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In Pandemic, Teachers Have Been Put to the Test

Wed, 12/30/2020 - 08:05
Michelle Barbaretti, left, and Matthew Shimkus are among teachers who achieved innovation during the pandemic.
Durell Godfrey

Few groups had their worlds upended during the pandemic as much as students and teachers. Put to the test, many teachers became students of new technologies and rose to meet the challenges that distance learning presented.

"Teaching students remotely -- there are many dimensions. It's not a simple thing to do," said Matthew Shimkus, a special education teacher at East Hampton High School. "To know where we were in March and April, to where we are now, we've had that growth, and we were able to open the schools. We're able to do our part. Maybe it's not normal, but we're doing our thing, which is good."

"Collaboration" became the buzzword as teachers worked together across the grade levels and subject areas -- and even entire geographical regions -- to do everything they could to help their students.

Michelle Barbaretti, a bilingual math teacher at East Hampton, said teaching remotely was a shock at first. "But it really was a great time to stop and reflect on education as a whole," she said. "Never before had we spent so much time virtually together, working to improve education, to reach the students. . . . We're working together worldwide, at this point, because everyone's in the same boat."

She found herself having to move away from hands-on learning. For instance, she said, her students couldn't use geometric tiles to create different shapes. Instead, Ms. Barbaretti has them use videos or computer programs to accomplish the same goals.

Ms. Barbaretti and Mr. Shimkus agreed that trying to keep the students' spirits up is also important. Ms. Barbaretti advises the student council, which has organized events such as a drive-in movie on campus. Mr. Shimkus said he and his colleagues make sure they are connecting with each student directly.

"You get to know the students, and develop the relationships," he said. "You ask simple questions like 'how was your day,' actively seeking and talking to the students at home, and when they're in school, you build off of that."

Adam Fine, the East Hampton School District's assistant superintendent, said so many different teachers deserve huge amounts of credit, and that a lot of kudos go to Luke Goodstein, the district's tech guru, as well.

"I don't have the words to describe the work our teaching staff has done over the past few months, but I will try. They have adapted the way they teach to help our students learn in a virtual environment," Mr. Fine said. "They have live-streamed instruction on a daily basis while teaching live in a classroom. Our elementary teachers have taught in person all year despite their own fears of the virus. So, I will tell you our teaching staff has been courageous, dedicated, flexible, and innovative. Nothing this year would have happened without them."

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