Navigating Distance Learning: Teaching in the Time of COVID-19


Luci Garza, Staffer

Since March of this year, schools across the country have faced closures due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. As a result, teachers and students are adapting to online learning. To aid the transition, the Austin Independent School District (AISD) teachers were given time to team up and find creative, new ways to allow students to learn.
Social studies teacher Neil Lowenstern said that he had very few problems when planning an online curriculum for his students. He said that he partially attributes this smooth transition to the use of Zoom, a video chat service that allows for classes to communicate virtually.

“I started planning the rest of the year about a week and a half before distance learning started,” Loewenstern said. “I met with Mr. Moody and Mrs. Digioia through Zoom and Microsoft Teams to discuss how to adjust what we already had planned for the rest of the year. It wasn’t too difficult to make decisions since the project, readings and videos we already had planned could be done from home.”

Prior to the announcement of school closures, biology teacher Allie Hill did not suspect school to be closed because of the pandemic. According to Hill, she did not think that the day before spring break would be students’ last.

“​My initial reaction was definitely panic,” Hill said. “I remember waking up ready to go to school the Friday before spring break, then seeing the messages about school being canceled. I rushed up to school to grab the last of my students’ quizzes and papers, and I had no idea at the time that we wouldn’t return for the spring.”

According to Hill, biology is a class that is heavy in hands-on activities, which cannot be carried over online. As a result, ninth grade students will be missing out on interactive activities in biology this semester.

“We have some really fun labs at the end of the year that I always look forward to, they don’t translate into our distance learning, so I will have to skip them,” Hill said. “That hands-on component to biology is super important, so I’m sad that we aren’t able to incorporate that for the rest of the school year.”

According to Loewenstern, World Geography also emphasizes in-person contact. Loewenstern said he has been known to add humor to lessons to make them more engaging, and he said he finds that it is difficult to add personality to his lectures while delivering them online.

“The hardest adjustment is not having direct face-to-face interactions with my students,” Loewenstern said. “I enjoy being in the classroom teaching serious topics in World Geography while at the same time having fun with students, joking around, and having meaningful discussions and activities. I have a hard time seeing how to do any of that from home.”

English I and III teacher Julia Gritte has also expressed disappointments with the distance of online learning. She said she misses in-person communication and watching her students get to know each other.

“The most difficult thing about distance learning is not seeing my current and former students every day,” Gritte said. “Zoom face-to-face is just not the same as real face-to-face, and I miss that energy in the classroom. I miss seeing them work together in groups and get to know others they might not have, had they not shared a table in my class.”

Despite all the issues with long-distance learning, Gritte is proud of the LASA community for coming together. Teachers and administrators have made efforts to create a system to give students as much support in their learning as they can.

“I never thought this would or could happen, but I’m proud of all of the teachers and administrators who worked to make it possible for everyone to be safe and continue to learn,” Gritte said.