The COVID-19 outbreak has impacted us all. It’s affected work (whether that be the absence of it, or increased hours due to deemed an essential worker), the ability to see loved ones, mental and physical health, and learning. For students and teachers, the implementation of online schooling has been confusing to navigate. For teachers, especially, the pressure to accommodate and be available to everyone can be overwhelming. They have been tasked with not only finding a way to get all of their curriculum out via Zoom, Canvas, and other platforms, but also connecting with every student (which isn’t possible given the lack of resources for some families and the current situation). Regardless of the circumstances, Timber Creek teachers are still doing everything within their power to keep kids learning. When asked about how they’re managing to do so, these educators had a lot to say.

Stephani Biggs 

Stephani Biggs, PAP Spanish 2 and AP Spanish 4 teacher, shared with the Talon that almost every one of her students has contacted her or engaged actively with her coursework. However, there is a disparity between her PAP and AP classes. On average, only about thirty percent of her AP students are really participating, while around seventy percent of her PAP kids have been working very hard. For her, it is troublesome to know that some kids aren’t interacting as much as possible, especially with such high stakes (up to sixteen college credit hours for Spanish 4 kids, to be exact).

“As a teacher, it is tough to watch students lose the opportunity to reach their goals and improve themselves,” she expressed.

Despite this worry, Biggs continues to push out engaging assignments to entice her students to keep practicing their Spanish at home.

“They have interviewed their families and done a writing presentation on the childhoods of family members. They have spoken Spanish on Flipgrid and studied art and Easter on Pear Deck […] My AP students have had the opportunity to chat with and compare cultures with two teens from Colombia via Zoom,” Biggs explained.

In addition to other “presentational and interpersonal speaking” practice, the Spanish teacher also assigned her students with the task of making a schedule. She felt this was a way for them to keep “academic and personal goals” in mind.

“It is such a unique time for students to really have control over their education and decide how much they want to study to improve their knowledge,” Biggs said.

She went on to share that she does wish more students would attend her Zoom office hours and simply check-in.

“It is disappointing because they might not realize their teachers do miss interacting with them and really do want to know how things are going and how they can help,” she said.

Biggs also said that she understands this learning situation can be incredibly difficult for those who do not have adequate access to the Internet or are burdened with a hectic at-home environment.

“Unfortunately, not all students have the same resources. Lack of stable Internet and devices can make this extremely hard to stay on track with classes. Also, many students have major distractions at home. My heart breaks for my students that must work outside of the home, care for their parents, siblings or other family members, or put many other physical and emotional circumstances before their own education,” she shared.

The teacher further elaborated on the downfalls of online schooling, such as confusion with “all of the different emails and platforms” that educators are trying to contact parents and students on. However, Biggs said that she does believe online learning gives kids the chance to develop self-advocacy and realize that “what you put into your education is what you get out.”

One unavoidable issue with putting in all the effort possible, however, is that there are times when even that isn’t enough. Now that AP testing has changed drastically, some students are feeling completely overburdened and that their preparation is now useless. Others, on the other hand, believe the shortened, no multiple choice exam is the perfect opportunity to get credit or an even higher score than anticipated. When Biggs was asked whether the change in AP testing is an advantage or disadvantage, she said there’s no real answer.

“I am not sure anyone can have a correct answer to this question. I think students should feel super privileged, lucky even, that College Board has gone [through] so much trouble to make sure this year’s exam did not get cancelled […] I am glad those credit opportunities are still available,” she expressed. “My students would have had to do the two speaking [free response questions] anyway, so I know they will be ready. This is an advantage for those who already enjoyed speaking, but it can also be an advantage for others to be pushed out of their comfort zone and focus on improving this skill, which will honestly help them in the future.”

Biggs explained that she wishes her students who excel in writing or multiple choice were able to demonstrate their skills on the AP test, but she still feels confident in them regardless. More than anything, she wants all students to know that these are very unusual times and they have the support of her and her fellow teachers.

“I want students to know that they are not alone during this, even though physically they feel separated. Their teachers are online every day thinking about them and working for them […] If you are my students, were ever my student, or are a Falcon, I want you to know that I am just an e-mail or Remind text away,” she said. “Sometimes we need to talk to an adult who isn’t sheltering in place with us.”

Elizabeth Deleon 

Elizabth Deleon, a PAP Pre-Calculus, Statistics, and AP Statistics teacher, said that she was experiencing similar issues to Mrs. Biggs. Although she has heard from students, receiving assignments from them is another story.

“I have been able to get in contact with a majority of them and there are still a handful that are not turning in work,” Deleon said.

Despite the lack of homework being done, Deleon has continued to go above and beyond by extending just about every resource possible to her students. 

“[For Pre-Calculus], I have continued with their assignments that I would have given them for each unit, along with a quiz […] so I can assess where they are at. I give them the answers to the assignments so they can check their work […] and individual feedback through Google Classroom. I teach a live lesson on Tuesday morning, and if they can’t make that, then I have been recording myself using ScreenCastify, working through the notes for them,” she explained.

For her Statistics students, Deleon has been giving out AP free response questions for homework, providing live Zoom teaching sessions, using Khan Academy, and more, depending on whether the class is on-level or AP. Additionally, she sends out a Google Classroom update every Sunday so that her students can know where they should be and working on for the upcoming week. She also has tutorial times where students can drop in and get clarification on anything, which many have taken advantage of.

Although using all of this technology has been a learning process for Deleon, she is thankful for it. 

“Figuring out how to do all of this has been an issue. I had to learn how to video record myself teaching […] I am grateful that we have the technology to allow this to happen. Zoom has been a great resource to reach out to my students live,” the teacher shared.

For someone that likes to teach through hands-on activities and genuinely cares about the education of her students, feeling like she’s “just pushing out the information” has been hard on Deleon. Making sure her AP Stats classes are ready for their upcoming test and that Pre-Cal kids feel prepared to potentially take on AP Calculus next year is just one part of being an educator to her.

“For a teacher like me, it is hard to not have the interactions with my students that I love. Teaching to muted black boxes with names is not what I signed up for. Knowing that a lot of my students that I love are falling into a slump because this is taking a toll on them or that they are just so overwhelmed with the amount of work they have to balance at home hurts my heart,” Deleon expressed. “We were all thrown into this without any warning, but I know we can do this and we are.”

Deleon shared Biggs’ sentiments when asked about whether the AP testing changes were unfair.  Despite some hurdles being thrown in, she is ultimately glad that kids still have the chance to demonstrate all they’ve learned this year.

“This is a hard question for me. I feel like it is a disadvantage because we didn’t finish the curriculum […] However, I feel like the solution to AP testing is fair and I am grateful College Board didn’t cancel the test,” she explained. 

More than anything, the math teacher wanted everyone to remember that we can and will get through this together. 

“I know this is not an easy time, especially for my seniors. All of the things you were looking forward to are being put on hold, but I know you are all amazing and you got this. I am sad that I couldn’t finish out the school year with you all. I love you and I miss all your faces,” Deleon said. “Seniors, I am looking forward to seeing you this summer at Graduation and Prom, or come back to see me. To the underclassmen, I can’t wait to see you in the halls next year. We got this.”

Erin Burkamp

AP English Literature teacher Erin Burkamp has had big turnouts for her weekly zoom meetings and many of her seniors are keeping up with their work. 

“I have been able to get in contact with about ninety-five percent of all of my students […] I would say that I have about anywhere in between sixty-five to seventy-five percent consistent weekly participation in my online assignments thus far; with our weekly Monday Zoom meetings, I would say that about sixty-five percent of my students are present during the meeting, with some who cannot make it watching the recording from Google Classroom,” Burkamp explained. 

Burkamp further explained that she has different sets of assignments for students who are and are not taking the AP test. This way, everyone is participating, but those who are not attempting for college credit can still learn without preparing for a test they won’t take. 

“I have been giving [testers] both live-time Zoom writing sessions and AP College Board Live lessons in an effort to help them get regular analytical reading and writing practice. They have been participating in weekly annotation and timed writing practices, and I have been providing them feedback on their essays,” she shared. “For students who are not taking the AP exam, they are doing an independent novel study, and we are having discussion boards for the books they are reading.”

The majority of Burkamp’s students, however, are taking the test in May, seeing as AP Literature is a popular Senior class. The teacher is in agreement with most other AP teachers in that she feels although a different format, her students will have no problems with the forty-five minute, written response exam.

“Although the exams are significantly shorter and do not cover as much of the College Board curriculum as the normal exam does, the format for submission is very different because it is one hundred percent virtual. I know that my students can write and respond extremely well in a forty-five minute window, and I am confident they will rise to the challenge of this new format,” Burkamp said. 

The teacher expressed that, like the other interviewed for this story, she is very thankful for technology that has allowed “this great pause in our educational lives” to be dealt with much easier. Burkamp has provided instruction through Remind, Google Classroom, and Zoom, as well as created assignments with “Google Add-ons such as Kami” that provide for online annotating. 

Although the current online learning situation isn’t what students signed up for, Burkamp feels that Keller ISD has done a great job at quickly implementing a system that encourages graceful learning. 

“What we are doing right now really isn’t pure online schooling. What we are really doing is crisis management. Online schooling is designed to be online from the onset – the parameters are clear, both the teacher and student are already equipped with the necessary technology to make it happen successfully, and both parties come in with like expectations. That’s not really what is happening right now,” Burkamp said. “We were thrown into a global pandemic, schools across the country were suddenly closed, and then we only had six days to flip our entire educational process to a virtual platform… a process that normally takes eighteen months to prepare. That is mind-blowing,” she expressed.

Burkamp was particularly pleased with how the district jumped into the transition.

“What is going well so far is the grace and perspective that our school district has taken to its approach to flipping the classroom. They took care of meals first, making sure that children didn’t go hungry for breakfast and lunch. Then, they loaned out thousands of laptops to children who didn’t have technology at home, so they could do their lessons. Finally, they created a grading system for the fourth quarter that took into consideration both our crisis management status and the uneven playing field that some of our children were facing with technology and parental support access.”

To Burkamp, the most important thing is remembering that the well-being of the student comes first. It’s easy to forget, teaching to black boxes on zoom calls while isolated, that the kids behind the screen are still real people with things going on at home too. It’s impossible to know the situation of every student through a simple email, Remind text, or hour long meeting. That’s why it’s so crucial to remember to be kind. 

“We are doing school with grace and taking care of our children’s emotional well-being first, and that is what I am most proud of. For me personally, having AP students is a blessing and a challenge. My students all have technology access, they are engaged, and they have an important exam to prepare for. I am so hopeful that what I am doing for them is enough and I hope they know every time I talk to them how much I care about them,” Burkamp shared. 

Over everything else, the English teacher wanted students to know that this period is rough and that has not gone unacknowledged. She is “inspired” by each and every TCHS student.

“So much has either been delayed or taken away from you in regards to senior-year experiences, and if you are feeling sad or disappointed, please know that you are allowed to feel that way. If your family has lost friends or loved ones to COVID-19, I cannot imagine your loss, and I am so sorry. If you or your parents have faced unemployment, I am also grieving with you. Loss has come to all of us in so many inexplicably fast forms. But please know this – these incredibly difficult times are the very ones that can shape us into the best versions of ourselves. I see it happening with you all, and it brings me to tears,” Burkamp expressed. 

In the end, the most important thing isn’t schooling or an AP test or a grade from any teacher. Although, yes, these things are still important, what comes before anything else is taking care of one another and using these difficult moments as reasons to grow and get better. 

“I hope that through all of this, we can become more kind, empathetic, patient, resilient, and selfless versions of ourselves. Know that there is nothing that life throws your way that you can not only overcome, but also use as a catalyst for change both in your own lives and in the lives of others. Because of this time of great challenge, I can see coming from your generation people such as doctors who will discover cures and preventatives for diseases, lawyers who will work to protect the liberties of our citizens, pastors who will provide spiritual insight and comfort, leaders who will lead with intention and selflessness, and even parents who will raise a generation of kind, strong, smart, selfless children,” Burkamp said. “Great challenges often bring out the best in us. Let it not make you bitter; instead, may it be the launching point for your destinies.”

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