Edmonton

Teachers reflect on past year, at-home learning and what's ahead on final day of school

As students across Edmonton cap off the school year at a distance, two Edmonton teachers are reflecting on lessons learned teaching under a pandemic.

'It's kind of a bittersweet day for us'

Teachers Carrie Bissoon, left, and Alison Palmer share on the last day of the school year what they've learned about teaching during a pandemic. (Submitted by Carrie Bissoon and Alison Palmer)

As students across Edmonton cap off the school year at a distance, two Edmonton teachers are reflecting on lessons learned after nearly three months of teaching under the pandemic.  

Students would typically be cleaning out their lockers and saying goodbye on Friday, the last day of school. Instead, teachers Carrie Bissoon and Alison Palmer told CBC's Edmonton AM, they'll be bidding farewell on a video call. 

"It's kind of a bittersweet day for us," said Bissoon, a social studies teacher at J.D. Bracco junior high school. 

The COVID-19 pandemic led to an education upheaval in March with school divisions across the province scrambling to organize online learning. Students were assigned work through online portals guided by pre-recorded videos from teachers, along with virtual check-ins. 

"It's amazing how resilient kids are and how quickly they're able to adapt. It was a very fast pivot for a lot of us, switching to an online environment that two weeks prior to it happening, you never would have been able to forsee," Bissoon said.

Palmer met with her Grade 4 Victoria School students by video call on Friday to wish them a good summer break. It's a far cry from the usual excitement — and exhaustion, she admits — that usually accompanies the last day of the school year. 

"It does feel so anti-climatic," she said. "I think what so many teachers love is that feeling of, we accomplished something and we're done and we get to start fresh in the fall." 

But uncertainty looms over the next school year as Edmonton continues to record new cases of COVID-19 every day. The province announced earlier this month it's aiming to have students return to classes come September under "near-normal" learning conditions. 

The first week of classes, Bissoon said, will include a refresher on all the basics of online learning, from taking screenshots to submitting assignments.

Palmer says she'll be doing the same, "just in case we need to go to that kind of system again." 

One of the most difficult parts of at-home learning during the pandemic, Palmer says, was the inability to see her students' immediate response to pre-recorded video classes. Without that face-to-face connection, she couldn't see in the moment whether a student understood a lesson or needed clarification. 

"That was the hardest part, not really knowing how they were really doing," she said. 

With Bissoon's senior students graduating into high school, she says some are feeling a heightened sense of anxiety, concerned they may have missed out on important elements they need in order to take the next step confidently. 

Bissoon, for her part, will spend July working with the school board to develop different teaching scenarios depending on how the next school year can proceed under the pandemic.  

"I would say to them moving into high school, if you can make it through this, you can make it through everything," she said. "Teachers next year are going to know and adapt for any potential gaps." 

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