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Photo courtesy of Alyssa Krizek

Reasons to Love Denver: Denver’s Teachers

Educators took a crash course in online learning to save the school year (and parents’ sanity) during the pandemic.

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When Denver Public Schools announced in mid-March that it was shuttering schools, Lindsay Krizek hoped it would only be for a few weeks. But as the severity of the novel coronavirus pandemic became increasingly evident, the 32-year-old Steele Elementary School teacher realized the hiatus would be more than an extended spring break. (On April 3, the district declared in-person classes were canceled for the remainder of the school year.) So, like her peers, Krizek rushed to figure out various remote-learning technologies and create a stay-at-home curriculum that would keep her fourth and fifth graders engaged. Halfway through the two-and-a-half-month learning experiment, 5280 quizzed Krizek about the most challenging cram session of her career.

5280: How did the flip to remote learning go?
Lindsay Krizek: The first week was chaos. It was the most stressful and nerve-wracking of all the weeks. I know the parents felt it too. After that, I was like, OK, we can do this. There was a big learning curve for the teachers, the kids, and the parents, but as more time went on, it became more manageable. I do think it was helpful that the end of the school year was in sight.

What did the day-to-day look like?
My class had a 45-minute meeting on Google Meet to start every day, but the rest of the day kids worked independently on stuff that I’d uploaded to various technology platforms. We used an extension in Google Classroom called Pear Deck where you can create interactive slides and questions, rate students’ efforts, respond to their goals, and upload videos. I also had office hours a couple of times a week where I was on a Google Meet call if they had questions or just wanted to come and talk. Virtual learning can be very inequitable for students, though. I am lucky to be at a school with more resources: We have a really small percentage of kids on free and reduced lunch, so most of my kids already had computers. While most of the students in my own classroom did have access to devices that could work for remote learning, many families at the school did not, or were limited by one device that had to be shared with all family members. Some families did not even have internet access. Our principal, librarian, and several teachers spent a ton of time and effort to get Chromebooks out to every student that needed one and made sure each student was able to access the internet.*

Did teaching remotely require you to do more work?
It’s 10 times more work. The feedback is the most time-consuming part. The first few weeks I was trying to give the same amount I would in the classroom, but in-person feedback is mostly verbal. With remote learning I had to type all of that. It takes a lot more time. I had to decide which students needed more feedback and which could work more independently.

For students, what’s been the most difficult part about not being at school?
During our morning meetings, it’s obvious they miss the conversation and the discussion. That was such a huge part of my kids’ lives in our classroom. Even if it was the wrong answer, their voices mattered. Now, only having 45 minutes a day where they are able to talk about stuff with their classmates—even if it’s not about academic stuff—is hard for them. Speaking also helps kids develop their ideas for writing. Research proves that their writing is better if they process it by verbalizing first. I read their writing and go, Oh man. If only I could have a conversation with them, this could be so much better.

Do you think this experience will make you a better teacher?
One hundred percent. I have found so many new tools. I don’t want my kids on the computer all day, but there is this application called Flipgrid where they can post videos and share artwork, ideas, and all of their talents. Keeping kids engaged has also been hard. It’s made me appreciate the level of effort they do bring when they’re in the classroom. I am not going to take that for granted ever again.

*This response has been updated from the original to provide updated information and context.

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