One by one the students pop on the computer screen, smiles on their faces, eager to learn. And it brings a smile to the face of Sue Jenkins every time.
For the Upper School math teacher, this is one of the highlights of her day in Distance Learning.
“I admire their fortitude, tenacity and drive, particularly when we consider that many of them are coping with their own issues,” Jenkins said. “I am so incredibly proud of my students and the positivity with which they stepped up to this new learning challenge."
Jenkins and her fellow St. Catherine’s teachers are now in week eight of Distance Learning after the COVID-19 epidemic led to the closing of all Virginia schools for the remainder of the school year.
But this type of teaching isn’t totally new to Jenkins. She has taught online graduate classes in math with VCU and Radford professors since 2012. While it's a similar logistical experience, she said teaching adults is very different from teaching teenagers.
Many assignments are the same for her Algebra II Honors, Advanced Precalculus Honors and AP BC Calculus students as they would have been in a traditional classroom, but Distance Learning allows Jenkins to really challenge her students to fully dive into the conceptual realm and think even more deeply.
And while it brightens her day to see her students pop into her Zoom classroom, it is also her biggest challenge. Not connecting in person with each student forced Jenkins to find creative solutions to engage everyone. Flexible office hours allow students to meet with her at a variety of times if they aren’t comfortable speaking up in a virtual classroom.
“Distance Learning is only a substitute for face-to-face education,” Jenkins said. “It's a good substitute under these extremely unique circumstances, but it is only a substitute. There's an incredible amount of communication that takes place in the classroom, the halls, outdoors, in Chapel — everywhere we see one another — and communication is key to a good education.
“That said, we're incredibly blessed to have all of the technological tools and support from our school that we could possibly need. In fact, I know no one who has access to all of the tools we routinely use. I am very, very grateful for that.”
Jenkins tries to balance Distance Learning with her home life. It is decidedly unbalanced, she said. But Jenkins tries to make time to run, cook healthy meals, connect virtually with her family and grandchildren while taking time to “smell the flowers.”
Mostly, Sue Jenkins looks forward to the day when she can reconnect with her students in her Ellett classroom.
“My biggest surprise has been the level of intensity with which I miss seeing my students,” she said. “ I cannot wait for fall, when I hope that we'll be able to be together again.”