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Teaching in the Age of COVID-19

We are delighted to be able to profile three current teachers at the College who are all graduates of De La Salle. We asked them what their experience has been like teaching in these unique and challenging times.


Catherine Berardi (DEL 13)

When did you graduate from DEL and what post-secondary institutions did you attend and what degrees did you earn?

I graduated Del in 2013. I then went to the University of Toronto for their Concurrent Education Program. At U of T, I majored in French and minored in History and Sociology. During the program, I had to do a teaching placement each of the five years, and a few of them were actually at Del with Ms. Francis and Ms. Di Prospero. After receiving my Honours Bachelor of Arts from U of T, I concluded my Bachelor of Education by attending a final year at OISE.

 

What’s it like for an alumnus to walk these halls again as a teacher?

I enjoy being back at Del. I will admit that the first few months as a new teacher, it was difficult to remind myself that I was no longer a student – I could in fact use those famous front doors. Once I got used to the fact that I was no longer a student, I realized how beneficial it was to get to work at a school where I have a pre-existing experience with most of my colleagues. A lot of these same teachers are ones who inspired me to become the teacher I am today.

Because of my experience as an alumnus, I am able to connect with students in a different way. I too understand the requirements and rigour of work at Del. When students are worried about the multiple exams in a week or the homework demands, I know what it’s like because I was there too. There are sometimes where I have actually had the same teacher, that some of my current students have. This year I get to teach 7c. This was my homeroom class when I first started at Del, with Mr. Scharfe as my teacher just like he still is for 7c. I can picture that class and the students in it like it was yesterday. I’m still friends with some of those people who I first met back in that class, and I share this with the students when I first meet them at the beginning of the year. While some of them can’t believe that their current teachers taught me, or that Mr. Voutsinos was in fact my Math and Phys. Ed teacher, most feel the connection that this provides for us.

Overall, I couldn’t imagine working at another institution. There is a reason that I wanted to come back to this community, a community that nurtures the growth of the spiritual person along with the intellectual person. When a student graduates, you’re not only proud of them for their work as a student but for the person they are. I have come to understand and be thankful for a school of Lasallian values that I took for granted as a student. Now as a teacher, I can be a part of this journey of the next generation of Lasallians.

 

COVID-19

What are the needs of your students?

The educational needs of students are the same, as are most of the other needs such as mental wellness. What has changed is the priorities of these needs. Students’ mental wellness has always been important as educators and to the school, but in these current troubling times, the focus has to be on their wellness first. If students feel unwell, it is difficult for them to focus on their educational needs. They need to feel supported and secure. These have again always been the needs of students, though the security now includes other things, with disinfecting stations in each class and hand sanitizers throughout the school, not to mention the physical distancing and masks. I think that students also truly need a place to socialize with their peers. I think this is more needed than ever this year, they need to be engaged, they need to feel a connection with their friends that they weren’t able to have for so many months.

 

How are you meeting those needs?

In meeting students’ educational needs, the method of delivery of lessons has changed but the core instruction has remained the same. I have worked to create routines in our class, that provides them with structure as well as knowing what to expect. Since High School students, are either meeting in a hybrid model or fully online, I have had to make use of many different tools that are at our disposal. Finding tools that allow students to remain actively engaged while allowing for assessment checks throughout the lesson has been the key way to manage the current situation from an education standpoint.

I have also remained flexible and understanding as each person’s situation differs and constantly changes in the present climate. Whether it be technical difficulties, homework or tutorials, flexibility has proved to be important. Because of the hybrid and online classes, tutorials are now being held online for High School students. This allows students more flexibility in getting help. With more time in their day, they can set up an appointment with me at a time that is suitable for them rather than them needing to work to meet me at one of my set times. Furthermore, providing as much time as possible for in-class support while still covering curriculum needs.

Finally, being positive. We underestimate the power of a smile. While working with students each day, they can no longer see my smile which adds to a positive classroom experience. Taking this into account and being more energetic and more positive so students can feel that a positive environment is important. I have always believed that a fun, though structured, the environment can be extremely beneficial when learning a language. Socializing was something that used to be discouraged in class, and for the most part, you still want to limit the amount of socializing. But for me, providing opportunities to get to know one another and do fun activities, at a distance, is extremely beneficial. They haven’t had the opportunity for real-life interactions since March, so if providing them with a safe space to play a game in French gives them this opportunity, then I am all for it.

 

What are some of the innovative measures the school has taken and how have you had to adapt your teaching to be innovative while responding to the needs of your students’ mental health and wellness?

Del has implemented a number of measures in order to adapt to the present times. First, all learning groups – Junior and High School- are no larger than 15 students, though many are less than that. This provides not only a safer in-class environment in terms of physical distancing, but also provides more one-on-one attention for students, so as to better meet their educational needs.

There have also been a number of student spaces added around campus to provide safe places for students to work or socialize. While students are often making use of the beautiful outdoor weather right now, I’m sure that within no time the converted music hall, the cafeteria and the newly floored arena, with not only a student space but also two Gym spaces and a new classroom, will be used by students throughout the day. Each space has designated seats, which leaves distance between students when sitting in groups.

The High School students now have a hybrid or fully online classes based on the course. In a week, students are only at school for two days, with the rest of their classes being online throughout the week. This schedule allows for staggered times to maintain a safe number of students on campus each day. When on campus, students remain in their learning groups and in the same classroom. In comparison, the Junior school students attend school each day of the week. Their new schedule has allowed for longer class times, an outdoor recess, and flex periods. These changes have really made the Junior School resemble closer to an Elementary school rather than a High School. The new recess time is the most beneficial, in my opinion. It gives them time to relax, take off their masks (when distanced) and have fun in an outdoor setting. I really think this is important in maintaining their well-being: a 50 minute destress period. Who wouldn’t want that? Another beneficial change has been that they remain in their classroom the entire day, no more lugging a huge bag of books around the building(s). Instead, everything you need for the day is already in your classroom. This is beneficial for the students, as they truly have a home base that is their own space. For afternoon classes, we have been asked to refrain from giving homework, instead of providing in-class time to complete work. This time also doubles as a tutorial and helps manage their commitments and workload. I have found it to be beneficial to students’ wellbeing as they are less stressed from schoolwork demands.

 

Is there anything that you have learned from this experience that would serve you past COVID 19?

I would say that the technology tools and programs that I have learned -and continue to learn about- will definitely serve me in the future.  Outside of that, reminding myself that the Junior School is a separate entity from the High School. This was often easily forgotten when they arrived in your class after Grade 10s had vacated, but less easily forgotten now when you enter their class, their space to teach. They need recess and fun activities. While we still maintain our high standards of our students, this has more than ever reminded me that the Junior Students need flexibility and more in-class work time to help them succeed. Overall, focusing on a student’s mental wellness is extremely important in their educational path.


Stephanie Kim (DEL 09)

 

When did you graduate from DEL and what post-secondary institutions did you attend and what degrees did you earn?

  • De La Salle class of 2009
     
  • Queen’s University: Bachelor of Science (Honours) (2013)
     
  • Queen’s University:  Bachelor of Education (2014)
     
  • Queen’s University: Master of Science (Ecology and Evolutionary Biology) (2016)

 

What’s it like for an alumnus to walk these halls again as a teacher?

At first, I found it very odd to be walking these halls again as a teacher. It took me a while before I started calling (certain) teachers by their first names and I still got nervous when I received a message from the main office. However, as I’ve grown as an educator, I’ve come to really appreciate my dual experience as an alumnus and teacher. One of the most rewarding experiences is that the teachers who inspired me the most during my time as a student are now my mentors. For example, I am currently co-teaching Grade 11 Biology with the teacher who first inspired me to pursue an education in biology! I’m still learning from these educators and they’re helping me to become better in my teaching practice and help me remember how love and passion fuel excellent teachers. Another benefit of being an alumnus is I often relate to and empathize with my student’s experiences and this helps me build a strong rapport with my students every year. While it’s often a running joke about students coming back as teachers, there is a reason there are so many of us on staff. There is something special about this community that draws us back and drives us to continue making change and inspiring the next generations.

 

COVID-19

What are the needs of your students?

While our students’ mental wellness has always been important, the need to identify and support our student’s mental wellness has become more important than ever before. Our students need to feel supported and safe first and foremost before we can expect them to undertake their academic responsibilities. The need for socialization with their peers has also become more important this year than ever before. They have been physically separated from their peers since March and need time to practice important social skills during school. While it is challenging, given social distancing and masking, we need to incorporate ways for our students to interact and build relationships with each other this year. While I don’t believe their educational needs have shifted, the modes of delivering education have. I believe the curriculum and academic expectations themselves remain the same. Lastly, our students are learning early the importance of online platforms and navigating digital platforms, which is a skill that will surely benefit them in the future.

 

How are you meeting those needs?

We are all adapting to the new schedules and needs of the students and staff this year. Flexibility is one of the biggest ways I am currently meeting the needs of my students. The availability of asynchronous work for students allows us to spend more time in-person ensuring that students have a solid understanding of the concepts. In years past, I might’ve focused on finishing a certain lesson during class time, but now, I am more flexible with the delivery of the material that will best suit my student’s needs. This year, a lot of my in-person classes are spent gauging student understanding instead of the dissemination of material. I’m also trying to accommodate for student-specific schedules. For example, where I used to have a set tutorial time before, now I am scheduling one-on-one online tutorials with students that fit both our weekly schedules. So far, it has worked out well and I’ve had a lot of great tutorial experiences with my students. Lastly, this year I am teaching the junior school for the first time and one very important way the school has decided to accommodate and meet the needs of the junior students is that afternoon classes (science included) must incorporate “homework” into the class time itself. That way, junior students spend less time on work when they go home and can focus on their core subjects that they have every morning and spend more time with their families.

 

What are some of the innovative measures the school has taken and how have you had to adapt your teaching to be innovative while responding to the needs of your students’ mental health and wellness.

The school and Administration have done an incredible job trying to help us adapt to the needs of our students’ mental health and wellness. While our schedule this year is more complicated and intricate than before, it serves the very important purpose of allowing our community to stay healthy and safe amid this pandemic. Students are now in 15-person cohorts that allow social distancing within the classroom and offer more manageable sizes for giving instruction/help. The hybrid model for high school students has helped us modify our teaching strategies and provides avenues for the dissemination of curriculum both synchronously and asynchronously. The arena and music hall have been reimagined as areas for students to do work and gather (socially distanced) together. We have a dedicated support staff that ensures classrooms and high-contact surfaces are regularly sanitized after each cohort leaves the classroom for the day and between periods. The school has also adopted a “flex period” model in the schedule which allows opportunities for extra help during free periods in the students’ schedules, but will also provide an opportunity for different groups of students to meet (online) to participate in clubs. I am one of the teachers involved with the Lasallian Youth Team and I know a lot of students are excited to start using these periods to come together to talk about what our club can do for the school and community this year.

 

Is there anything that you have learned from this experience that would serve you past COVID 19?

As our understanding of mental health wellness grows, it has become paramount that these needs must be met first before we can expect our students to tackle academic expectations. This experience has reminded me of the importance of a positive student-teacher rapport so that I can actively monitor and sense any changes in my student’s behaviour and/or needs. This experience has also reminded us all of the importance of personal and community hygiene. I hope students and staff remember these skills when we no longer find ourselves in a pandemic! I also have learned never again to take for granted the time I have in-person with my students. While we are so lucky to have the technology to meet online and continue learning through digital platforms, there is nothing quite like face-to-face interactions. Lastly, this experience has reminded me to constantly revamp and reconsider best teaching practices. What methods of teaching and types of lessons serve our students best? This has been an incredibly challenging experience, but one where all teachers have been given an opportunity to recreate their lessons, regenerate their zest for teaching, and remember that our job is to provide a safe environment where our students can learn and grow.


Jennifer Solda (DEL 08)

When did you graduate from DEL and what post-secondary institutions did you attend and what degrees did you earn?

  • De La Salle Class of 2008 
     
  • Wilfrid Laurier – Bachelor of Business Administration
     
  • York University- Bachelor of Education 

 

What’s it like for an alumnus to walk these halls again as a teacher?

Being a teacher at the college brings a mixed bag of emotions every day. It has been wonderful to work alongside the teachers who taught and inspired me as a young person. Now as colleagues they are supportive, compassionate, knowledgeable, and have been my biggest cheerleaders. With that said, they love bringing up some of my antics as a student! Sometimes during a morning assembly or strolling the halls of the third floor I am transported back to my high school years which, to be honest, was jarring at first but has now become a pleasant reminder of my youth. Overall, I am grateful to have a position at a school where I firmly believe in the values and priorities that are being instilled in the students. I feel as though I can easily relate with my students as I have truly walked in their shoes… black leather dress shoes to be exact. I love that I have a history and a connection with my employer and look forward to one day sending my children to the College.  

 

How has COVID-19 impacted your teaching?

COVID-19 has changed everything we do as teachers. Lesson planning, assessment strategy, student engagement and interactions have all had to be reworked. Something as simple as group discussion in class has completely changed. With that said it has given me a chance to problem solve and come up with creative solutions daily.

 

COVID-19

What are the needs of your students?

Student’s practical needs have changed however, their educational needs have stayed more or less the same. Practically, they need a safe educational environment, a chance to socialize with their classmates, and a whole lot more IT support. Student’s needs for a solid University preparatory education founded in Catholicism and community service has not changed. 

 

How are you meeting those needs?

I spend a good portion of my time answering student questions, crafting student exercises that can be completed asynchronously, and creating video explanations to support student understanding. I try to make everything as concise and user friendly as possible as students are being bombarded with new technology at every turn. I have tried to spend my in-person class time outdoors as it gives students a better chance to connect with their classmates. The level of education I am providing has not changed, simply the method of delivery has. 

 

What are some of the innovative measures the school has taken and how have you had to adapt your teaching to be innovative while responding to the needs of your students’ mental health and wellness.

The college spent a painstaking summer preparing for the school year, administration, and the support staff’s work is evident. Students are in 15 person cohorts, so all students can be in the classroom socially distanced. The college has adopted a hybrid model enabling for weekly in-person classes while still prioritizing student safety by offering synchronous online learning through Microsoft Teams. The campus has been reimagined by putting flooring over the hockey rink, so students have additional “hang-out”, recreation, and locker space.  

I have thrown out what I have done in previous years and have completely redeveloped my teaching style and mode of delivery of my courses. I try to take advantage of every in-person interaction I have with my students and spend it outside doing some form of a hands-on learning experience. I am working to get my students doing “hands-on” learning at home and then sharing their experiences with their class in our online sessions. I have worked hard to create connections with my students right from the beginning, so they feel comfortable asking for additional support from me. I am very aware of the challenges that are facing our students right now, and I am trying to take every opportunity to give them some sense of normalcy and fun in their day.

 

Is there anything that you have learned from this experience that would serve you past COVID 19?

Personal hygiene in the school environment will never be the same, and that has changed for the better! The inclusion of technology as a support to what you are doing in the classroom will be well tested by the end of this pandemic, this learning period will be beneficial for all educators. No teacher or student will take for granted time in the classroom again, I yearn for the days of spending ninety percent of my day talking to teenagers! 

 

  • Fall 2020