Teaching through Disruption: Struggles and Strategies (Part 1)

As the novel coronavirus has swept across the world, teachers have found their schools suddenly disrupted and their students gone from their classrooms.

Best Practices April 23, 2020

As the novel coronavirus has swept across the world, teachers in the United States, like many teachers elsewhere, have found their schools suddenly disrupted and their students gone from their classrooms. As they adjust to this transition, I talked with a number of high school teachers to see what struggles they are facing and what tips they could share for other teachers working through these changes.


It is to the credit of our teachers that the concern that came up most often was staying connected with students. Teachers were concerned about recognizing when students are struggling, being able to easily help students, and convincing students to carve out time for classes and relationship, but they were also concerned about a decline in their personal connection with students. Carol Bovee, who teaches English and Career Education at Sierra View Junior Academy, explained it well: “As a teacher, the joy of teaching comes with connections with students and to be an effective teacher, we monitor students’ responses, attitudes and progress – all of that is harder and not quite as joyful from a computer screen.”

The teachers were also concerned about students:

  • Having problems accessing and using different platforms and programs.
  • Having limited or no internet access.
  • Facing difficult family situations.
  • Needing to share devices with siblings or parents working from home or both.

Teachers also had concerns about balancing their workload and adjusting classes to online formats. Several teachers noted having an increased workload because they needed to create lessons online, because they did not have student graders, and because interacting with students can be more time consuming online. Pam Fenton, who teaches science and health at Dakota Adventist Academy, pointed out that testing online can be tricky because of the need to modify tests to work with online testing formats and because of grading and cheating concerns. In some cases, modifying aspects of the class to fit an online format is not realistic. For example, David Nino, music and Spanish teacher at Highland View Academy, noted that it’s not realistic for him to try to replicate the performance aspect of his chorale classes, so he has decided to focus on other areas for now.

Tips for Transitioning

Despite their concerns, the teachers had many helpful tips to share. Several teachers suggested keeping things simple to start with. David Nino pointed out that a longer learning curve is normal and suggested being patient and starting simple if you are not technology-inclined. Carol Bovee echoed that sentiment, saying, “Give yourself, and your students, grace, as we learn distance learning.” Similarly, Martin Surridge, who teaches English, AP Literature, and AP Art History at Lodi Adventist Academy, advised keeping tasks small, efficient, and meaningful, saying “You won’t be able to cover everything the same way. Some projects will have to be abandoned and some new ones will have to take their place. Be creative and have fun.” As you might expect, balance is needed here. As Bryce Sampsel, math and science teacher at Auburn Adventist Academy, points out, “some teachers completely change what they are doing without taking into account the increased amount of time the new type of assignments will take,” which can cause students to become overwhelmed.

They also had some specific suggestions for making the transition easier. Pam Fenton suggested only making current assignments available online so that students do not skip ahead and do assignments covering content you haven’t taught yet. In addition to suggesting setting a regular schedule for yourself, Bryce Sampel suggested against collecting everything in your email box, as that can add up quickly and things can get lost. It might help to have a separate email or online folder for students to use to submit assignments so that you can find assignments easily. Google Forms can also be used as a place for students to submit files.

Finally, Randy Bovee, principal and teacher at Armona Academy, noted that it is a good idea to discuss with others who are in the same boat, sharing ideas about the transition together. Personal conversations work well for this, but Facebook groups and Twitter can be good places to share ideas as well.

What tips have you personally found useful for changing your teaching during school disruptions?

This is Part 1 in a three-part series about adjusting to educational disruptions. Part 2 will discuss techniques and tools for keeping students engaged with classroom content and with their classmates, and Part 3 will look at general and subject-specific resources for transitioning to online learning in the high school classroom.


Keri Conwell graduated from Walla Walla University with Bachelor's degrees in English and Psychology and an MAT degree in Secondary Teaching. She is currently serving as a project manager for CIRCLE and has served as a high school English teacher at Mount Vernon Academy and a K-10 Physical Education teacher at Ukiah Junior Academy, USA.

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