BRISTOL – Niece Zabawa, a music teacher at Southside Elementary School, is used to hearing the sounds of clarinets, trumpets and drums when she steps into her classroom. But now that her classroom is virtual, the music sounds different through a screen.
“Some students have found ways to send videos to me, showing that they’re practicing their instruments at home, which is so great,” Zabawa said. “But naturally it’s very hard not being with my students and not being able to hear their music or create with them. That human aspect in the classroom can’t ever be replaced.”
The virtual teaching and learning experience has been an interesting one, said Zabawa, who emphasizes how “un-tech savvy” she is to begin with. “Luckily there’s a great networking system in the music department where we support each other and brainstorm ideas to keep kids engaged and motivated,” she said. “I miss my students and I think they miss being in the classroom too, where they can learn with their friends.”
Prior to the COVID-19 induced shutdown, band was a twice a week class for Zabawa. She taught her advance students on Tuesdays and her beginners on Thursdays. Once the schools went virtual, she starts at the beginning of the week and posts her assignments Monday, so students can take their time with their work. With the pandemic being in the forefront of everyone’s minds, Zabawa said she’s not concerned about students completing their work, rather she wants to make sure they are taking care of their emotional and mental health.
“I don’t want music to be a chore on top of their academic and everyday stress, it’s not worth it,” she said. “Music is supposed to be fun and a release. I’m focusing on keeping it simple. I don’t expect them to practice all the time, but as long as they keep playing, it’s a good thing because I hope they can use it as an expression and an artform.”
Corey Nagle, a physical science teacher at Bristol Central High School, echoed Zabawa’s philosophy.
“We want to be aware of the student’s circumstances and learn how we can best meet their needs, especially now that schools will be completely virtual through June,” Nagle said. “School work is important, but their well being is important too. I don’t want students to be anxious and overwhelmed, that won’t do them any good.”
Student participation has been positive for Nagle, who said the biggest challenge as a science teacher was adjusting to a teaching environment where he cannot use his physical lab space. On a typical day, students would use the labs to work on experiments, build models and make observations. Now they are trying to emulate the same experience through videos that shows similar concepts and Nagle encourages them to continue to ask questions, explain answers and have discussions.
“They’re still using the evidence they gathered through reading and videos to provide the answers,” he said. “It’s just the way the information is delivered is different and we’re all adjusting to that.”
The biggest thing for Nagle is for students to realize teachers are there to support them.
“It’s important to remember that through no one’s fault, the students’ school lives came to an abrupt stop, which makes it even more important for us to stay connected,” he said. “Communication is key. As teachers, we trust the students are doing their best and we’re also doing everything we possibly can to help them.”