Virtual See-Saw: The Ups and Downs of Online Kindergarten
My mom, Maria Cristina Gotuaco, is a kindergarten teacher at Our Lady of Mercy School in Daly City, California. With 32 years of experience under her belt, it seems like she should have teaching down to a science. However, the pandemic threw the entire world, and with it, the education system, into a loop. I was a high school senior in March of 2020, and I remember vividly how much the sudden shift to virtual learning impacted my final months of high school. It made me wonder how the pandemic affected those who are just beginning their educational journey, and the teachers that are to guide them. To answer these questions, I interviewed my mom to hear about her experiences.
What does your job entail? What do you teach your students?
My job is to teach subjects, like religion, math, science, reading, writing, social studies and art. I also teach language arts: letters, sounds, and handwriting. At the beginning of the year [?], we talk about rules in the class, [as well as] how to be good friends.
What was the biggest challenge of your job pre-pandemic?
Finding enough time to do everything I [needed] to do. Every teacher’s challenge is to keep up with the work: you have to prepare, you have to teach, you have to record the grades. It’s a balance between doing all [these] things and being an effective teacher.
What was it like having to switch to fully remote teaching? As a student, I know that remote learning is very different from in-person. Is remote teaching particularly difficult?
My biggest hurdle was learning how to use technology. We never really needed equipment for remote learning. There wasn’t enough time for us to keep training, so we had to learn as we went. I'm not good with technology, so I was nervous that I wouldn't be able to do it. We got the equipment together and we had workshops on how to use the equipment. We learned how to use Zoom, how to set up Zoom meetings, how to set up Google Classroom. A lot I had to learn for the first time. Once I had that in place, I had to learn how to teach!
What were some of the challenges that you faced?
The biggest challenge was the lack of personal interaction. [When teaching] in-person, you can gauge how much [students] are learning right away. Remotely, you can’t go around and look at their work. When you teach handwriting, you teach them how to hold their hands and how to grip a pencil. You can’t do that in remote learning. You teach them all the basics, like the sound of each letter, but online, you don’t see or hear them sound out the letters.
[Gaining] materials also posed a problem. Upper grades are able to access their books online, but for kindergarten, not everything is on the computer. They need to touch things, like pencil and paper. We had to prepare all their materials way in advance and set up pickup times. Pickup and drop of times were a challenge.
How do you think remote learning will affect these students in the future? Do you think they will be socially or educationally underdeveloped?
I know it’s hard for some kindergartners now because this is their first taste of formal school. They don’t know how to pay attention for long periods of time. Kids missed out on socialization and learning how to be a student since they’re all by themselves. School is where they learn how to negotiate, share, make friends, take turns and have physical interaction. Even so, my kids are pretty resilient. If they miss one year of socialization, they’ll catch up. They won’t be scarred. But older kids, adolescents and middle schoolers really can’t decide if they’re all grown up or still kids. That’s when they really need to have friends [and] peers.
School is in-person now. Are things back to normal?
Not the way they were before. The challenge, now, is that everything has to be socially distanced as much as possible. Everybody has to [wear a]mask. We can’t do certain activities, like our dance recital. We also don’t have parent helpers. Their job is to help prepare materials and manage different activities. They help with preparation, filing, supervising. Kindergarten curriculum is easy to teach, but there’s a lot of prep for little things. The burden of that falls on me.
What is the general mood of your students?
You know, they’re okay. They’re happy because they don’t know any better. It’s their first year [of school], so they don’t have anything to compare with. When I ask, “Do you want to do this again? Do you want to come back tomorrow?” They all say yes.
Is there anything from your teaching style now that you will continue doing post-pandemic?
The pandemic helped me pick up more things online, like more techy things that I can incorporate into my classroom. There are certain subjects that I couldn't teach personally, so I had to look online for materials. I’ve been a teacher for a while, and I’m used to my way of teaching. The pandemic forced me to think of new options while combining it with the ways I know.
Art by Mage Fischer