Teacher to Teacher: Professional Tips for the COVID-19 Crisis

Nikki Wallace is a tenth grade Biology teacher at Crosstown High. Here, she shares some of her experience with her own children, her online teaching during the COVID-19 crisis, and some great resources for other teachers who are doing their best to grow as professionals while also serving their classes in new ways. 

As I sit contemplating who is going to unclog the sink that will not drain, I am exhausted! It’s been a long three weeks and I have gone through every emotion that I can imagine. I am a school teacher at Crosstown High and I’m in my 10th year of teaching—and I was on a roll. I had just won the regional Shell Science Lab Challenge award and was still in the running for the national award. I was starting an additional role with a new summer science program with doctors and researchers from UT Health Science Center called Cancer Learning In My BackYard (CLIMB) and I had two trips scheduled, one to San Francisco and one to Boston for the National Science Teaching Association. Things were going so well.

But, even though we often think we can control the outcome of our world, forces unseen show us otherwise. I am a single mom of three boys, Nicholas (17), Joseph (11), and Joshua (10), and I’m navigating this time as a mother and a science teacher. Each one of my boys attends a different school. Christian Brothers High School decided to continue school on a close to “normal” schedule with 25 mins classes from 9:30 am to 1:25 pm daily. I am fortunate that Nicholas is self-motivated and keeps up with his own work and schedule.

My younger boys are in two different schools with two different approaches. My youngest son attends New Hope Christian Academy; they’re providing a weekly set of lessons that are graded, with teacher conferences once a week. I have been very pleased with their approach which is flexible, but with clear expectations for the week. My 5th grade son, who attends Delano Optional School, has had a bumpy start, but now that I know what his teacher’s weekly expectations are, everything has been a little smoother. I hold morning school or evening school with my boys, depending on what I need to do for the day.  My parents, Mary and Richard, have been instrumental in helping to navigate their education while I teach my own Crosstown High students, but since this viral event has occurred, I have slowed down enough to really pay attention to their educational journeys and to the ways that I can continue to serve my students.

As an educator, I endeavor to make my Biology class relevant to real scenarios that affect us every day. That was my attraction to Crosstown High which is a project-based, competency-based school that wants to create innovators in an uncertain future. Below is a list of some of the ways I am applying my teaching resources during the current crisis:

  1. I stay current on the news and the latest scientific discoveries. Because of COVID-19, our students are thinking about science more than ever—and science is always in the news!

  2. I listen to podcasts such as Science Vs. or Invisibilia for inspiration for materials for lessons that will grab the attention of my students.

  3. Now is a great time to experiment with free platforms for educators. CK12.org is an free resource that has accountability built in for students and tools for educators to monitor a student’s progress. XQ, Emerson Collective, MIT, and PBLworks have published outstanding tools that educators can use to develop relatevent remote learning material. I also use HHMI Biointeractive and PBS Teachers’ Lounge for material and adapt them to learning online.

  4. Consider using ‘design thinking’ (Stanford University offers the d.school K12 Lab) when developing projects that are relevant during these challenging times. My class is developing virus solutions via remote learning: thinking about viruses, how they reproduce, and how our immune system functions. How might we design a way to protect ourselves and family from infection with materials found at home?

  5. Create entertaining videos for your students. Some of your teaching strategies can be used in videos. Students appreciate when you take time to be creative and meaningful in your lessons.

  6. Take advantage of free professional development courses going on right now (e.g., NEA). As an educator, there is never enough time. Now, I think it is important for my boys to see how much work I put into my job. As they see me working hard, the expectation is that they work just as hard.

  7. Find activities that are of interest for you and your kids. I keep my kids engaged in science because that’s what I love! We are cooking, growing plants, and doing experiments.

We don’t know how long this will last, so as you navigate this experience, consider making it as positive as it can be as you learn, grow, and teach.