As her students signed into class twice a week amid the COVID-19 pandemic, Cori Allan, a Spanish teacher at Proximity Learning, said she hoped her students would feel that her class time was a space in their day where they could feel safe and be logged on with a familiar face — her.
“If anything else happens, I just want to be somebody that is routinely there, that is providing a safe space and is making them feel loved,” Allan said. “And if that’s all that I achieve throughout the rest of this pandemic, then I think I will count it as being successful.”
Allan has been teaching students virtually through live video since the beginning of the school year. The students would come to class and log in online, surrounded by their peers in the classroom. As schools began to close and transition to a virtual environment, Allan had one class immediately continue online.
“We were already set up to be successful at distance learning and staying at home,” Allan said. “The kids already know how to sign in. They already know all of the software. They already know who we are. All of that is ready and prepared so we can have the smoothest transition once we’re able to figure out home devices and internet.”
For Allan, having students sign in twice a week meant more than continuing to power through Spanish lessons, but that she could provide them with routine and stability in the midst of an unprecedented time. The students had been turning on their computers and signing in to class before, now they were just doing it from home.
In an anonymous survey sent to PLI students in May, one of Allan’s students responded that they felt very supported by her in their learning and said, “Since we [were] already doing this class online in school, it's very much easier than the other classes.”
Unexpectedly, three of Allan’s students that were consistently signing in to her class everyday she said were the same students who were not doing well in their traditional brick and mortar classroom setting. She said one of them had a 11% for their grade in the class before starting to learn from home, but then began to sit at the top of the class for the first time.
“It’s been really enjoyable to watch these three students ... really grow under this transition to home, which you think would be reversed,” Allan said.
While less students are able to come to class from home, Allan said the quality of interaction she had with those that signed in was a lot stronger. She was able to build new relationships with students and help guide them through assignments during a difficult time in everyone’s lives.
“I’m able to build these relationships and say, ‘Hey! What are you doing? What’s going on? What’s going on with this homework?’ and we’re able to sit down and I’m able to teach my lesson and then they can just work and ask me questions,” Allan said. “If it’s a really hard assignment, we’ll sit and work on it together. I’m a teacher that really tries to get them to learn how to find the right answers and answer correctly, but helping guide them down that path instead of saying, ‘Here’s the answer.’”
Before school closures, Allan thought the three students who weren’t successful before did not hve the desire and motivation to be. Walking away from this unique experience during her teaching career, Allan has realized that certain students just thrive more by learning outside of the traditional classroom environment.
“Sometimes it’s just the classroom setting and the kids actually really want to learn,” Allan said. “So what we as adults I think have the responsibility to do is try and find the best scenarios for these students to learn.”
While accommodating students with different learning styles is not as simple as saying “these three should just stay home,” Allan learned from her students and gained a new perspective that will impact how she interacts with students struggling in the future.
“Just because they’re not signing in and not being successful doesn’t mean that they don’t want to be successful and they’re not capable of being successful,” Allan said. “So I think that at-home learning for certain students may actually be really beneficial.”