TAHS Teachers React to Their ‘New Normal’

Tyrone High School will move to online classes beginning next week


Eagle Eye file photo

The classrooms at TAHS are empty but the teachers and students will be back to work soon

By Mario Grugan, Tyrone Area High School

Everyone has been affected by this national crisis, and while teachers have not experienced mass layoffs like retail workers, or increased workplace danger like healthcare workers, they are facing one of the biggest challenges of their careers: scrambling to create a new curriculum and find new ways to teach and assess their students in just a matter of days.

On Tuesday morning, TAHS teachers learned that effective April 6, all classes will move to online instruction via Canvas, the district’s web-based learning management system.

Teacher reaction to the plan was mixed.

Most expressed concerns about the effectiveness of online instruction, but were also cautiously hopeful that it can provide some benefit to students missing school due to this national crisis.

“We are doing our best to design a curriculum that students can do on their own at home but that still teaches the core essentials,” said Tyrone social studies teacher Suzy Burket.

English teacher Stephen Everhart is up to the challenge but is skeptical of the long-term effectiveness of online instruction, and pointed to the poor track record of online K-12 schools.

“Every online cyber school in the nation is failing to deliver solid performance and growth. They are all failing schools. That says enough. Students are not as fully engaged in online settings..[and] online teachers are never as accessible as in a face-to-face classroom or hallway,” said Everhart.

Everhart likened the experience to a skilled carpenter being forced to trade in his precision tools for a chainsaw. “I’ll get the job done–but I won’t be proud of the result,” said Everhart.

Everhart considers online computer work only “passable” in comparison to face to face teaching. “TAHS teachers do not enjoy functioning at passable levels–our strategies transcend computer screens and modules,” says Everhart. “Students are not as fully engaged in online settings.”

Tyrone senior English teacher Kathy Beigle agrees.

“In my opinion, there’s just no substitute for face to face instruction,” said Beigle.”I think it will be a challenge teaching my dual enrollment class because of the range of students and the material we cover.”

Teachers are concerned because most students and teachers are not comfortable or familiar with online instruction.

“My concerns are that students will not ask questions and be hesitant to take advantage of the Zoom (office) hours,” said Spanish teacher Holly Scheler.

All of the teachers that responded agree that providing a sense of normalcy for their students during this national crisis is important, but will not be easy.

“This transition is going to take all of us to continue to move our students forward; not only academically, but emotionally and mentally,” said Tyrone High School agriculture science teacher Tiffany Hoy.

However, Tyrone’s teachers still have hope.

“We are all in a new phase, yet I think this pandemic is forcing us as a population to look at where we were and setting new priorities in all aspects of our lives,” said Hoy.

Sechler hopes that students can use this time to become more self motivated and appreciative of their Tyrone education.

“My hope is that students can continue learning online, be motivated and take ownership in their learning during this crazy time in our world,” said Sechler.

While this is a new era in our history that we are not accustomed to, Tyrone’s teachers are facing it with hope. They seem excited to be learning new things themselves.

“Hopefully we will take away some valuable life lessons from COVID 19,” said Sechler.

The teachers all value their students greatly and all have all expressed that above all, they miss their students.

“I teach mostly seniors, and I feel awful that they may be missing out on all of the end of year activities. Being a high school senior is an experience that everyone should have, and I love going through that experience with them. I’m hoping to see them all again soon,” said Beigle.

“I think of them every day and all the emotions they must be feeling,” added Sechler, “My daughter is a senior and some days she is just sad.”

Music teacher Laura Harris put it perfectly, “I just want our students to know that we all miss them and we hope that they are all staying safe and healthy.”

This story was originally published on Tyrone Eagle Eye News on April 1, 2020.