Transitioning on Teams: New teachers navigate virtual learning

Joanna Chait

Math teacher Grant Franke walked into Wilson for the first time on August 20 to pick up his new computer. He introduced himself to the few staff members lingering in the school, who were wearing masks and standing six feet from one another. After getting permission to venture about the empty building, he strolled into the front office. By chance, Principal Kimberly Martin was in her office that day and a casual conversation ensued between the two. This was the first time Franke had met his boss. Enthusiastic energy filled the school building. Franke could tell the staff was ready to start a new school year.

Starting this school year online has been an overwhelming experience for every one. For new teachers starting this year virtually has been especially difficult. Never getting to meet students or colleagues in person and navigating new online platforms, are just some of the extra hurdles new staff members face. 

Franke left Holton-Arms School to take a job teaching Algebra I at Wilson. “I didn’t want to be teaching all girls—I wanted to go back to the co-ed educational setting,” Franke said. So far, the biggest challenge he has faced this school year is connecting with students. “I just want to get feedback from students. With virtual learning it’s really hard to get that in-person, live, adequate feedback,” Franke said.

Another new teacher, history teacher, Esther Fitts came from teaching at a public school in Irving, New Jersey. “In light of these times we are in, I decided to move to DC to be closer to family,” she said. The most difficult part of starting the year online is “missing the part of the job that I like the most, which is the daily interaction with students. I enjoy working with this age group and getting to know kids. And it’s not the same not being at school,” Fitts said. 

A recent addition to the Wilson staff is teacher Nathayala Ramirez. She returned to DC after teaching physics and astrology in Queens, New York. She attended George Washington University, and has always wanted to return to DC because she likes the small city feel and already has a large network of people. Ramirez now teaches physics at Wilson and cites getting to know her students as the most challenging aspect of virtual learning. “It’s so hard to meet the [people] on the other side [of the call] because the students are very shy. And those who are loud, they don’t get to be who they are, because we are not in the same world, we’re not in the same place,” Ramirez said.

Among all the additional challenges virtual school creates. “It’s forced us to be more creative in the classroom to find new ways to teach and deliver the content,” Ramirez said. Fitts is also trying to find new ways to make her lessons more engaging by making “classroom time as interactive as possible, and giving time for students to share things about themselves and discuss between each other.” She hopes this will make it easier to get to know her students. 

Likewise, Franke has tried to be more creative with lesson planning. “I always have some sort of non-math related check-in, like today’s was about something [students did] over the weekend. So you know, just asking them about something non-class related to encourage engagement,” Franke said.

Although distance learning has many downsides, teaching from home has its fair share of positives. “I feel like there is in some ways more time, or that my time is more flexible,” Franke said, adding that he enjoys the extra sleep and being able to teach outside. Fitts expressed a similar sentiment. “I get to sleep a couple more hours. And I think some students seem very comfortable at home. I’ll see students with their pets or laughing at something a sibling is doing and that’s nice to see,” she said. 

 Franke added, “ I really look forward to the time when we get to get back together in person.”