Virtual Teacher Spotlight: Amy Maher

Let’s be honest, now more than ever do we truly miss and appreciate our teachers. It’s been 10 weeks since students have been in physical classrooms. 10 weeks of parents navigating schoolwork with their kids. And, 10 weeks wondering what the remainder of the school year holds and what the next school year is going to even look like.

Teachers are essential, especially during this time. Like healthcare workers, the pandemic has impacted their profession, their lives, and the lives of their students drastically. To better understand how much things have changed within school systems, I’ve decided to spotlight a few teachers I know.

So, the first teacher of this spotlight series is 9th grade teacher, Amy Maher from Valley Central High School. She also happens to be my sister-in-law and amazing mother of four awesome kids (how she juggles everything, I’m still not sure). Her husband Dennis, my brother-in-law, is also an English teacher at the West Street Academy in the Newburgh Enlarged City School District.

What are the positives of online teaching (if any)? What are the negatives?

As a math teacher, I don’t feel there are many positives to teaching online. But, if I had to pick one it would be that students and teachers are being forced to see what technology can be used to support education (not replace it). 

For Dennis, he is finding that students who initially struggled, at the beginning of this are figuring things out. The positive to this is a new skill that could develop confidence and can be life changing; maybe even empowering. 

As for the negatives, my pace of teaching has been much slower, what I can cover in one class period is now taking me a week. I have lost that “in the moment” feedback that is so crucial when students are problem solving, and have lost the personal touch that each student needs to help them learn something.

For Dennis, many of the high school kids he teaches come from difficult home situations. Some work to help support the family, and some have had family members die due to COVID. One of his students had her house burn down in the first week they were in quarantine. Just this past week we learned that one of his freshman students lost two relatives in the span of two weeks. Education takes a backseat in those situations naturally.

Then there are the students who view this as an extended summer vacation. Reality has not hit home that they REALLY have to take ownership of their education. His school has a population of students that also just struggle socially and emotionally. The absence of their regular routine is devastating to any progress they may have been making.

How many children do you have and what are their ages and grades?

We have four kids: Sean (11) is in 5th grade, Genevieve (9) is in 3rd grade, Audrey (7) is in 2nd grade, and Evangeline (5) is in Pre-k. 

How do you balance teaching your students and teaching your kids? 

This has to be one of the hardest parts of online teaching and children learning at home. Thankfully my district has not been demanding of my presence online.

I post on Mondays and Wednesdays, and get the grades back to the kids when it fits in my schedule. I have also scheduled google hangouts for questions once a week when the time is best for me. Because of this flexibility, I am able to devote most of my day to helping my children. Dennis, on the other hand, has to be available and online the entire day for his students, making his flexibility limited.

All of our kids have to complete assignments in library, PE, music and art. Our 5th grader, Sean, is great about getting up in the morning, logging into google classroom, and completing his assignments. I have to guide our 2nd grader, Audrey, to check things and help her when she needs help. Our 3rd grader, Genevieve, has special needs and needs me every step of the way. I have to check the google classroom, sit with her during google hangouts, and do a majority of the tech work for her to complete an assignment. She also receives special services (Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech), who give suggested assignments to help her continue towards meeting her yearly goal. Then there is our pre-schooler, Evangeline, who we have been providing our own phonics and reading lessons. We use the daily situations around us to keep her learning going as well.

What do you think the environment is going to look like once students and teachers can return to the classroom? Have your schools discussed this at all?

At this time, our school district has not given any information about what things will look like in the fall. My hopes are that we go back to normal. Some ideas that I was thinking they may present are alternate days for students.  This would be hard for us financially, because it would require us to pay someone for full day child care when we have to be present in the building and the children are home. 

Finally, what advice do you have for other teachers and parents to help them get through the remainder of the school year?

Remember that you are not meant to be your child’s teacher. You are there to guide them to be emotionally well.  Teachers are already working on filling in those gaps that you are afraid that your child may have. Read to your child everyday, observe the world around you and enjoy your time with them.

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