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Teleteaching during the pandemic? USU center seeks educators' stories

Man wearing headphones in front of two monitors and keyboard Jim Dalton, an educator at the U.S Military Academy at West Point, teaches cadets online in March. Students were unable return to campus after spring break because of the COVID-19 pandemic. (U.S. Army photo by Deb Dalton)

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Melissa Montoya's family spent most of the school year moving in three different directions. She taught Spanish to eighth grade through senior high school students at an all-boys school in Washington, D.C. Her husband, Army Capt. Thomas O'Leary, pursued his final year of medical school at Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences in Bethesda, Maryland. And their 7-year old son attended first grade at the elementary school just down the street from their home.

That all changed with the COVID-19 national emergency pandemic. With schools shut down, Montoya taught her classes virtually at home while her son and husband attended to their respective schoolwork online.

"I was lucky that I could actually work from home," Montoya said. "But I don't think everybody's cut out for it – as a teacher or a student. It requires a lot of self-discipline. It was harder for me to get a sense of how my students were doing, and I also worked very long hours."

Researchers at USU's Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress are reaching out to educators like Montoya. They want to hear stories about teaching during the pandemic.

"Educators were on the front lines of implementing new distance education programs while also dealing with COVID-19 on their own home fronts," said Dr. Stephen Cozza, a retired Army colonel and senior scientist at the center.

"We initially wanted to conduct a research study, but we quickly realized that we didn't know where to begin because we don't have any understanding of the challenges educators faced and the experiences they had," Cozza said.

So that's why the center requests that educators email about their experiences. Cozza offered these prompts:

  • What challenges did you face balancing work and home responsibilities? 
  • Which students did best with distance learning, and who seemed to have the most difficulty?
  • What were your biggest challenges and successes engaging students and staff?
  • If you were to design and implement a distance-learning program in the face of another pandemic or other disaster, what would you change, and what would you keep the same?

"It took us a couple of weeks to understand what the new dynamic at home needed to be," Montoya said. "I taught four classes a day between 8 a.m. and 3 p.m. I was juggling that with helping my son, who has special needs. And then after classes ended, I had to get ready for the next day."

Meanwhile, her husband graduated from USU and was called to work at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center on the convalescent blood plasma project. So Montoya basically was on her own – teaching her students while helping her own son.

"I was running against the clock," Montoya said. "It was very stressful at times."

Cozza stated that educators can submit their stories anonymously, and their email addresses won't be shared. But to put their responses in perspective, Cozza asks that the email includes the following information: the emailer's specific role in education, such as teacher, administrative staff, guidance counselor; years of experience; age of students; public or private setting; and whether the educator works with any special needs population.

Educators should send their emails to the Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress.

"We hope they'll write us because we'd really like to better understand their experiences teaching during the pandemic," Cozza said. "We see them on the front lines of sustaining America's youth."

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