Donna Kaiser captured a pair of noteworthy teaching honors this year. The Stamford High School science teacher was named the city’s Teacher of the Year, and Manhattanville College’s School of Education awarded her its Valiant Educator Award.
Kaiser deserves community plaudits, as do all her teaching peers for the way in which they navigated their classrooms and careers in the midst of a worldwide pandemic. Everybody made adjustments during the pandemic, but teachers steered through pandemic-related complexities with aplomb. For one, they needed to make drastic changes in the way they taught their students. But they also needed to work with the district to figure out how to best handle the new challenges, and had to work with some students who did not have the technological resources and some who did not know how to use them.
While debate centered around parents and school leadership between remote and in-person instruction, teachers rode a roller-coaster that lurched awkwardly around a track that was not completely designed with a map.
“Last March, when teaching went full remote, it was sudden and unexpected, so I don’t think all teachers were equipped, technology-wise, to be able to pivot to a full remote environment,’’ Kaiser said. “This included things as simple as having reliable high-speed internet service, a dedicated desk area and camera. It was also quite an adjustment to go from being in a classroom with students all day to sitting in one place in front of a computer for hours and hours.”
Remote instruction was only the first hurdle. Kaiser said the 2020–21 school year schedule was “unpredictable.” Hybrid learning, live streaming and, finally, a return to in-person instruction and teaching with masks in place for the final few months required swift transitions.
“Not only did the teachers have to change their delivery methods, such as paper tests to online tests, and learn new skills, the school also had to go through some infrastructure upgrades to enable these new modes,’’ Kaiser said.
She found the mask-wearing requirement troublesome. “I found myself running out of voice halfway through the day,’’ she said. “My husband provided a small wireless clip-on microphone and an amplifier so that I didn’t have to shout.”
Science teachers such as Kaiser found it especially difficult due to the hands-on lab exercises that are an important part of the curriculum. “You could only do them if you had enough equipment,’’ Kaiser said. She included more interactive projects and developed different methods to keep students engaged. She conducted one experiment in the backyard of her home while students watched, and then did a lab based on the data.
With pandemic restrictions easing, nearly all students will return to the classroom in the fall. Kaiser said, however, that teaching strategies that evolved during the pandemic will remain in place. “I’m hoping we can take the positives we learned and keep them in teaching,’’ she said. “I think technology should be part of the curriculum going forward. I don’t think we should ever try to go back. We should always be in the present and keep moving forward.”