TEACHING ON IN SPITE OF COVID-19

North Toronto’s teachers have never been less than dedicated. But for the last nine months, that dedication has meant so much more. Teachers have not only had to adapt to the new normal brought on by Covid-19, they’ve also had to adapt to uncertain schedules, virtual learning, and ever-changing software. Mark Kinoshita (’82)—NT grad, physics teacher, and member of the Foundation Advisory Board—shares his perspective on teaching at NT in the time of Covid-19. 

Adapting to adapting

It was a long March Break.

When the Ontario government initially closed schools for two extra weeks in March, it made sense to quarantine students and teachers for 14 days after returning from vacation. We never expected that break to extend to September.

Online teaching began in April. We were given two weeks to trickle into the school to pick up our personal belongings and teaching resources. We used new online platforms, mostly Google Classroom, to do everything from assigning textbook work to recording lessons for Youtube to teaching live online. The science department recorded science experiments or had students do experiments with found equipment.

Even though students had the option of attending class and we only had to teach an hour each week, most of us had nearly half our class show up. But many students opted out when the Ministry of Education mandated that marks would not decrease after March 9. Other students put in a last ditch effort to pass their courses and still others tried to improve a few more percentage points to secure marks over 90%.

The school reopened with a skeleton crew in the main office at the end of June. Teachers were able to clean and reorganize for September, and students had 15 minutes each to return textbooks and clean out their locker. The school issued teaching assignments for September, but this was done with a grain of salt.

In August, department heads began to manage the ever changing staffing and timetable, even as it became clear the school year would not start right after Labour Day. Ministry delays had pushed back timelines so far that schools could not interview for vacant positions. Even with the extra two weeks, the school did not have three teaching positions filled when school did resume.

Although some schools saw fewer than 50% of their students return to their brick and mortar school, North Toronto had around 85% of its students return. That combined with a small number of teachers who opted to teach virtually—largely for personal and family health concerns—meant few changes were made to the teaching staff. Though as the fall wore on and teachers went into quarantine, several NT grads returned to the school as supply teachers, including Lora Kikuchi, Charlotte Corelli, and Matthew Zheng.

North Toronto is normally a full year school, where students take six to eight courses throughout the year. This year, however, all Toronto District School Board (TDSB) schools are on a quadmester system made up of four, 43-day quads that run in 11 four-day cycles. In each quad, students take two courses at a time, and each class is split into two cohorts of 15 students.

The first cohort is at NT on day one from 8:45 a.m. until 12:30 p.m., and then goes home to attend a 75-minute virtual class at 2 p.m. for their second course. On day two, the other cohort is at NT, and the first cohort is working at home all morning, before attending another virtual 75-minute class. This schedule repeats for days three and four for the second course in the morning (and the first course in the virtual afternoon). 

Teachers are finding it quite a juggling act to keep straight what they are teaching to each cohort as the cohorts are all slightly out of phase with each other. For some courses, like biology, the longer time frame has created a very dynamic classroom setting. However, the students face a test or lab evaluation in every cycle, usually during the in-school classes.

In the early fall, spirits among both teachers and students seemed to be quite high. There were welcome videos from the student council, athletic association, music council, and art council. Online Kahoot quizzes were prepared for the Terry Fox virtual run and Halloween. However, there will be no yearbook this year, and exams have been cancelled for at least the first two quadmesters.

North Toronto has been quite fortunate: the school has only had six Covid-19 cases as of early December. All have been students, and none have occurred as a result of in-school transmission. Two of these cases occurred in the first quadmester, and each resulted in four cohorts of 15 students and two teachers having to quarantine at home.

The teachers continued to teach while in quarantine, only online instead of in person. This meant that they taught and tested students in class simultaneously with students online. By the second quadmester, this was par for the course. After more students opted for virtual learning, the Virtual School became too large for the TDSB to manage. So, schools are now teaching their own virtual and in-class students simultaneously.

Since September, teachers have adapted to a complete re-organization of the school day twice, new technologies, new grading software, a new attendance system, and revolving online teaching platforms and meeting software.

It sometimes seems like teachers are learning more than the students.

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