sweats. They need to have like their shoulders covered and like there's some basic rules but the main rules that we had was that they weren't allowed to be like laying in bed or like prone, they need to be like sitting up. Ideally, like at a desk. Now, some kids have not really been following that. It's been a little bit difficult to enforce, just because it's like hard to manage 30 kids in the classroom all the time. But yeah, there are some restrictions on like, what they can wear and what they are supposed to be how they're supposed to be in their zoom, but it's like, it's been working pretty well. 

 

Caroline Gardner  

Awesome. I'm happy to hear that. So this is your third week of online class?

 

James  

So we started online class March 18. 

 

Caroline Gardner  

Okay. So, so 

 

James  

we did Yeah, we did two full weeks and then we did not work last week. 

 

Caroline Gardner  

So can you tell me kind of like the mood of the students kind of like their vibe from when you first started to now like has it pretty constant has it changed?

 

James  

Yeah, I think they initially they were pretty resistant to it. They were kind of like, again, I don't want to generalize because some of the kids were like, the kids who were just like generally eager to learn at school have been pretty good about still like maintaining their like attentiveness and just like desire to be there. But the kids who were like kind of on the fence or like, generally disinterested have stayed that way or even, it's kind of been worsened by going on zoom. Like there's some kids that just like, are clearly not really paying attention. Some kids have gone even to the point of like, just pretty much playing video games like while I'm trying to teach. So that's not ideal, but the in terms of how it's changed since we started, I would say the kids have gotten more adjusted to it. But there is just a little bit of like weariness to it. I think. It's just like, how constantly being on screens all day has definitely like worn the kids out. And I think it's good that we shortened our class periods because we normally did 42 minutes in the school day, and we made it 35 minutes online, which means really, when all the kids like get into the zoom and I like get my like attendance taken, it's really closer to like a half an hour of me like engaging with them with material. So I think it's been a little bit challenging for them to just like, get themselves motivated to like, move from their beds to like another place in their homes, and try to pretend like it's a normal school day because it's, it's very clearly not normal. 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah, so have you guys lightened the requirements for grades? Or is it just pretty much the same? Do you expect that your students are going to be like, I mean, this is high school. So the grades do kind of matter. do expect them to be like, pretty much on the same trajectory or have you guys adjusted that?

 

James  

So we have gone through half of our, We do our schedule in quarters. So we had made it through halfway through our third quarter. So we had a decent amount of like information on like how they had performed so far in the third quarter. But in terms of assessments, but what we decided to do was change our grading structure, which was on a scale of like, zero to 100. Now, I mean, obviously, you're you don't really see kids in like the 30s and 40s and 50s. But it happened rarely. We change that to a letter grade system, which was like a little bit more forgiving. Where like an A+  would be like 100 to an 96 or 97. So, basically, how it's going to work is I'm going to give all my kids a letter grade, and that will be sort of translated into again, in an attempt to be like forgiving, just like the maximum grade in that range is how it will like translate into their GPA. Yeah, so it's, it's not like, okay, we're totally throwing grades out the window, but it gives us a little bit of like, cover I guess. And it's like, we understand that it's not going to be like the same level of work here. And also just in terms of giving assessments, it's much more difficult like I'm having a hard time. I basically transition from almost all my tests being a majority objective questions like true false and multiple choice and things like that in my social studies classes, to now basically giving all like essay based questions because I just like, don't really feel like I have a good sense of how to hold them accountable for being like, honest and how they answer those questions. 

Caroline Gardner  

So those tests, you're saying you switch from subjective to essay questions. Are they testing you'll give like after school for homework? So do you still assign homework every day or they like timed tests? How does that work? 

 

James  

So I basically have assigned them like and like I would normally like an essay, where I would like give them a rubric and give them like a few days to complete it. My Latin class I gave them a test where they had 24 hours and it included our class period for a day so they could do it overnight. Or they could attempt to do it in like the 35 minutes that we have for class I recommended against that just because it was it was like a pretty lengthy test. I don't know that they could do it in a half an hour, especially with like I basically said, you could use your book if you want to do because there was just no real way for me to like, make sure that they didn't. So most of the kids did it, I think almost all of them did it like at home, like as a homework assignment rather than like an A class period. 

 

Caroline Gardner  

Got it? Um, what do you think is the biggest obstacle for your students like as a transition to online learning?

 

James  

I think that the just like this socializing that happens at school and just like the there's a real lack of just like the general energy and joy that we have in our school it really is hard to recreate that on a zoom call I try to like make it as fun as I can for the kids but just like the seeing each other in the hallways and having lunch together and just like the general good things for them about coming to school or so like missing now that it's just like seeming more and more for them like a chore and not something that like I don't know, I feel like we're missing a lot of just like the general happiness that happens at school.

Caroline Gardner  

And then for you, What's been the biggest obstacle with the transition, like as a teacher?

 

James  

I so just in terms of like the format and like classes I like enjoyed writing a lot on the board and like being able to, like have flexibility in the way that I taught with like using our smart board technology that we have. And like kind of changing the way that I teach. Sometimes I really don't have that flexibility. Now I can share my screen, I do often share videos with the kids, because I feel like they engage with us a little bit more than just me talking at them. But it's more difficult for me to like, lecture because I can't really like write in the same way that I did in the classroom.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah, that makes sense. So how are you adapting your teaching style? Could you kind of like, walk me through what a typical lesson would be like in one of your classes? 

 

James  

Yeah, so in Latin class, which I feel like has adapted better than my social studies courses, I essentially before the day starts or the night before I will prepare, like a Google Doc. Basically with Like, then then the like highlights of the notes for our chapter. And then some like examples that kind of go over the key points. And I will kind of walk them through the notes. And then we will go over together like how to do the examples. So like, essentially randomly or asked for volunteers to work through each of like the verb translations or sentences, whatever we're doing. And that is essentially what we were doing in school before. It's just like, it's harder to maybe gauge how well the kids are following along.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Just because somebody could be like totally not paying attention at all, and you wouldn't really know?

 

James  

 And it's like, I can see I can see all the kids on my screen, but it's just like, it's hard to make sure like every single one is like, has their eyes on me or like it's not just like on the phone next to the computer. 

 

Caroline Gardner  

Makes sense.

 

James  

In the school in the classroom. I have been taking, been having them put all their phones, like, in a part of my classroom so that they like nobody would be on their phones during class. And now I feel like they're all just like on their phones while I'm trying to teach. Like for my social studies classes, I share a PowerPoint and I walk them through it. And then I like take breaks to make sure everybody I'll say like, Does everyone understand and that isn't necessarily the most effective because nobody really like speaks up when when they don't understand. 

 

Caroline Gardner  

Everyone's watching Tiktoks on the side?

 

James  

(Laugh) that is a concern. Not all the time, and not everybody, but I'm sure that at least at any given time, 20% of my class is on some type of social media.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah, that sounds really challenging for them and for you.

 

James  

It's just like, I don't want to like let kids like slip through the cracks over this next like two months of teaching. If this is like gonna be what we're doing, which it seems that way. We had initially planned to reassess after Easter. Now, obviously,  we haven't been in been like, oh, let's go back to school because the governor shut down all the schools. So I would imagine we're not going to be back in the classroom this year. So it's like, Okay, how are we going to try to stick it out with like, it was a little bit difficult for two weeks, two more months, seems like it's going to be very challenging. So I'm just going to have to try to keep I've been trying to talk to other teachers about what they do, to maybe see if I can, like, bring that into my classroom, because it's just like, I'm worried that I'm not gonna be able to cover as much as I would have during the school and they're going to miss some things. Now that isn't necessarily as important for World History and International Affairs because they're both like terminal courses, kind of like there's no real like world history two that they need to be prepared for. But with Latin, they all have to take it again next year, at the upper level, so like, there are certain things that I really need to hit So that they're prepared for next year.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah, no, that makes sense. And then as far as students who have learning accommodations or like have different learning styles, how do you adapt as a teacher to make sure they're on track and included? 

 

James  

Yeah, those those kids are definitely gonna have like the hardest time with this, I think I only have a handful of kids who have like extra need. We do have a like a half an hour period during the day where all of our like counselors are available. So there is a time for them. If they need extra help or just need like to talk to someone. They have the ability. I also have, like, what we're calling office hours after the school day ends for for about 40 minutes where I have my zoom classroom open and if anyone wants to come in and re evaluate like what we had talked about that day or talk about something else, they have the opportunity to do so. And I've had a couple kids come in there, and I've spent some time like going over a little bit like further what we have talked about that day. 

 

Caroline Gardner  

That's awesome.

 

James  

And now that's something that the school encouraged all of us to do. And I think almost, if not all our teachers are doing that as well for at least three days of the week. 

 

Caroline Gardner  

That's really cool. And you would say you get like one or two students every day, or does it just kind of depends on the lesson?

 

James  

Um, I've had so I had one student that was actually doing this with me in school before we left so he has continued it. I have not seen much in from other students yet. But I'm, I'm hoping if they feel they need it, that they will actually come. It's hard. Sometimes kids are like, Oh, 235 days over. I don't have to do anything else anymore.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah, I could see after like sitting down staring at the screen. You'd be kind of burnt out. 

 

James  

Yeah, we have. We've been posting on the schools instagram, our phys ed teacher has been trying to like, give little like, just like nudges to do exercise and things and he's like gotten students involved by like having them record themselves like the kids who play like varsity basketball and baseball have been like, doing like ball handling drills and like all the like to kind of get kids interested in being outside, like while following the guidelines. 

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah, do you have any kind of like, other fun stuff that your school does to keep up the morale of the students?

 

James  

We have attempted, Like we did a crazy hat day at the end of our second week where like, we encourage the kids and the teachers to like wear hats into the zoom class. And that was fine. There was probably like a 50% participation rate where like, some kids were just like wearing a hat which we discourage them from doing on normal day. We like to say try not to wear a hood or hat so we can like see your faces. But some kids went all out with these funny, crazy hats and other kids were like, Yeah, I just want to do this and get out here. 

 

Caroline Gardner  

Makes sense. Okay, so I know I promised you 15 minutes and it's been 19.

 

James  

Oh you're good, I don't have anything else to do. 

 

Caroline Gardner  

Okay, perfect. Um, could you tell me a little bit more about your school? How many students go there? Like what type of school it is? 

 

James  

Yeah, so we are Jesuit co Ed. We have about 740 students total. The freshman class is the smallest. I think there's like 145 or something like that. But our average class sizes Yeah, something like 180 or so. 

 

Caroline Gardner  

Cool. And how many students are in your individual classes?

 

James  

So it varies a little bit. My international affairs classes as an elective for juniors and seniors. So they have like that choice if they wanted like a Have a social studies course. I think that those two classes are 24 students in one, 20 in the other, and my freshman classes are all between 21 and 24

 

Caroline Gardner  

 Got it. And then Have you heard from your students, um, like other concerns about like life outside of school, kind of like how they're handling?

 

James  

Yeah, there's some so one, a couple of my students, their parents are, like still working like still leaving the home. So what one of my students is babysitting her little cousin during my class period. So she has essentially like a toddler in my classroom every day, which she's actually done fantastic about it. It's not a disruption at all. Some students have complained about just like issues with sleep schedules and like staying up super late because they don't like have the same like need to go up and like get on a bus at seven o'clock in the morning. And I think that I'm we're gonna see an issue with that coming out of this break where kids just like totally gave up on a sleep schedule and have been like, staying my I know even my sister who's a sophomore at our school has been staying up until at least two o'clock in the morning, which was an issue for us with students when we are in school. And I think it's just going to be even worse now with with going online.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah, that totally makes sense. And then kind of like, semi last question. Would you say that your stress levels as a teacher are higher or lower than they were in like normal times?

 

James  

I would say higher a) just because of like the world b) in regard to this specifically, I just don't, I get so worried that I'm just gonna like, not like our students and their parents, like, it's a pretty big sacrifice to go to our school. And I just really want to make sure that we are like, giving them the value that they are like that we promised to them. And I think that we're doing our best but it's just it's it's just simply can't be the same.

 

Caroline Gardner  

You would say the quality of education is lower?

 

James  

I know for sure that I'm not going to be able to teach in terms of just like the amount of material. Now the material I'm teaching is still like it's still good and they're still learning a lot. But we're just not going to be able to cover as much as I was planning to cover

 

Caroline Gardner  

Just because things have to go slower because they're online?

 

Unknown Speaker  

Yeah, yeah, just because it's hard I can I feel less bad about like, teaching like bell to bell in the school day, like while we're there because like, that's everybody has like built in breaks and nobody has these issues of like, just overwhelming amounts of screen time. It's more difficult than I feel obligated to almost like check in with kids and spend some of my time being like, Hey, I hope everyone is doing okay, like this is very strange. I know. I give them an opportunity to like talk to me if they would like to talk about the, just like what's going on in the world? I know some kids are like not really in tune to like, most kids are not in tune to the news. So like if they have questions for me. We spent a lot of time in international affairs talking about the pandemic and how it's affected our relationships with other countries. It's become sort of like a talking point of our class pretty regularly, partially because it's like very interesting from an international affairs perspective and partially because it's just always on everyone's minds.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah, no, that's really cool. And then, like, what are you doing to take care of yourself and not like, let yourself get overwhelmed as being in charge of like 60 some kids and their education.

 

James  

Um, I've been trying to just like, give myself some time to be away from screens I've been trying to like, read and like go outside a little bit. And also just like, recognizing that, like, if I don't do X, Y, and Z for the kids in a given week, it's like, everyone understands that this is like not when we look back on this in 30 years. No one's gonna be like, Oh, you guys didn't get to learn about the Aztecs in world history, like, they're gonna be like, Oh my God, we all lived through that year that we went. Everybody went to school online, like this is from the social studies perspective, so much like, crazier. Like I just two weeks ago, I taught the kids about like, the black plague, like, this is gonna be in history books forever. Like it's Is it necessary that we hit every detail of our class? I don't think so. And that is like kept me sane a little bit.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Ya know, that's really good to understand that perspective. And is there anything that you think I've missed? To have like a full picture of your life and the life of your students?

 

James  

Um, no, I mean, I, I guess I should just say that like the kids are, they're strong. I mean, they they are They're trying.  That they like, have sort of risen to this challenge, I think in a way that I'm pretty impressed with. And I hope that that's true of other schools as well. But I'm, I have always been impressed with the kids that we have at our school. And I think that they, they've been pretty remarkable in the way that they've adjusted to this because we didn't really have this plan in place. We sort of did it on the fly, and they've really just kind of, for the most part embraced it. So I'm pretty just proud of them and hoping that it continues for the rest of the year.

 

Caroline Gardner  

That's awesome. Very cool. Um, okay, so that's all my questions.

© 2020 Dr. Ananya Chakravarti

Thanks to Rajeev Kozhikattuthodi for his help in building this website.

  • Twitter Square