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David Upegui teaches biology and anatomy at Central Falls High School, and Odell Ziegler teaches music at Mount Pleasant High School. 

On the first days of online teaching:

David Upegui: I can tell you that it's been a learning curve for, for me, for my colleagues. And for my students. One of the things that we need to make sure that happens is that even in a time of uncertainty, we bring some normalcy into the students lives. Education has the power to do so. I remind my students quite often that education is not just about memorizing facts, but it's about power. 

So at this time, where things are difficult in their lives, education can provide them with the capacity to understand their world what's happening right now, and also to continue to critically think and analyze the current situation.

Odell Ziegler: So far, we're doing okay. This is a learning experience for all of us. But I will say this: one of the things that I did in the beginning of the school year, I started a virtual learning platform. So for my music students, they're pretty much accustomed to Google classroom and how I go about facilitating live-stream lessons. [It]doesn't mean that it's as well oiled. There's hiccups. But once again, I was fortunate enough to kind of be ahead of the game.

On things that have worked so far: 

Odell Ziegler: Now [students] have autonomy to a certain degree, meaning they can learn and begin to work in the most comfortable position. So one of the pleasant surprises I can share with you. There was one particular student in one of my classes who hadn't turned in a single thing the entire semester. And this student has completed about four assignments within two days. 

David Upegui: I think that one thing that was surprising to me is how emotionally satisfying it was for me and for my students to see each other. I think being able to see each other face to face during a difficult situation allows my students to understand and know that I'm here for them. And being able to make that connection. I find that a little bit surprising -- how strong it was, even virtually. 

One of my strengths as a teacher is the face-to-face interactions and my storytelling ability. And I was afraid that that would go and suffer tremendously through doing this virtual learning platform. But I found that my students were able to connect right away. That has been a surprise to me that I was able to connect in the same way that I did, or in a similar way, in a similar powerful way, virtually.

On the changing classroom dynamic of virtual learning and video conferencing: 

David Upegui: Part of it was the vulnerability of students opening their homes and vice versa. One of the surprises, of course, is I have my own children who are public school students. And during one of the classes, my son decided to go behind me and see what it is that I was doing. And he said ‘hi’ to all my students, and they were thrilled just to see him as well. So there is that aspect that also makes it more human in that sense: ‘I'm just like you, I live in a house just like yours.’ And we also have other things that we need to concern ourselves with and including how to take care of other people that live with us. 

Odell Ziegler: I think a lot of it has to deal with the rapport. You can tell the students you have good rapport with, when you're on Zoom. It's this vulnerability that you guys are talking about. We're saying welcome into my space and welcome to, you know, welcome to your space, vice versa.

On connecting with students virtually: 

Odell Ziegler: Some students really need one-on-one attention. And it's not a bad thing. I'm just saying in regards to my class, there are some students, they work best when it's someone right there, guiding them, in-person. So there are a few students I am worried about. And those particular students I have reached out to me a little bit more than the others.

David Upegui: My biggest concern is for some of the students that -- as was the case for me --  school was the best part of the day. Sometimes students in home situations where they're not valued, and they feel stuck. And so at school, they knew they had a place that had heat, food, and more importantly a place where they can interact with other human beings, including adults, that care for them. 

When a kid walks into my classroom, I tell them, leave the stuff that's bothering you outside in here, you're safe. And here, you're a learner here, we're going to challenge you to critically think, and to ask questions about how the world works and what you can do to make it better. But when I don't have that physical space when a child doesn't have the ability to step away from that, and they're constantly stuck in situations that are difficult or challenging, or sometimes just, you know, straight up hard and and horrid. 

It's one of the reasons why I'm adamant about providing them with academic work, because academic work allows them to take a mental break and to engage in something that's different than which is the reason why immediately I gave them work, not because I want to punish them, but instead because I want to provide him with opportunities to engage in something that's outside of what they're experiencing all day every day.

[Are you a parent, student, or teacher? How has coronavirus changed the way you teach or learn? Please email me at ]

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