DECA Teacher Deftly Balances Her Students and Her Own Children Under Distance Learning Reality

The coronavirus pandemic dramatically altered the education landscape this spring. Beginning March 19, all Stanislaus County school districts – including Denair Unified — were forced to suspend on-campus classes and move to a distance learning model. Today, in the first of a three-part series, we talk with a Denair teacher about distance learning, some of the challenges and the lessons that can be learned.

Teacher: Nicole Janz

School: Denair Elementary Charter Academy

Grade/subject: 3rd grade dual immersion Spanish

What does a typical school day for you look like now? How do you organize your time? 

On a typical day, I have to switch back and forth as a mom home-schooling my own children and working from home. I organize my time by mirroring my home-school schedule and work when my children are doing their school work.

I start my day with checking and answering school/district email. Then, I move on to checking/answering my ClassDojo messages from parents. I also use this time in the morning to correct and give feedback to any student who turned in assignments digitally to the ClassDojo Student Portfolio. After that, it’s time for family breakfast. Which as you know can take a while.

Switch back to teacher mode. This is now my Spanish language arts time. On Monday, Wednesday and Friday, I set up and video a prepared mini-lesson that focuses on a Common Core standard and post into ClassDojo. On Tuesday and Thursday, I have Zoom meetings with my class. I organized my class in two groups to have smaller, more focused groups. We read aloud a fairy tale or poems in Spanish by sharing my screen in Zoom. Since I am a dual immersion teacher who teaches 60% in Spanish, I want to ensure that my students continue with the exposure to academic Spanish and have the opportunity to practice communicating in Spanish. I find that once-a-week Zoom lessons help keep students practicing their conversational Spanish.

Switch back to mommy mode. I help my children with their school work while making lunch. This is where I tell myself that I have to sit down to eat and take a breather.

Back again to teacher mode .

After lunch is now math time. I teach math in English. I set up and video a prepared mini-lesson that focuses on a Common Core standard to post in ClassDojo daily. My students have their math books at home and they work on the specific page after watching my instructional/modeling video.

To complete my school day, I help support/troubleshoot any parent questions and check in on families by ClassDojo, email or a phone call.

What are the biggest adjustments you’ve had to make?

The biggest adjustment for me is trying to separate and organize my home and work life. I have children at home in high school, junior high and elementary school. Teaching from home and serving all of my families at home plus supporting my own children at home is a challenge.

Are you presenting group lessons or spending time online one-on-one with students?

Yes, I have group Zoom meetings on Tuesday and Thursday. If a student is having trouble connecting, I will help troubleshoot and have an individual Zoom meeting to make up what that student missed.

What are your most effective tools to connect with students?           

The most effective tool for me is ClassDojo and Zoom. I already was using ClassDojo to communicate with parents, plus ClassDojo has a lot of extra features to support teachers/students/parents. I made it a point to not change my technology or have families add or learn another app. There is enough to have to think about right now and did not want to add to my family’s stress.

Are there things you’re learning now that you’ll be able to apply in your classrooms when school resumes?

I have learned that having all my technology organized, student sites up and running, and having the students all logged in with student codes within the first month of school will help with remote learning and closures if we will have to shut down schools again.

What are your biggest concerns about students’ ability to learn?

I am mainly concerned with students falling behind. I am doing as much I can with remote learning. I am also having students turn in assignments to keep track of how they are doing from home. Students can turn in their assignments using the ClassDojo portfolio, ClassDojo messaging or email. My concern is that I am not getting all my students turning in assignments and those students may be falling behind because there is no way for me to keep track of how they are doing.

Do you have a favorite distance learning story to share?

My favorite distance learning story is when my 5-year-old decided she was also going to be part of a Zoom meeting with mommy. I was participating in a staff Zoom when my daughter (who wants to be a teacher) stood behind me and pretended to braid my hair to answer and participate in the Zoom meeting.

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