“All our professors said, ‘We’re going to figure this out together,’” said Patiño, who taught ninth-graders at Chelsea High School as part of her residency. “They always asked us, ‘How can we help?’ ‘What do you need to feel supported?’ I can’t imagine teaching without HTF. It’s been the most incredible mentoring experience I’ve had.”
The challenges of teaching during COVID were many. The lack of physical proximity and the ubiquitous black screens on Zoom (in many areas students were not required to turn on their cameras) made it harder to connect with students. There were times when Patiño felt “like a YouTuber,” as if she were performing a monologue all day long. Franco thought she was “teaching into the void,” and found her online task more challenging than any of her classes at Harvard.
There were some upsides too. Online teaching eased newbie teachers’ anxieties about standing in front of the classroom and rendered moot several classroom-management challenges, allowing the fellows to focus on content teaching and pedagogical practices. The fact that many of the teachers-in-training were computer-literate and already familiar with Zoom and other learning platforms also helped smooth the shift to online instruction, said Heller.
“The playing field was much more equalized,” said Heller. “Often when you enter into teaching, you feel so far behind every other adult in the building, but everyone had their world turned upside down.”
In March 2020, when school buildings closed, the program quickly moved its own classes online and begin preparing students for remote instruction. When fellows started teaching in the fall, the familiarity they had with several online learning applications from their coursework made them feel more prepared than most teachers, who had to move online almost overnight.
The main challenge was connecting with students, said the fellows, who had to be creative and resourceful. Patiño started holding office hours in the style of college professors, and invited her students to her office to do homework or simply hang out. Many showed up and began to open up and turn on their cameras.
A native of Colombia who grew up in the suburbs of Atlanta, Patiño bonded with her students, many of whom were Latinx, by talking about quinceañeras, the Latinx equivalent of a Sweet 16 celebration, and by speaking Spanish, her self-described “superpower,” which helped her build relationships with her students’ parents.
Franco — a Guatemala native who was raised in Dallas and was undocumented for 10 years — shared her personal story with her students hoping it would resonate with them. “When I was growing up, most of the kids were Latinxs or students of color, and most of the teachers were white,” said Franco. “It gives me hope that they’re able to see a teacher that looks like them and has gone through some similar life experiences.”