Augie Strauch, BSEd ’20, Secondary Social Studies
Vandergriff High School, Leander ISD
Eleventh Grade U.S. History
Sponsor, Active Minds Club
“This is your first year of teaching? I’m so sorry; I promise next year will be better.”
This was a sentiment I heard countless times over the course of this 2020-2021 school year. There was no shortage of coworkers, administrators, and friends who expressed their sympathies, while making assurances that this would only be a dark spot in my career as a teacher and that it would shortly be overshadowed by “the good times” when we returned to “normal.” Contrary to what seems to be the popular opinion, I didn’t find this year to be that bad at all, and I can honestly say I had a fantastic intro into teaching.
While my first year in the classroom didn’t go exactly as expected and about 90 percent of my students opted to stay virtual in our school’s hybrid model, I still found that my students were excited to participate in class and build connections with their teacher as they would any other year. I knew engagement and relationships were going to be the biggest hurdles this year, and I really felt like my time at Baylor helped prepare me to make the adjustments necessary to have a great year.
I knew that engagement was going to be the biggest challenge when designing my lessons because of students’ countless distractions at home this year. To keep students’ attention, I knew they needed to be a part of the lesson, not just an observer. Group assignments, gallery walks, and projects were able to stay relatively the same with some minor adjustments, but direct instruction posed the biggest challenge to me. The problem was making sure my students were engaged without being able to see or hear them. I ended up finding a collection of tools that allowed me to embed questions into my presentations that would prompt questions to the entire class while I was teaching.
I found incredible value in hearing from every student in the class simultaneously, and I was able to use those responses in real time to adjust the lesson to fit the needs of my students. The result was that lectures turned more into conversations, and not with just one or two eager students, but with the entire class. Being able to engage more students at once is one of the benefits of online learning that I definitely intend to implement in the future.
Building relationships with students was another interesting obstacle to maneuver this year, but overall I feel it worked out for the better. Similar to my success with student engagement, I felt like I was able to socially engage far more with my students this year. Instead of having one student maybe dominate the floor telling stories about their weekend, I was able to open up social questions to the entire class and hear from even my quietest of students.
Regardless of the circumstances and whether or not I could actually see my students in person, I still felt like I was able to make deep meaningful connections with a majority of them. Maybe it was a lack of traditional interaction, or maybe it’s just a difference in being a full-time teacher as opposed to a student intern, but I really felt like a lot of students were willing to open up about their lives this year and what was exciting or troubling them in and out of school. Coming out of this COVID year, I really do cherish the moments I was able to have with all my students.
I feel like part of the success I’ve had this year can definitely be attributed to Baylor SOE. Although I was never explicitly prepared to create an entirely virtual curriculum, I was taught what makes students successful in the classroom. That higher understanding of student needs allowed me to easily fill in the blanks to create an effective virtual environment amongst the chaos.