May 14th, 2020

Teaching in the age of coronavirus: Week 7 — Reaching out

CoronavirusEducationOnline LearningSocial StudiesU.S.U.S. history
Photo credit: Maximillian Re-Sugiura


By Sari Beth Rosenberg

As I sit here in solo quarantine for nearly two months in my cozy New York City apartment, my students are one of my only lifelines.

I worry about my students every day. Especially the ones who have not uploaded homework in the past week. In the beginning of the week, I sent each one of those students an email just asking how they were doing. I did not even mention the missing homework in the message.

Meanwhile, in the Google Meet class on Monday, I ended our session by asking, “So, how’s everyone doing?”

Although one student said “peachy,” the general consensus was “meh.”

One student shared in the chat that he was really bummed out because he really wanted a pear and there were no pears at the store.

We all agreed that we were all craving our own version of an unrequited pear.

I record all our Google Meet sessions so that students who cannot attend in real time can watch later. Before I post them on Google Classroom, I often skim through the videos. It is a very strange experience to watch the grainy footage of myself alongside slides and documents trying to communicate with my students. At this point, on a good day, one or two students turn on their videos. The rest of the class responds to my questions in the chat feature. They are a collection of avatars and initials on my Google Meet screen.

At this point, on a good day, one or two students turn on their videos. The rest of the class responds to my questions in the chat feature. They are a collection of avatars and initials on my Google Meet screen.

So, when I watch the replay of class, it looks like I am talking to myself at times. In reality, it is me, like so many other teachers across America, reaching out to my students in a virtual school universe. I am just hoping that, even without showing their faces, they are still listening and realize how much we care.

At Week 7, we were in the heart of AP U.S. History review. Even though many of my students expressed quarantine fatigue and online learning burn-out, I was impressed by their dedication to the review.

If we were not in quarantine, we would have been getting together for after school review and convening on Saturday for APUSH review boot camps to prepare for exam day. Instead, all of this was transpiring on Google Meet.

Spring is always my favorite time of year. Even though students are stressed out about AP and Regents exams, it is a great bonding experience. I love showing up with donuts for my students the day of the test. Then it is such a great feeling when I see the pride in their eyes when they complete the exam and they realize that they can do hard things.

Image from @quotesbychristie

I was impressed by how many students took me up on my offer to get some one-on-one help with their essays. Of course, like everything else with teaching, it is always a lot more effective to tutor kids in person. However, students seemed satisfied with the feedback and assistance I provided them in our individual Google Meet sessions. We mostly went over their latest DBQ essays, and I gave them tips on how to improve.

Since I noticed that students were feeling overwhelmed by the workload, I decided to try out Kahoot for review towards the end of the week. It was a hit! After each question, I was able to get immediate data to see what content still needed to be reviewed. Even though the test is open notes and one essay, I figured it will not hurt to have students memorize as much content as possible. Plus, they needed some fun. Also, playing the Kahoot game with my students was another way to reach out and connect with them.

I also found another way to personalize my teaching while editing their essays. I downloaded a Google Chrome extension called Mote. It allows you to record your comments on a Google Document and also provides the transcript along with the audio.

I figured that it might add a human element to my feedback if students can both read my comments and edits while also hearing my voice.

One student told me that she hears my voice in her head now when she writes her practice essays, so maybe it is working. However, I cannot help but to think of this meme of Ms. Norbury (Tina Fey) in “Mean Girls” when I am continuously emailing, messaging and posting in our virtual classroom.

Highschool GIF - Find & Share on GIPHY

Perhaps thanks to all my “pushing,” responses from the MIA students began to trickle into my inbox towards the end of the week. The general consensus, just like in the Google Meet class chat, was that they were feeling “meh,” at best. Students shared that they were feeling thrown off and isolated from quarantine. It is hard for many of them to feel motivated.

I responded with words of encouragement, an expression of empathy and shared that I was also struggling in my own way with quarantine. This was the week that I decided that being a strong role model to my students also involves keeping it real with them.

I realized that I had to more clearly verbalize my own vulnerability with the current situation to better connect with struggling students.

Reaching out and forging connections with students in the remote learning format is challenging. You are unable to convey emotion through body language, especially if they are not showing up to the Google Meet classes. Therefore, I realized that I had to more clearly verbalize my own vulnerability with the current situation to better connect with struggling students. (To take a deep dive into vulnerability studies, Brene Brown is the expert. I highly recommend her TED Talk about “The Power of Vulnerability.” However, the footnotes version is this, from Brown herself: “Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.”)

So, this week I tapped into my vulnerability by simply sharing that I was also having a tough time with the quarantine and COVID-19 pandemic.

More than ever, it is important that all educators make an extra effort to model our humanity to our students. You do not need to overshare, you can simply say: “This is hard for me, too.” Those simple words go a long way right now.

Whether you are teaching in a classroom or a virtual one, reaching out to students always involves a combination of pep talks and real talk. It just looks a little different in the online learning model. However, it all comes from the same place of empathy, courage, love and a dedication to our students. When we reveal to our students that we care, it gives them the strength and confidence to push through this challenging experience.

Read more of Sari Beth Rosenberg’s “Teaching in the Age of Coronavirus” blog series here.

Sari Beth Rosenberg is an award-winning U.S. History teacher and writer. Her most recent media appearances include The Skimm’s Back To School series and Travel Channel’s “Mysteries at the Museum.” Last year, she wrote the #SheDidThat series for A&E Television Networks/Lifetime, daily women’s history posts and videos as well as numerous other publications. Sari helped write the new Global and U.S. History curriculum for the New York City Department of Education with a small team of educators. She also recently contributed to a forthcoming edition of the Hidden Voices curriculum. Sari is also a frequent curriculum consultant at New-York Historical Society, recently contributing as the Teacher Developer for the “Hudson Rising” (2019) exhibit. In March 2019 she was awarded the Paul Gagnon Prize by the National Council for History Education.  Sari has been teaching U.S. History at the High School for Environmental Studies, a public high school in NYC, for nearly 18 years. Find her on Twitter & Instagram @saribethrose, her teacher Instagram @sariteacheshistory and at


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