Alex Patterson

Dodson Branch School
Jackson County, Tennessee
Alex Patterson, 3rd grade teacher

Returning to school has brought about all kinds of newness – new rules and regulations, new curriculum, even a new grade. If someone had asked me 10 years ago whether or not I could manage teaching students online and in-person, I would have said unequivocally NO. If someone asked the same question, now 10 weeks into school, I would give them a resounding YES. This year has challenged my perception of what school is and can be. But, it has more importantly reinforced what we all know school has to be – a personal and social experience. I currently have students that tune-in each day through their computers, but they are every bit as much a part of the class as the other 18 students who are sitting in front of me. They ask questions, they answer questions, they act up, they turn in assignments, they make mistakes, they participate in Socratic seminars, they give presentations, and they do it because they are in school and that’s what you do.

As a mentor teacher at my school, I am also focused on how we can collaborate and quickly improve our teaching together as a team. We have worked with our teachers to improve engagement for our virtual students. I have had two teachers sit in on my class and watch ways to engage those virtual students through purposeful questioning and through technology such as Pear Deck. In weekly collaborative team meetings we’ve had our tech savvy classroom teachers provide mini-tutorials on how to setup lessons online to bring virtual and in-person students together to increase that personal connection. This year has been phenomenal in that we’ve had teachers and students alike learning brand new things, and often it has happened in real-time and together.

When I decided to move to 3rd grade this year, I wasn’t expecting to have to relearn how to teach quite so much. New standards and a new curriculum sounded like challenges I could manage, but mastering new technology and supporting students online and in person at the same time was not supposed to be part of it. Instead of brushing up on fractions and my times tables, I had to brush up on how to present my screen and assign work on Google Classroom. In the spring we had been all Zoom, now we’re Google Meet. How do I teach virtual 3rd Graders to turn work in? Screencastify, of course. My kids in class have gotten used to hearing “You’re not presenting your screen, Mr. Alex” and seeing constant error messages of “You mic is not working. Try refreshing the page.” But it doesn’t deter them, and we move forward. It’s taken some time, but we have navigated all these little trouble spots and its business as usual. We have routines, we have learning, we have lunch in the classroom, and we have each other.