By Isaiah Moore
Lately I’m reminded of old horror movies, when the monster finally shows itself. In the nick of time, the pursued escape, running and flinging sweat as they look back for the menacing creature. But in some weird twist of fictional magic, the moment they turn the corner, the monster is standing right there. It’s a game of panicked peek-a-boo. What’s even scarier is how the horror of the pursued, panting as if there’s a race to collect oxygen, is diametrically opposed by the calm of the pursuing creature, as if it had just stepped out of a meditation room.
If you’ve ever seen an old horror film, this description has to sound familiar, and you can probably guess what happens next. Before going there, however, try to recall that moment when the two are face-to-face. The pursued character’s anxiety and fear are palpable. I’m sure we all would agree that a situation like this is not wanted in real life. But what if I told you that, whether you wanted it to or not, such a situation has already begun?
Yup, COVID-19 is the monster we’ve been running from, but it seems to be around every corner we turn. Now, we’re facing it head-on. Because of the virus’s unnerving presence, we all have been forced to adjust. The way schools are adjusting is through virtual learning. And after a summer full of constant updates that have forced me to think about what virtual learning will look like this fall, I am not all that against it. I’m ready to face COVID’s residual effect on education. Here’s why.
As a teacher, I love a good challenge. As a matter of fact, three years ago I noticed that my students’ writing scores were extremely low. To be transparent, approximately 40 percent of my students passed the capstone test. I knew that improving my teaching could help more of my students pass this difficult test, so I took on the challenge. Students’ scores on that specific test improved every year, and though COVID halted testing this year, pretests showed my students trending toward an 80 percent pass rate! Of course, it’s not a perfect comparison year to year, since students differ each year, but it speaks to improvement.
I’m expecting that same trajectory with virtual learning. It must also be said that what most of us experienced last spring was not virtual learning; it was emergency learning, an abrupt response to an unexpected event. Though the wrinkles in virtual learning are not all ironed out, I am much more prepared to teach kids via cyberspace this time around. I’m excited to accept the challenge, fix the kinks from last spring, and make this work.
Preparing for the Future
And why not accept the challenge? I’d be foolish to ignore that virtual learning is the wave of the future. Horace Mann, also known as the father of American public school education, once decided to make a change here at home. He traveled to Europe because he admired their leaps in public education. He brought back an idea called the Prussian Industrial Model. It consisted of dividing kids by age, teaching subjects separately, using whole-class instruction, and standardizing education. Different and transformative, the model revolutionized the way America educated its students. Of course, that system remains the status quo for today’s public schools, even though Mann introduced the concept over 175 years ago!
It’s beyond time for change. If schools now going one-to-one with devices is not an indication of this, maybe the increasing use of cloud computing technology, which allows students to access information provided by their teachers anywhere and on any device, (including at home), is. Maybe the recent explosion of social media into educational space is convincing. For emergency learning last spring, I asked my kids to use TikTok to express certain tone words using songs, colors, and actions. They loved it! And that can be done anywhere. Or maybe, just maybe, the fact that virtual reality is currently being fought over by all the big-named tech companies, from Google to Samsung, is an indication that more technology is bound to make its way into the educational realm. Yes, it may still be a ways off, but I’ll prepare by using Nearpod, asking my kids questions mid-lesson, and changing slides on their computers.
New and Exciting Tech Mastery
I know I ended the last section talking about Nearpod, but should virtual reality enter the academic realm, I want in! I’ve been waiting to use technology like that since I was a 10-year-old watching Judy talk to her virtual friends on The Jetsons. It’s been a lifelong dream. Until then, I’ll settle for mastering the exciting technology we have now.
I love using Schoology, an online platform designed much like Facebook. It is the central location for all things “Mr. Moore’s class.” Here, I put student work into organized folders, post videos and updates, and even aggregate data, and I’ve only scratched the surface of its capabilities. I’m looking forward to constructing virtual writing portfolios with kids this school year.
I also can’t wait to use Loom. Essentially it’s a video messaging tool, but I used it for screen sharing and recording. I would go over student essays with the program so students could see and hear my suggestions. For the coming year I am excited about teaching students to use the platform themselves. My hope is that instead of them turning in drafts of essays they write, they’ll turn in the initial draft with suggestions, and will record themselves revising their own papers. You heard me right. I don’t want the actual essays, just videos of students going over theirs. Can you imagine their excitement when I ask them simply for a video for homework? Joke’s on them! I’ll be getting them to do the impossible—look over prior work. That lays the foundation for developing superb revising skills.
More Focus on Student Needs
For students who are struggling, I’ll have the ability to really help them. Of course, schools preach small groups, and over the years, I’ve developed some skill in conducting them. But even the best educators struggle to use small groups as much as needed in classes brimming with 30-plus kids. Modeling a skill, giving students the opportunity to practice the skill, conducting a formative assessment, and then assessing the data from that assessment does not always lend itself to the classroom environment, especially when students get a little giddy and decide to show more “personality” with each other than a teacher would like. Virtual learning will afford me the time and opportunity to move kids into breakout rooms based on their immediate needs. Spending small group time addressing weaknesses will ultimately help improve student performance. That’s all I can ask for.
More Contact with Parents
Actually, I could ask for more: more class participants. However, these wouldn’t be your traditional students, but a more seasoned kind of student, whose intent would be to keep the other students in line. These individuals’ participation in class pays extreme dividends. Who am I talking about, you might wonder. I’m talking about parents. The more parents are involved, the more impactful and effective their students’ education will be. Waterford.org says, “Students with engaged parents don’t just have high test scores: their attendance, self-esteem, and graduation rate rise too. Parent-teacher relationships are more than an optional classroom benefit. They are key for helping students on a personal and classroom level reach their academic potential.” My goal as an educator isn’t just to create successful students, but to create successful communities. There is absolutely no better way to do that than by creating a space where success is shared between all parties: school, parents, and community.
Though the school year has just begun, my outlook is this: the pandemic has caused an emotional stir equivalent to Stephen King’s masterpiece It, but “it” won’t shake me. (“It” means virtual learning, in case you didn’t get it.) I’m keeping a positive mindset and deciding that it will go well! I’m eager to teach and be taught; that’s what teaching is anyway, right?
Isaiah Moore is an eighth-grade English teacher in Virginia Beach who’s had the pleasure of speaking to crowds of over 1,000 but still becomes nervous when conducting a 45 minute session for 30 students. (Don’t worry, he doesn’t show it.) An Albert Einstein quote guides his life: “Try not to become a man of success, but rather a man of value.” Through word and action, this quote was taught to him by four Black male teachers in high school. Because of their impact, he decided to pursue education in hopes of impacting others the same way. To do so, he attended Morehouse College and became an Oprah Scholar while receiving his undergraduate degree in English. Afterward, he obtained his Master’s of Arts in Education from the College of William and Mary’s School of Education. Isaiah believes that education should be relevant, so he prides himself on developing lessons that incorporate real-world topics. This shows students their education extends beyond the four walls of his classroom. When Isaiah’s students apply these concepts to their daily lives, it is at this point that he sees his value. Here is where he becomes a man of success. Isaiah writes about his daily life in the classroom at his blog, Running Thoughts . . . Can’t Let Them Get Away.
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After reading this blog, my response was wow, right on. Isaiah hit the nail on the proverbial head. The ideas were relevant, informative, motivational, and one would have to admit, true. Keep it up Isaiah, and I continue to look forward to more inspiring thoughts from you, Juanita Moore, better known to you as mom.