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  • By Johanna Salinas

Virtual teaching requires a lot of patience and flexibility

Guam teachers share stories and occassional frustrations with online teaching

When Guam moved back to Pandemic Condition of Readiness 1 in August, the Guam Department of Education had to scrap the face-to-face classroom option before the school year opened. What is left is virtual learning through Google Classroom and hard copy learning through packets.

And since the school opening, teachers, parents and students all share the burden of learning how to navigate the technology and trying to overcome its challenges and limitations.

Without adequate training, teachers had to wing it. And as they go along, teachers are finding glitches in the system that they need to address with patience, understanding and flexibility.

“We had to figure out how to join and make Google Classroom on our own. Because I’m not computer literate, I’m struggling,” said Patty Fejeran, who teaches journalism at Benavente Middle School.

Fejeran teaches more than 50 students, so it has been a challenge trying to make contact. “Some students didn’t accept the invitation for Google Class, so now I've been calling parents, but there’s all these contact numbers and we can’t reach the parents,” she said. “That's another dilemma about distance learning—parents choose online learning for their kids, but there's no working number for us to contact them.”

Fejeran even has concerns about her hardcopy learners. “Some parents don’t even pick up the hard copies. We call to remind them that they chose hard copy, even if they were originally face to face,” she said. “Parents can’t say they weren’t aware, because we’ve made announcements through newspapers and the local media and we tried calling.”

While Fejeran may be getting the swing of distance teaching, she is not too comfortable videoing herself at home. “My son, also a teacher, has set up a teaching space for himself and I have to teach in my bedroom. So, I don’t teach through the camera,” she said. “I teach through the microphone.”

But some instructional materials are better shown with actual physical presence. For example, Fejeran, as a journalism teacher, requires the use of newspapers to show her students, which is a challenging task over a voice call.

“I can’t provide them with the newspapers to explain the journalism process,” she said. “My problem is sources—trying for us to have the same newspaper source. Especially with my hard copy students. I give them instructions hoping they do it and I tell them to call me if you need help, but so far I haven't gotten any calls.”

Fejeran is also experiencing concerns with students' access to technology. “I had a parent tell me that they use hotspot for the child’s education and her kids can’t go online because she brings her phone to work. I even hold class at 4, so I can have more students attend my session,” she said, even though middle school ends at 3:30.

“This parent works from 3 p.m. to 11 p.m., so I suggested that they do hard copy. Yet the parent felt it’d be easier to do online instead of picking up hard copy. What am I going to say then? So, this child, I’ve just been emailing her work and she sends it back to me.”

Dr. Matilda Naputi Rivera, an ESL teacher, has prior experience with online teaching at the University of Guam.

“I was able to create and navigate the Google Classrooms I needed for each of my grade levels of ESL,” she said. “However, getting (the students) to log in was an issue we needed help with because they don’t have connectivity to login. They had to utilize the hard copy learning packets. Even if they were unable to log in, they had that to fallback. My instruction online is the same as my hard copy activities.”

Rivera teaches over 40 students and was able to make contact with all of them. “Some may have connectivity issues, but there are other tools they can use. I've received submissions through Whatsapp or email. If one doesn’t work, they can send it in another format,” she said.

“Teachers have to be flexible in receiving work in whatever format is available. Hopefully we can get hotspots in the community so parents can have stronger connectivity to login and upload submissions without having glitches,” she added.

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Some may argue that hard copy learners are losing instruction without the teacher’s guidance. But Rivera believes students are capable of learning through all formats of distance learning. “It depends on the commitment,” she said.

“Online learners are actively submitting work. Hard copy, we give them more time to complete it. They are still capable of completing it. The only difference is how the work is received and delivered. Of course, traditional face to face is what we want, but with the pandemic, we have to make do.”

First-year CHamoru teacher Dennis Dali wishes he had more online resources to share with his students, “I’m at a private school, so parents are very involved. But there is only so much they can do, because they have to work,” said Dali, who teaches students from fifth to eight grades.

“I know my subject can be difficult for parents to help them with because not everyone speaks CHamoru. Even my CHamoru kids, some of their parents don’t know the language, so it’s up to me to get the students to learn it.”

One of the challenges for Dali is monitoring students during exams. “For my first exam, I’d say about 50 percent of students were cheating,” he said. “There is sometimes little to no parent supervision. So sometimes students can just Whatsapp each other’s answers.”

Another challenge with teaching CHamoru online is trying to hear the students’ pronunciations, Dali said.

“When practicing dialogs, I can’t always hear if they’re pronouncing it properly or if they’re wrong,” said Dali. “I have to clarify several times when giving vocabulary. Sometimes, the connection can get in the way and kids can’t help but mispronounce words. Who knows, maybe in the future kids will be speaking CHamoru with a digital accent.”

Although elementary teacher Anntonette Quiambao feels like she is now doing double work, she tries to stay optimistic with distance learning. “I’m not going to call out GDOE. I know people on the outside think that this new format is unworkable, but we’re trying,” she said. “Teachers were given training on how to do Google Classroom, but parents are confused.”

Quiambao is grateful for GDOE’s training since it reminded her to be sensitive to students and their families. “Sometimes over email or text messages, parents misinterpret my tone and get offended,” she said. “But I always remind them that I care about their child and I just want them to succeed despite the pandemic.”

Many parents are now becoming their children’s teacher. The mother of a 10-year-old fourth grader has become more than a teacher for her daughter. “I have become a one-to-one aide at home which is challenging since I also work full time,” said the mother.

Vera Dela Cruz, legal guardian for two students, feels that hard copy learners are falling behind. “The use of hardcopy handouts was not great but basically worked for the first few weeks,” said Dela Cruz, who has a fourth grader and a sixth grader.

“Using that method may not have worked for parents/guardians who have no education background, or who are second language learners, or have children in SPED, and don’t understand the education standard,” she said. “The packets had one sheet summarizing the week’s standards/goals but in ‘teacher jargon.’ Many parents are unaware of these and most likely do not understand them.”

Teachers understand parents’ frustrations, but they stay positive and continue providing education.

Quiambao believes that the school year will soon be smoother for all learners. Despite the setbacks, Quiambao continues to work hard for her students. She said, “I’m just grateful for my awesome students and their great parents. I'm also grateful that my admin has been supportive.”


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