“We are constantly reinventing and rethinking what education is and what a school day is,” said social studies teacher Martin Graham-McHugh of Marian Catholic High School.
His message is a kind of anthem for teachers in the South Suburbs these days.
“There’s stuff that I could walk into a classroom and I could say I’m ready to go. This is how we’re going to do it. Now, I’ve got to start by saying: Is this activity or assignment or assessment still a good idea? Is this going to work?” he said.
“And then, say OK what am I going to do to make sure it still works and then reinvent it in a way that’s going to work for the kids that are at home on Zoom and in person and then, as you're doing it and something goes wrong, you’ve got to fix it on the fly.”
Flossmoor District 161, Homewood District 153 and Homewood-Flossmoor High School District 233 opened with fully remote curriculums after the Illinois State Board of Education mandated safety procedures just days before the schools were set to open.
By contrast, since Marian Catholic opened in August, Graham-McHugh is following a hybrid model with students in person Monday and Friday or Tuesday and Thursday. Marian is also accommodating students who preferred to be fully remote. All students are remote on Wednesday.
Marian Catholic also allows students to be in the building Monday through Friday — whether they have class or not — to have Internet available, for tutoring or special needs.
Making student connections “is a huge challenge,” said Graham-McHugh.
“When it comes to getting to know them and making those personal connections, I’ve been looking for ways to share about yourself within other assignments and assessments,” the teacher said. “I’ve kind of built in their unit assessments we’re going to do an assessment on what’s important to us and how it connects to our busy lives, and I’m so happy that I’m doing that because kids get to share what they’re seeing and feeling, and connecting it to themselves in a way that really allows me to get to know them better.
“It’s funny, you just have to be more intentional about it. It’s something that we used to be extraordinarily busy, now you have to make sure (the connection) is happening, which I’m doing my best to do,” Graham-McHugh said.
“The technical barriers are there. I never in my life had to say ‘Can you see me? Can you hear me? I’ve been talking for two minutes and I’m on mute? Why didn’t you tell me?’”
Despite all the extra time he spends developing lessons, learning new computer tricks, installing apps and overcoming technical glitches, Graham-McHugh said, “I certainly feel I was a better teacher in May than I was in February, and I’m a better teacher in October than I was in August. I feel this makes you more reflective and makes you think about what you’re doing much more.
“What I’d really like to say is I’m in awe of the resilience and the hard work and dedication of my students. I every day think about what would this would be like if I was one of those students and I’d be doing this at their age. I’m just blown away and so proud of them, how they’re willing to roll with it and to work with me on these types of things,” he said.
“It’s got those extra challenges built in there that make it a lot harder. The rewards when you’re successful are also there, too, like a normal year.”
- Marian Catholic serves students on campus and virtually (Oct. 30, 2020)