Marshall Co. Teacher Reflects On Return To In-Person Learning After Weeks Of NTI
This story is part of an update to the 2020 newsroom collaboration series highlighting school reopenings in western Kentucky.
The Marshall County School District in western Kentucky reopened to in-person learning in January after a spike in coronavirus cases forced the system to enter non-traditional instruction before the holidays. One teacher in the system spoke to WKMS about the challenges of re-entering the classroom while the virus continues to ravage the commonwealth.
South Marshall Middle School math and social studies teacher Brad Darnall is no stranger to digital learning. He’s always attempted to use technology and unique methods to reach his students. But the onset of the coronavirus pandemic last year meant a change in instruction that Darnall never could have imagined. It’s also a change for which no one has a timeline.
“I don't guess anymore. I used to try to make predictions...I quit doing that because I'm never right. I don't know how long these situations will be taking place. It's just a matter of us adapting to what we can and making the best of it,” Darnall said.
Darnall said in addition to the content he’s required by the state to teach, he’s working to make his classroom a living laboratory for proper emotional management during the pandemic.
“Skills for coping emotionally, when they are upset, or when they are disappointed or when they are stressed about something or when they are tired of this,” Darnall explained. “It's gonna happen and teach them that it's okay to have those feelings. You can go too far with the positivity to where it becomes toxic positivity.”
Striking a balance between content and coping has been the name of the game for teachers like Darnall. Especially after a severe uptick in COVID-19 cases forced the district to enter non-traditional instruction late last year. Darnall said students returning to the classroom has been rewarding, especially when it comes to the weekly check-ins he conducts with students in his program.
“Each student we mentor with at least once a week or once every other week, where it's just sit down, and we talk, ‘How's life going? What are you working on? Are you doing okay with this thing?’ And that's even with the virtuals kids. We try to sit down and try to just talk to them and mentor so that they have that connection with somebody from the school to help them with wherever they are on things.”
While caring for the emotional needs of his students is critical for Darnall, he is also using his lesson plans to keep both virtual and in-person students engaged. He uses interactive videos called Ed Puzzles to review content and check for student understanding in real-time. His classes even received a virtual visit from Lieutenant Governor Jacqueline Coleman. Darnall said it’s a challenge to keep every student involved, but the students are learning important soft skills even if they don’t realize it.
“At the same time, these students are learning some major, real world life skills that they've just been forced to have to learn during this. I mean, learning how they handle time management and being able to be self motivated. Knowing that they need to get up at a certain time to work on this, and not procrastinating. Learning technology that they've never had to learn before and how to make it work. And Zooms and emails and doing video calls and doing videos and sending them to us and doing some things online that so many jobs nowadays want all of those skills. And they're learning them.”
Although he’s adjusting to the demands of the pandemic in his school, Darnall looks forward to returning to fully in-person teaching without masks after COVID-19 transmission levels die down. He and his colleagues have been vaccinated against the virus, and he said he feels relieved knowing his students are safer around him. But for the immediate future, the Zoom meetings and online lectures will continue.