A New Lesson in Teaching
Alison Mohrbacher, MS & HS English

By Alison Mohrbacher; MS Advisory, MS & HS English, HS Religious Studies

Forest Ridge made the call to move to digital learning early on in our larger, state-wide understanding of the COVID-19 situation. I appreciated our administration’s courage to make a tough call that put health and safety first and their foresight in making that decision in a way that gave teachers and students some time to anticipate the change.

I also lamented the call because I knew it would take away my favorite part of teaching – the opportunity to share intellectual and physical space with students I find hilarious, intriguing, creative, compassionate, intriguing, and yes, at times challenging. I have always loved school and learning myself, and really do believe that reading and writing are two of the most powerful forces in my life— which is why I love teaching English in particular— but it is the unpredictability and excitement of the students themselves that makes me love teaching as a whole. So, moving to teaching through a screen was way more upsetting as a concept than some might expect.

As the weeks have ticked by, I am proud to say that I have learned a lot and have adapted to certain elements of this new type of teaching, but I do miss the in-person work every day. The consolation prize is being able to see the strength, resilience and personality of my students in a whole new way. With that consolation, I have been able to re-focus my attention more on the most essential skills and habits of being a student of the English language, and how to best communicate the purpose of our work to my students.

As a part of my own ongoing work to become a better teacher, I joined a group of other Forest Ridge educators in the Engagement Project, a collaborative effort with The Project for Education Research That Scales (PERTS) and researchers at Stanford University and several other universities. Part of my learning has been a renewed appreciation of the importance to regularly reinforce and repeat the why behind our classwork. My students are currently engaged in modified literature circles in order to apply the skills they have practiced in previous units; demonstrate leadership, curiosity, and empathy in relationship with each other and the text and characters; engage in critical thinking, collaboration, and reflection as they read, discuss, and respond to the class text; and practice speaking and listening, composition, and active reading skills with autonomy and wise freedom.

While at times I find myself disappointed that I am missing out on some of the organic and in-depth explorations of specific passages in Romeo and Juliet and Love Medicine that more typically arise when we share a physical classroom, I am impressed every day by the great level of knowledge construction and curiosity demonstrated across the board by students. I have been regularly reminded that while we may miss out on some chance to give Romeo some grief about his lovesickness, my students are hitting my own named goals in a new and noticeable way that does not always happen to the same extent when I teach according to a more structured plan.

I look forward to the day I can once again teach in a classroom filled with students whose personalities are definitely easier to see and hear in that shared space, but in the meantime, I consider myself among the luckiest of educators in the midst of this new form of teaching specifically because of the amazing group of students we teach at Forest Ridge.