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The City Journals

Teacher-student relationships are critical for effective online learning, says Riverton teacher

Jul 28, 2020 01:44PM ● By Jet Burnham

By Jet Burnham | [email protected]

In the final months of the school year, teachers and students relied on online learning. One of the main problems with the quarantine teaching situation became obvious-- the lack of teacher-student connection.

“I've always known that the relationship with my students matters but it's really proved to me over the last couple of months that that relationship is completely invaluable,” said Riverton High School teacher Samantha Mosqueda. “I felt like my ability as a teacher to give the students what they needed on an individual basis was really impaired because I couldn't see them.”

Mosqueda said, in the classroom, teachers pay attention to student’s emotional health. With distance teaching, she missed that ability to have eyes on students and know immediately, by the way they entered the classroom, that something was wrong.

“All I see is that in Canvas all their test scores are bad, or that they haven't logged in in a few days,” she said.

Mosqueda made personal connection with her students a priority, directly texting students she was worried about. She also posted short weekly videos to outline the week’s assignments and to tell students she missed them.

“I think the ability to see my face and to hear me speak was huge for a lot of kids,” she said. “Even though my YouTube videos were not entertaining at all, it was just a quick check in. I think that helped provide a little sense of normalcy for them.”

RHS Principal Carolyn Gough was impressed with Mosqueda’s efforts to stay connected with students.

“The videos have really helped students to see and get the feel for being in a classroom setting,” she said. “She's really done an amazing job figuring out how to do all instruction online.”

Having taken online classes herself,  Mosqueda knew students would benefit from having clear expectations and consistent due dates.

“At the end of the day, they're teenagers that don't have the ability to keep themselves organized,” she said. “So, I tried to get a lot of that stuff out of the way for them and make it as simple as possible so that they could focus on the content and focus on staying mentally healthy.”

Gough said Mosqueda “has a great grasp of technology which has helped her to work with students online.”

In addition to the programs she was already using, Mosqueda incorporated new tools. When teaching transitioned to exclusively online, the availability of online resources exploded. Educational companies bombarded teachers with free offers for their products. Jordan District offered new resources and teachers shared ideas with each other.

Mosqueda began using video clips of virtual labs that were a good adaptation for her chemistry classes.

For her English classes, she changed her assignments to use books that were available as free audio books.

“I knew that if I had an audiobook that a student could listen to, instead of having to read themselves, I would get a better chance that they would actually do the assignment,” she said.

With all her classes, she had to cut out a significant amount of content and reduce the fun enrichment activities to focus on curriculum essentials.

“There was no way I was going to keep my students on pace with what I do in the classroom,” she said.

Mosqueda said distance teaching was much harder for teachers. In the classroom, teachers adjust the direction of the lesson with real time feedback from students. Virtually, they had to hope their lessons included enough learning styles so each student would have the same comprehension of the material.

That is why she believes an online learning plan would never work if it didn’t include an actual teacher. The blended learning options being offered to high school students next year have a balance of independent learning and in-person connections with teachers, which the emergency quarantine teaching did not.

“Students will still have to come in every now and then to do things like tests and get help and do labs,” she said. “I can see a lot more schools moving to this model and allowing kids to have that flexibility but I don't think there will ever be anything that would replace the teacher-student relationship and interaction. I think that that's really, really necessary.”