Full Class, Empty Classroom

Teachers adjust to fully virtual learning while staying active at school

A+group+of+teachers+participate+in+a+personal+training+session+during+their+free+time.+

LHS Publications

A group of teachers participate in a personal training session during their free time.

Lizzie Kayser, Co Editor-in-chief

In a typical school year, Liberty’s halls are constantly abuzz. Even after the day has ended, teams fill the gyms and commons as clubs hang posters advertising their latest events and students study in the library, organized cacophony set to the distant harmonies of a play or concert rehearsing in the 500 hallway. For teachers and students alike, this bustling environment is what defines the school.

With the pandemic at its peak and learning going entirely virtual, the atmosphere drastically changed. 

“It feels strange and lonely. Teachers love our in-person interactions with students, not sitting in front of a computer,” Ms. McFarland said. “But we are making the best of it and focusing on the positives.”

On Nov. 16, the WSD Board of Education switched high schools to Level 3 Learning, set to remain virtual until Jan. 4. 

For staff, this quick change from in-person to virtual was a massive adjustment. Teachers have had to adapt their classes to work completely online. In addition, while students learn from home, teachers are required to come to school and broadcast from their classrooms.

It feels strange and lonely. Teachers love our in-person interactions with students, not sitting in front of a computer. But we are making the best of it and focusing on the positives.”

— Ms. McFarland, social studies teacher

“Initially I felt overwhelmed and unprepared,” English teacher Ms. Hickerson said. “But, thanks to the help of some colleagues that had already been teaching a class or two virtually, I quickly adapted and certainly understood the need to move to level 3.” 

The virtual schedule is split into blocks, with four 80 minute class periods each day. When it’s time for class, students join a Google Meet with their teachers and classmates. The aim is to have traditional lessons, despite being in a different environment. Many teachers are finding creative ways to keep students engaged. Social studies teacher Ms. McFarland spoke with her students beforehand to make a plan for the weeks ahead. 

“Before we moved to level 3, I had each one of my class brainstorm what virtual practices work best for them. We made a list and I try to stick to it. Some of these included weekly schedules, weekly due dates, edpuzzles and recorded notes,” McFarland said. 

Despite the difficulties that come with virtual teaching, some teachers felt it was necessary- not only for safety, but for educational purposes. In the few weeks that school was in-person full time, many students were quarantined for COVID-19 exposures, with some classes being barely half full. With two weeks out and no way to supplement the time, these students fell behind. For these reasons, Spanish teacher Ms. Greminger was happy with the switch to Level 3 and feels that class time has become much more productive virtually. 

“I felt like I would be able to keep myself and my students safe, while providing all of my students with an education. On our first virtual day, I got to click the ‘perfect attendance’ button in SIS which I hadn’t gotten to do for a very long time,” Greminger said. “Though I want nothing more to teach my students face to face, I want to do that only when it is safe. After my first day teaching full virtual, it absolutely felt like we had made the right decision as a district.”

Though being able to see all their students again- especially behind no masks- nothing compares to true face-to-face learning. With no students to fill them, classrooms feel lonely and empty.

Ms. Hickerson uses one of the stationary bikes while teaching her class on Google Meets.

To make Liberty still feel like “home,” staff members have become more active— both physically and as a community. In between class periods, Greminger and several other teachers walk the halls together. And in the spirit of staying active, librarian Ms. Oliva lends out stationary bikes for teachers to use in their classrooms- something both Hickerson and McFarland took advantage of. 

“I was lucky enough to get a stationary bike desk and I love it. The first day I had it I was able to bike 10 miles while grading,” McFarland said. “I want to add one to my Christmas list.” 

In addition to these everyday activities, staff members have put together events for others to enjoy. For the “12 days of Christmas”, teachers participated in a fitness scavenger hunt to win prizes donated by the community. One day, P.E. and health teacher Ms. Hall invited a personal trainer to hold a 30 minute boot camp. 

“Sometimes stepping away for just a brief moment to do something good for oneself rejuvenates and restores a person,” Ms. Hall said. “Encouraging each other during the bootcamp created a sense of unity and compassion: we are all in this together. The strength of these teachers mentally and physically is out of this world. I am so proud to be a health teacher at Liberty and to get to work with such high caliber individuals.” 

This year may be different, but teachers are making the most out of it. Most of all, they want their students to still feel school spirit and succeed- even while behind a screen. 

“I encourage those students to reach out to their teachers. We completely understand and only want to help you be successful,” Ms. Hickerson said. “We can overcome any obstacle working together.”

High school students return for Level 1: In-Person Learning on Jan. 4, 2021.