Armstrong teachers share how COVID-19 has challenged and improved education

While the COVID-19 pandemic has affected every facet of life, it’s particularly changed education. At the first virtual panel of the school year featuring Armstrong Teacher Educator award winners, five of the teachers shared how they’ve adjusted their teaching, whether they’re teaching from home, in school or in a hybrid situation.

Cynthia Hairston teaches science at North Central High School in Indianapolis, where school is totally virtual, though that is scheduled to change in October. She is in the process of changing the setup of her classroom to facilitate social distancing and acknowledged that she’s blessed to mostly teach students that are self-driven. One of the many challenges she faces teaching virtually is the loss of one-on-one time with her students.

“We have so much content we have to go over that we don’t really have time for one on one. Talking with them as a group and spending more time, that’s where you get to that story, they’ll give you a little background,” she said. “I’ve told my students we really need to extend each other a lot of grace, and that goes both ways.”

The teachers that I’m around are doing amazing things, just wildly creative things to get students engaged, to keep them learning and addressing their emotional needs.

David Elian

Katie Pourcho, an elementary art teacher at North Elementary School in Danville, is teaching in person. She said she’s noticed her ability to remember her students’ names has been affected because they are all wearing masks. To compensate, she’s taken advantage of lunch time when students’ masks are off to talk to them and get to know them.

Heather Meunier, an AP English and Composition teacher at Avon High School in Avon, has gone from teaching in person to virtual to hybrid to in person again. Through all the changes, she’s focused on building relationships and asking her students how she can support them, knowing this is a challenging time for them, too.

Brandy Abel teaches first grade at Edgewood Primary School in Ellettsville and sees half her students two days a week and half the other two days, with one day in e-learning. For her, the smaller class sizes have been wonderful because she’s been able to focus on each student more, but it’s also meant she has to maximize her time since she only sees each student twice a week in person. 

David Elian teaches seventh grade social studies at Eastwood Middle School in Indianapolis. Building relationships with his students has been difficult. Now he starts each block by asking his students to share something about themselves or their families. Meeting virtually has meant teachers have to be more creative – and that’s something Elian says has improved teaching.

“The teachers that I’m around are doing amazing things, just wildly creative things to get students engaged, to keep them learning and addressing their emotional needs,” he said. “What I would hope is we don’t lose any of that. I would love to see schools figure out how do we take these and bring them into the physical space so we don’t lose these great moments of creativity.”

The Armstrong Teacher Educator Award recognizes educator excellence and provides financial support for top Indiana educators to work with current IU faculty and undergraduates in the classroom and early field experiences.

Since 1997, this award has been funded through the generosity of the Martha Lea and Bill Armstrong Fund and the Cook Group companies.