As Boston Public Schools enters week eight of remote learning, we also conclude this year’s Teacher Appreciation Week. With the abrupt end to physical classrooms, educators have had to quickly adapt to a new way of teaching. Boston Partners in Education caught up with one veteran teacher and long-time supporter of in-class mentoring to see how he was adjusting to the virtual classroom. In a time like this, it’s easy to become overwhelmed, but Josiah Quincy Elementary School teacher, Philip Amara, chooses to focus on the positives.
What year and subject do you teach, and how long have you been teaching?
Mr. Amara: I’ve been teaching third grade for about 15 years.
Thinking back to the first week of remote teaching, how are things different now that you’ve been teaching remotely for about 7-8 weeks? Has it become easier or more challenging?
It was challenging at first, but really just different. There are new things to learn, and opportunities everywhere.
What does a typical day of remote teaching look like for you?
We do virtual meets every day. Group activities where students have a voice are the most popular. When we do shared screen activities students can talk to each other – they love that ‘groupthink’ aspect. They get to talk to their friends and figure out a strategy. Shy students aren’t so shy when they are comfortable in the fabric of friendship in this way.
What have you found is the easiest way to communicate with students who need extra help/support with their schoolwork?
Right through Google Classroom, actually. They’re very clear about their needs.
How has not having mentors in the classroom affected things?
Not having mentors means that one student, or small group of students, might not get that extra little hands-on difference. What might not seem much at first, can really nudge their whole trajectory, learning habits, and self-esteem.
How has all of this impacted your personal life as a professional?
Any teacher misses their students in their classroom, but virtual class can still bring a good connection.
What are some things you’d like Bostonians to know about remote learning right now?
Think of virtual class as a new way to learn. It doesn’t necessarily replace the old way, but offers a chance to adapt, or mix the old and the new.
While virtual learning presents some challenges, Mr. Amara tries to find a silver lining. He focuses on how the technology enables students to self advocate and empowers others to share their voices like never before. As classrooms across Boston adjust to new conditions, what are some ways you’ve shown educators they are appreciated?
This interview was edited for length and clarity.
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