Teacher in Hawaii Interview Full Transcript

Caroline Gardner  

Cool. So if you wouldn't mind just by starting with what school you teach at and how long you've been there.

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

I teach at Punahou. Um, for the school, I've been here a total of I think 15 years is kind of split up. But yeah.

 

Caroline Gardner  

awesome and what do you teach?

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

I teach, biology, a class called neural science of learning, and a class called learning skills. I'm learning strategies. I usually translate it for the outside world, because learning strategies is ours. It's, it's like a directed study hall, but it's really a class for, certainly for kids with learning differences but also for kids with with emotional issues or I mean it's really kind of a class for the deans, to put students who need some sort of extra guidance or support.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Awesome. How long have you been teaching that class?

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

This is my well it's my second official year, but, um, yeah, but I was, I was kind of doing it before.

 

Caroline Gardner  

What was kind of the idea behind that class?

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

Oh, well, because Punahou was a private school, they don't have special ed, but they have kids with diagnosed learning differences, so we don't. I mean, certainly, we have to, you know, by law we have to give them accommodation. Um, so they recognize that the need was there, and we don't even formally have like a, like a Learning Support Group. Officially, which we're trying to establish. It's really an area of need and put home. So there's like a very small core of us who are trying to sort of strengthen that area of our curriculum and support. But that I think because of that, there is not a real defined sense of what learning strategies is learning strategies is. It's like a super super safe place for kids to go if they need help and support.

 

Caroline Gardner  

That's awesome. That's really, really cool. So, to kind of start off coronavirus related questions I wanted to ask specifically for that class how has that been going as your students have moved to online learning and as you've moved online learning online teaching.

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

Oh. Well, it's actually appropriate that we are just talking about learning strategies because on so just to give you a little bit of background on the way staffing works in a school I'm not I mean your students so I don't I'm not sure. I'm sure it's not super clear to you but they work by FTP like they have the appropriate classes for teachers, according to you know staffing needs and and stuff like that. So, um, I have, um, normal class loads for an Academy teacher in high school at Punahou is five sections. Um, and I have three, I have three sections of biology and three sections of learning strategies, so I have technically what's like sort of a little bit more than a normal load but that's because Punahou doesn't really consider learning strategies as much of a load, as a normal academic class but that's really quite honestly, because the administration doesn't think learning strategies, has a lot of prep to it and they don't appreciate what goes into it. And so, I would say before coronavirus. My and the numbers and learning strategies are much smaller like a typical biology class has about 20 students in it and a learning typical learning strategies class has about anywhere from five to 10 students in it, but there's a reason for that. I mean those students are very high need, and display any anywhere, a huge array of need, which demands for me all kinds of different you know support activities. So, I would say before coronavirus my time. Nonetheless, even though the student load, there was a huge disparity, my time was still about split half and half, between my biology students and my learning strategy students. So it was about 50/50, maybe about 60/40 between my biology, work, and my learning how to do the work. And now, Absolutely. Because of coronavirus and being online. I'm not exaggerating. My time is about 95% learning strategies, students, and about 5%, biology, I am spending from about six o'clock in the morning until about five o'clock in the afternoon. Working with 30 learning strategies students because they are totally confounded by the schedule by being online keeping track of their assignments, getting to class, understanding what the teacher is saying anything you could possibly like emotionally dealing with coronavirus being depressed being scared being sad. And just not even checking their email, so not communicating with me being home alone because their parents aren't there. All like anything you could possibly imagine and then me meeting to meet with the deans constantly to talk about them talking to parents. So literally, all of my time is being spent with these students. And I was just talking to Dean's yesterday about how we could convey. Now, to the administration that this is really what learning strategies is about like this, as unfortunate as it is this situation really brings to the fore what the student how these students represent what the needs are. In this environment, and I have biology students who need me and who need my help, and who don't understand assignments and who need to meet in my office hours and who I'm having to say to. I'm really sorry, can, can I make an appointment with you later, I will explain that assignment and I'm making screencasts and making videos and saying hey can you look at the screencast, can you watch the video because I have students who are literally failing. Every one of their classes. So to me that's the starkest. And I anticipated it I had a sense that would happen, but not to this degree, and other teachers who I speak to who are teaching, learning strategies are having the same experience.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Wow. Um, so my first thing is, thank you so much for making the time to speak with me. I'm really really appreciate it. And then my second thing is I've been asking this to a lot of teachers but it seems like this would be pertinent to you specifically, how do you as like a human being separate yourself from all that stress and kind of like, what do you do to take care of yourself outside of your students.

Teacher in Hawaii  

Well, it's so nice of you to ask I appreciate that, um, I, well I'm super lucky, I have an amazing. I mean I have three amazing kids and, you know, one of the really nice things is I'm home with them, which I feel a little guilty for being happy about that. I keep, I realized that I was sort of self assessing and I was like it's okay to be happy about that it's okay to be enjoying that. Um, I also hate air conditioning Claire can tell you this, and I'm like really happy I'm home in Hawaii with no air conditioning. So, and I also. I just, and I realized after the first week or so that I was like working way too much, that, that my, my kids weren't giving me some, some signals and some signs that I actually wasn't doing a good job. I was a little short and a little impatient and not managing well, so I actually, I was just working too long in the day. So I my 11 year old his, his birthdays on Thursday actually he'll be 12. He kept asking you know winning gonna be done winning and be done. So I just decided I gave myself a cut off time like no matter what, in the day I'm going to close my computer I'm going to walk away. You know, even if a kid needs me or, I'm just going to say I will talk to you tomorrow. You know you'll make it to tomorrow. It'll be okay. I'm not going to check my phone for emails again during dinner and just, you know, while I'm cooking dinner. So I really set myself I actually made a list of rules for myself. And that has enabled me to, To share time with my family, better. So just like I would make rules for my students and I would say okay, here are the rules, you know, I do the same thing for myself.

 

Caroline Gardner  

I love that. That's great. So, as far as your biology lessons, how has that transition. Besides, you're kind of being time-pressed with your learning strategy students. How have your biology lessons changed since they moved online?

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

Well, a lot and very poorly. I'm not, you know, I know I'm not. I think I'm a good teacher I think my students like me but it's, it's just, you can do online well but everybody I speak to says, you know, it's just like teaching your first year of teaching, you don't come out of the gate being awesome, you know, and I can tell myself that a lot but I still want to be really good. The first time I teach online like I can't get away from that. So, I'm doing everything I can to try to at least support them well and follow all the guidelines, I mean I spent all of spring break reading literally hundreds of articles and research on best practices, particularly for learning difference kids but, um, so they've changed in what I would say the predictable ways you know i i never lecture, I don't really use. You know, okay watch this video then answer this worksheet but I mean that's what I'm doing, because I'm not going to use an online classroom and talk for 45 minutes, I'm just not going to do that. So, I do a lot of more social emotional check ins with my biology kids. I always start class with a kind of a fun, silly thing, like my last biology class I was like okay, what, in the last 24 hours. What's the weirdest thing you ate, you know because I made I had cooked something for my family the night before then I never thought I would cook. Um, and it wasn't necessarily weird but it was just different. And I was like, I'll go first and I described it to them and I talked about, they know about my kids and two of my kids go to the same school and I always describe how like one kid hated it and one kid loved it and, you know, so, and then you know they're a little hesitant but a few kids always pipe in and. And I, my first assignment I created coming back from Spring Break was actually called how're we doing, and it was just a social emotional assignment about how them. I tried to structure it such that they were able to talk about what Spring Break was like for them. And then I had a little video from Harvard School of Graduate Education, about micro affirmations and doing my affirmations in our online classroom. And so the whole assignment, which it was graded but we use competency based learning. So, I mean, it was competency based. So the whole time it was really just I to demonstrate to them I care about how you're doing. Um, so most of my like face to face time with them is really trying to demonstrate that I care, how you're doing. And then the last 15 minutes or so is like okay questions on what your homework was, here's what the next thing is, I have office hours, all set in the screencast to review those videos. And I, and I try to get some feedback and I mean, and you know they say like, yeah, I mean that's that works best. I don't want you to lecture to us. I don't want you to just be in class and walk us through that. But, you know, that's what a lot of our teachers are doing, you know, so, you know, they're like we don't want it to be like now where they just, you know, try to teach math the whole time so I'm not really sure how else to do it right now. Um, you know, whereas before in class, it was activities and collaboration and, you know, I just don't have that figured out right now, which I wish I did, but that would be nice.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah, if there was like a magic wand like the best way to do it yeah that would be amazing.

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

Yeah. That would be great.

 

Caroline Gardner  

So how are your students doing and kind of like what has been the change? Since from when you guys started online learning to now?

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

Um, I'm actually just finishing a survey to send to them because I didn't want to send them a survey after like a week. I wanted to give them a little bit of time so that they had the ability to sort of, to, sort of, you know, like to sort of reflecting and be like okay from when we started to now, like, how has it really been, you know, I wanted to give a little bit of time. And I don't, and to be honest with you, the administration sent us the faculty a survey, like, literally, I think it was four days after we started, and they were like, and I will just say they were like, Are you are you able to support your students and I answered I was like okay possibly answer that question, like it's been four days, you know, and I honestly I'm always the one with the sassy answer but I was like why are you ask me that right now I don't know, you know, and so I feel like I still kind of feel like when you asked me that, first of all I have way too many students to really answer that. I'm like I could say, certainly my learning strategy students in general are doing. They're totally struggling, really, really struggling there's one or two, or they're doing okay. And on any given day they might be doing better they might be doing worse. I'm my biology students I have three classes, they're coming to class, you know, which I hear from other teachers are like God My, my students aren't coming to class and I'm like, Oh, my mine are but they're freshmen, you know, and they're I gave them the option of turning off their cameras, because I mean I sort of gave them my song and dance I said I want you to be metacognitive about it and think about how engaged it'll enable you to be if you turn your video off but if it's hard for you I totally understand and no judgment and like nobody turn their camera off, so I thought that was a great sign. I mean like one or two but, um, so I feel like we're able to establish some classroom culture. And when I, when I say like we're just gonna like give this a shot. We're gonna try a classroom discussion and people talk, you know, they're not like jumping in and trying to, you know, they're not like dying to talk but there's always like five or six people talking which is basically like class, you know, unless you force people there's not unless it's an unusual class, there's not like tons and tons of people talking, that's just not how freshmen bio is usually. So, I mean, I feel like, in general, it's all right. But there are more. I mean one of the things I'm doing is tracking their submissions really closely and like very, I told them I'm going to over communicate with you, so I'm like, emailing them right away and reminding them again and they're being pretty good about emailing me back and being like, Oh, I forgot or I'm still working on it. So, I mean, and all of them that I talked to are saying like I'm at home, and we never had a transition from spring break to school, you know, so I'm procrastinating like, I can't find a way to do my work, you know, so I'm like well I can help you do that. I can't help you with that. You know, so, um, I mean, I think I feel like people are doing the best they can, you know, especially kids they're just, they're doing the best they can. So, I my tendency is really to give them the benefit of the doubt, as you know, not be not be hard nosed, that's just, that's my policy.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah, no, that's great. So how do you encourage students who feel like they can't do their work or feel really behind and don't know where to start.

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

I talked to a lot like that. And before I taught anything about like doing work I say okay let's put all that aside. What's that about, you know, like, what, what like what are those feelings about, you know, like, let's get to why you feel that way. Is it because, you know, did you start off this way, starting back from Spring Break like did you carry this with you into fourth quarter like Did you already have a lot of stuff and you just felt like super stressed and, you know, I'm like is it, because you're at home and like you need to find yourself a space where, you know, that really feels like workspace and doesn't feel like home space like let's because environment really matters right like I teach neuroscience too and sometimes they're like, Oh, don't talk to me about neuroscience, why all right, we won't talk neuroscience but, but, um, and then, or is it, you know, visit vo work, right, Is it the specific work you're doing right like I was just talking to a kid. Yesterday, learning strategies kid of mine and he. I mean he's been kind of a kind of a Sphinx and just an enigma all semester like really all year for even his Dean's and, and he just, he dodges, he won't talk to anyone won't meet with anyone and I finally met with him yesterday and talk to him for like an hour and you know come to find out. It's, it's, it's just this one particular thing about this one particular class and it's not even the teacher, and, and it was finally just like illuminated for me and I was like, Oh my God and he was and he was just kind of like Yeah, and I was like Why didn't you tell me he's like well you never asked. And I was like, well, I never talked to you for an hour before like we never got this, you know to this point before and, you know, so I guess it's really just a matter of like sort of excavating and you know it's there's no like you're saying there's not really a magic one, but it doesn't it doesn't always start with like, okay, let's look at your work. Let's parse it out let's you know chop it up it's like, to me it's more about okay what are, why are you feeling that way, you know, because for him it was definitely not the work, it was he felt about inequities in the class. And so he wasn't going to do the work, he just wasn't, you know.

 

Unknown Speaker  

in equities like internet connection and equities or like that kind of thing?

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

No, even before he just he just felt like it like in a particular class, the teacher is everything in the class is only essay, like whether it's homework tests. Um, and, and particularly on tests like the teacher will give say it's going to be essay on. I don't know like child marriage or something. And the teacher will say like the broad topic, but then he, and so he, he, the student says okay so I research everything I possibly can, but then I come to the test. And it's some specific prompt that I can't possibly have prepared for because it's so specific, and it's just not fair. And I feel like the teacher should give us a more specific. Like if he's like he's teaching this class and he wants us to know something. Tell us what you want us to know, you know, and I'm like, Yeah, I get that I'm like have you told him and he's like, Oh no, and I'm like okay so here's another thing we need to work on. You know, I mean if you feel something's unfair and it's so to the point where you're not gonna do your work you need to speak up. You know, it's like no I know you know I'm like okay we got to work on that too, you know. But it was just, I mean in it and quite frankly it's one of those things that's kind of a weird quirky, almost benefit of online because he was in a learning strategies class with me with other students where I was like okay check in, check in check and get work work with you on this How could you help you on this and, and I speak Spanish so I'm helping this kid with Spanish and I'm like trying to help you with your math and he was so under the radar that I never have I would never have spoken to him for an hour. Right. And now, I did and that was the only way I ever would have found that out. You know, 

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah that's awesome. 

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

Getting an F.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Okay, not so awesome on that.

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

Yeah, which is, I feel like it's partly my fault. You know, because I never, you know, I mean but I mean we have some time. So,

 

Caroline Gardner  

yeah. Um, so I don't want to take up too much of your time so I just have like one more question. Um, what do you think you, so you've been teaching for a while. How do you think that helps, or like hinders your transition to online learning?

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

That my experience you mean?

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah you're experience, in the classroom. 

Teacher in Hawaii  

Oh (laughs) that's a really good question. I think experience teaching helps. Just because you can anticipate how kids, like for instance for the learning strategies kids, I anticipated some of the issues they might have. And I was sort of front loading some of that, um, like I was already like a lot of them, like I'll, you know, honestly, like I, I mean I was already kind of getting on them and being like come on let's go You need to talk to me you need to. What are you doing, and yeah, like, share google docs for their homework assignments and I would be on them and like I haven't seen anyone it's like, what's up, you know, I'm not to say, a less experienced teacher wouldn't know that, but, um, and also you just, you have, you know, sort of a greater sort of catalogue of resources to sort of be like, oh yeah maybe I'll try this maybe I'll try that and and I think even the like I I have, um, I know this but really, like, one of the things that I keep sort of realizing is with my colleagues like I just walk them on greatness, like my colleagues are amazing. And, you know, I send an email to ask a question and I get an answer like that and they're so talented and so brilliant and amazing I mean, it blows me away. Every time you know I I'm, I can't even I could tell you so many stories, it's just like. Thank you guys, you know, um, and I think if I were really inexperienced I might be a little hesitant to like I'm fully fine with being like, I'm an idiot Can somebody tell me blah, like because I forget, you know. So that's actually really helpful, um, that the thing that I think, and I don't mean inexperienced I think if I were a younger teacher. I do think I would be more like tech savvy. And that might be more beneficial to me but I've actually been pushing myself to learn more. And like just in the past couple weeks I've, I've taught myself like screencasting and I mean my 11 year old made me a YouTuber, you know, I have one follower He's my follower. But, but my kids are like mom say this say this, you don't even know but it's super cool I'm like I will not, I don't care, I don't know what it means I'm not saying it. But, um, and and like But, so, you know, but just the very fact that I'm an older teacher means that, like, I like I things are clunkier for me and they take me longer and, you know, it's okay but if I was super I noticed I'm working a lot with a younger teacher and he's super patient but He's like so you could just say you just, you know what I'm like I got it, I got it, I got it. You know, so I mean that's just that it is what it is but, I mean,

 

Caroline Gardner  

My mom teaches graduate students and she has us help her with the tech stuff all the time.

Teacher in Hawaii  

Yeah. (laughs)

 

Caroline Gardner  

It's so funny- very cute.

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

Right. And my dad, he was a professor i mean he's a, you know, he was a Spanish literature professor and I actually, I had a couple of questions because I'm helping a lot of kids with Spanish, and I was like dad could you just and you know he's retired he's can barely work his phone. And I'm like, could you do you think you could just like, I don't know, make a quick table and email it, he was like, what, like I mean there was no way, so I'm like, Okay, I'm just gonna put you on speaker and like I didn't really have time but I was just like, you know, I mean, he's literally never made a table. I mean, it was, you know, but it was, you know, but he's, you know, any he could just whip off what I needed. You know, so everybody everybody has incredible strengths and, you know, so, I mean that's what's really nice about having awesome colleagues too.

 

Caroline Gardner  

That's great. Um, yeah. So, and I promise you, last question. Is there anything else that you think I'm missing to give me a fuller picture of your life right now or the life of your student's lives, 

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

No I'm actually I'm really glad you're doing this I value it Thank you. 

 

Caroline Gardner  

Oh, thanks!

Teacher in Hawaii  

 I really do. Um, and I think it's cool that your mom is a teacher. My parents are teachers. Um, I think. No, there's so many people working from home, that I mean I for a while, I was like oh people don't understand what it's like teaching from home because it can be like some days or because like I told you I have a son who's a senior and it's so you know, you know, I mean some days, literally, are like so hard, you know, not just because of him just my kids, you know, I think the. I think the thing about being a teacher from home is there is an aspect to it of like your, you are kind of, you have to have a certain presence. You know I'm not just. I'm not just functioning in a job from home I'm I there's a part of myself that I'm giving to. And so that's, that's part of what makes it hard, but also valuable and, and important, you know, and I just when I met with my homeroom just this morning. I was asking him about like workload and stuff and all of them. I was kind of surprised but all of them were like oh no I would much rather have school now, I'd much rather have work to do. You know, so, and one of them was like, so I know you're just our advisor, Miss Emma Thank you, thank you for, you know, doing what you're doing. Thank you for working so hard you know you're working hard and I was like, Oh, you know. 

Caroline Gardner  

That's amazing. 

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

Yeah, they're really sweet. So I mean I think a lot of students get it. But they're 

 

Caroline Gardner  

Awesome

Teacher in Hawaii  

It's hard, that it's, yeah, that it's a challenge for teachers.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Yeah, sure. So, for sure. Well Thank you so much. It was so nice to meet you. 

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

Yeah, you too. 

 

Caroline Gardner  

It's great that Claire got to introduce us, she's the best one of my favorite people ever so great that we have that in common. Thank you so much.

Teacher in Hawaii  

Let me know if you need follow up stuff.

 

Caroline Gardner  

Okay, awesome. Thank you. 

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

Good luck. 

 

Caroline Gardner  

Thanks. 

 

Teacher in Hawaii  

Bye.

© 2020 Dr. Ananya Chakravarti

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