Traverse City News and Events

TCAPS Teachers Embrace "Crash Course" On Teaching 2.0

By Craig Manning | Oct. 29, 2020

It’s been six-and-a-half weeks since Traverse City Area Public Schools (TCAPS) resumed in-person instruction. The pivot saw 85 percent of the district’s 9,133 full-time students heading back to school buildings, with about 1,300 students opting for some form of virtual education. The return to school also marked a major transition for TCAPS’ 500-plus teachers, who had to master new workplace protocols, new technologies, and even new curriculums to adapt to the usual status quo forced by COVID-19.

According to TCAPS Executive Director of Communications Christine Guitar, the vast majority of the district’s teachers – 485 – have resumed face-to-face instruction. Another 27 are currently doing all of their teaching online via Up North Demand Live, the platform that allows students to receive online instruction directly from TCAPS teachers. Only two teachers, Guitar says, opted to take unpaid leaves of absence rather than teach virtually or in-person.

And those teachers who are instructing online have learned the job suddenly requires a different skillset than in-classroom instruction.

“Virtual teaching positions require teachers with strong technology skills who are creative in adapting traditional lesson plans to those delivered virtually,” Guitar explains. “Having the ability to engage students in a virtual setting, as well as strong verbal and written communication skills, are important."

Many TCAPS teachers did not have experience with virtual teaching when the district closed schools and shifted to remote learning in March; they had to learn on the fly. Since then, Guitar says TCAPS has expanded its professional development opportunities to include trainings for teachers “who desire to improve their technology skillsets.” Ultimately, TCAPS was able to fill all of its Up North Live teaching positions with existing TCAPS instructors.

One of those instructors is Scott Munn, a fifth-grade teacher who has been working at TCAPS Montessori at Glenn Loomis for more than a decade. Munn is one of two instructors teaching fifth grade as part of Up North Virtual – a role he says he fell into due almost entirely to his comfort with technology.

“One of the reasons I was asked [to do Up North Virtual] is I'm pretty interested in technology,” Munn tells The Ticker. “My principal thought that I did a good job with the surprise virtual teaching that we all of the sudden had to do in the spring. Some of it is tricky, because the kids have to learn how to learn online. They have to learn how to be by themselves and not have as much social contact. And that's easier for some kids than others. But it's pretty amazing how much of that can be done online.”

At the moment, Munn is still teaching out of his usual classroom at Glenn Loomis – but instead of teaching to a room full of students, he’s in an empty room using what he describes as “a pretty sweet setup” to connect with the 28 kids in his virtual class. That setup includes a laptop, two external monitors, and an adjustable standing desk – a control center of sorts that allows Munn to see his students’ faces, keep an eye on course materials, and show work or examples via a virtual whiteboard.

Munn’s biggest challenge wasn’t getting a hold on how to deliver his curriculum via technology, but how to master the curriculum itself. The Montessori Method of Education, which Munn has taught his full career, follows a different curriculum than what is used by the rest of TCAPS. With a virtual classroom of kids hailing from eight different TCAPS elementary schools, Munn had to learn to teach the traditional fifth grade curriculum in the space of about a week – something he says he was able to do thanks to a thorough “crash course” from a few other teachers in the district.

While some TCAPS teachers are at home in the virtual learning realm, others were thrilled and relieved to be back in the classroom. Such was the case for Dustin Worm, who teaches sixth grade world geography at West Middle School – and who describes the return to in-person learning as “almost like riding a bike.”

“Entering the school year, I was a little bit nervous about coming back, because I just didn't know what it would look like,” Worm says. “But then I got to school and it was immediately just about building those relationships with the kids again. All of that nervousness I had just kind of went away.”

In-person teaching looks different than it used to: Masks are required, classes end 4-5 minutes earlier to allow for cleaning and sanitizing of desks and workstations, and all desks are arranged in socially-distanced rows – as opposed to the small group clusters Worm typically prefers. “I can't do all of the group work [I like to do] without doing it using something like Google Drive,” he explains.

“So it's more like collaborating in an online setting, as opposed to working as a group and moving the chairs around and stuff.”

Worm also expects things to get a little more challenging as the colder weather sets in. During the fall, many teachers were taking advantage of warm or mild weather to hold parts of their classes outside, where students could interact more without as much risk. Those opportunities are just about gone until spring, but Worm is still looking on the bright side. The kids, he says, have been “awesome” about following rules for masking, social distancing, and other protocols, and students and faculty alike are pleased to be back in school buildings after a six-month hiatus.

“I think from a teacher standpoint, and I think also for the students, I think we prefer being in person,” he says. “If that means wearing a mask, that’s fine. We're all just excited to have that social aspect of being back in school again.”

PHOTO: Dustin Worm teaching at West Middle School

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