CORONAVIRUS

New teachers face COVID-19 learning curve along with students

Many first-year teachers were unable to finish their student-teaching

Teacher Erica Baier calls on a student Sept. 30 as the class reviews for a quiz in an introduction to agriculture course
Teacher Erica Baier calls on a student Sept. 30 as the class reviews for a quiz in an introduction to agriculture course at Prairie High School in southwest Cedar Rapids. This is the first year that the College Community School District has offered a program in agriculture. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)

Drew Gartner was student-teaching at Linn-Mar High School when classes were canceled after spring break as cases of the novel coronavirus began to rise in Iowa.

The University of Iowa graduate didn’t get the chance to finish his student-teaching before getting his diploma in May and applying for jobs.

“I was in shock they were just going to let us graduate,” he said. “I felt like I had put a lot of time in to building my craft, and that in some ways I was ready for this.”

Gartner is now a first-year teacher at Iowa City High School teaching Earth and Space Science and Physical Science online and in-person.

Like many teachers, Gartner said he had mixed feelings about starting school in Iowa City fully online. The district made the decision to move to a hybrid model of in-person and online classes three weeks into the academic year.

Although Gartner didn’t have experience teaching online, he had taken several online classes at the UI and felt he had at least some knowledge of it.

“I was definitely nervous because we’re not allowed to require students to unmute their cameras or microphones if they don’t want to for privacy purposes,” he said. “You don’t really know if your student is actually there at the computer and they’re too nervous to unmute or if they walked away to play X-Box.”

Now in the hybrid model, Gartner said students feel more comfortable engaging in class face-to-face.

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Since a lot of his students are freshmen, Gartner feels like they’re all together in learning how to do school in a COVID-19 world.

“We’re all new to this, we’re all learning, we’re all going to make mistakes,” he said.

Lauren Fritz, a seventh-grade Language Arts teacher at Roosevelt Middle School in Cedar Rapids, is making the best of her first year teaching in a pandemic.

Fritz was a long-term substitute teacher at Wilson Middle School for a couple months before the pandemic. She feels fortunate to already be familiar with the curriculum and have some experience.

Fritz has the same 10 students in her classroom all day long. While typically middle school students would transition from class to class, they are receiving their instruction virtually to minimize movement in the building during the coronavirus. Teachers record lessons or post assignments online that students can access from their classroom.

Although a Language Arts teacher, Fritz has been helping students with math and science.

“I was sitting down helping a kid in math, and I think I was more excited than him that we got the problem figured out,” Fritz said.

With students taking all their classes from her room, Fritz said she is able to see how much work they actually have.

“I’m listening to them doing (other class work) and see they are loaded with stuff,” Fritz said. “This is where the burnout comes from. Giving them breaks matter.”

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Fritz has dedicated a corner of her room where students can go to get away from the computer, color, write or just breathe, she said.

Prairie High School agriculture instructor Erica Baier is not only starting her first year teaching, but launching the new agriculture program at College Community School District.

Baier, who also wasn’t able to finish student-teaching in the spring, said despite the pandemic and the derecho, she still felt optimistic starting her career.

As a first-year teacher, Baier doesn’t have her curriculum memorized yet. But she feels like it’s an advantage to be learning with the students.

“We find the answer together,” she said.

Comments: (319) 398-8411; grace.king@thegazette.com

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