Alexandra Wilbiks is a former EFC Scholarship recipient and a teacher in Toronto who suddenly found herself teaching her Grade 5 class online when schools closed. As the school year drew to a close, EFC asked Alexandra to share her experience.
My name is Alexandra Wilbiks and I am an elementary school teacher working in the Toronto District School Board. For the past few years I have been working at R H McGregor in East York as a Grade 5 teacher. I love working with that age group because they are able to work more independently, they get my humour and sarcasm, and they can dig deeper into open-ended projects!
Online learning became a very quick reality for us this year given everything that happened. I was fortunate enough to have already used Google Classroom in school so my students were relatively prepared. There was still a bit of a learning curve as now they were having to log on from home, remember passwords, and navigate some new sites (not to mention - some parents needed some help figuring things out). I can’t imagine the struggle some families went through who hadn’t previously used an online platform or who had younger students now logging on as well. There was a bit of a gap for some students in terms of access as we had to wait until devices were delivered to those who needed them. At first it was an awkward transition into online meetings, recording myself teaching lessons, and spending full days on a computer - but it became the new normal. After getting some blue light glasses, a laptop stand and developing better posture - I learned how to make the days on screens work better!
Even though my students had a basic knowledge of Google Classroom, this process still meant learning new applications such as Google Meet (“ _____ please mute yourself!” was a very common phrase I used, as well as “I’m sharing my screen - can everybody see it?”). It became our meeting place to establish a community feeling, check in with each other and share our learning. I continued to give direct feedback on student tasks on Google Classroom (normally it would have been face to face in class) and discovered the MOTE extension (GAME CHANGER!) to record verbal feedback for them.
We also worked together to explore other Google features like Jamboard - a collaborative and interactive whiteboard - which also satisfied my love of colourful sticky notes! It wasn’t all work work work - we also managed to find various online multiplayer games for our Friday Meets to have some fun - Kahoot, Drawsaurus and Bingo were my class favourites! We also signed up for some virtual field trips to try to keep things interesting - the Zoo, the Aquarium, and we even ventured to the Galapagos Islands!
Along with the creation of lessons, digital tasks, teaching videos, giving feedback and meeting with students, there was a LOT of communication with families. It took time, but the feedback I got from my families was all positive - so that validated it for me.
Of course, none of this was the same as it would have been in class and that’s the biggest thing I missed. Having deep life chats with students and seeing light bulbs go off in their heads are part of why I love what I do. Trying to navigate conversations online about what is happening in the world around us was tricky- and I know in class we would have been able to unpack, explore and learn together better. Although my experience was relatively successful online (stressful and exhausting still!), it didn’t come close to the feeling of working with 28 ten year olds daily in person. We become a family for the year that we share together, and it just wasn’t the same online. In addition to the teaching and communicating of academics, I also played a role of supporting the students with their emotions and mental health. This was a bizarre time for us all, but I wanted to ensure that my students were okay and knew that I was there for them if they needed me.
A highlight was when the teachers did a Bike Parade to say “Hi!” and also when we dropped off grad lawn signs for my students (our school ends at Grade 5). That was an emotional rollercoaster of a day but I was so happy to see them in person one more time!
Now that we are on summer vacation - I would love to say that I’m not thinking about next year at all, but that’s not the case. The worries and unknowns of September are certainly in the back of my mind always. I am moving to Grade 3, for a change, so in addition to learning a new curriculum and program, there are so many question marks for September. What will it look like? How will the day run? When will we know which models are chosen for schools? How can I be both in-class teaching and online teaching at the same time? My classroom shares the space with our in-school daycare, so cleaning and sanitization are also a concern. What about PPE? How can we social distance in our classrooms, hallways, etc.? How to program for students at school only a few days of the week? Will there be a second wave of Covid and how will that impact the school year? The list is endless if you let your mind wander. It also seems bizarre and sad even, to think about little ones who may have to stand by themselves during recess and not play together. Basically, I’m not sure what next year will look like, but I hope whatever is decided, it’s evidence-based and has everyone’s safety in mind.
For now, I will take a deep breath, work hard to stay safe, spread kindness and positivity where I can - something I always encourage my students to do!
Want to know more? Read more stories from teachers in our community like Anneliis Põldre, Elli Kipper and Tiina Paluoja. Or read about our frontline healthcare workers like Teija Jõgi, Kristiina Nielander-Hildebrandt and Tomas Saun.