Turning Trepidation into Jubilation: One Teacher's Tech Story
My name is Susan Cutler, and I run a school out of my home in Wilton, Connecticut for unaffiliated families. The school has about 50 students, although we don't have an official name. I teach group classes by age, prepare Bar and Bat Mitzvah students, and officiate at their services.
Being "technologically challenged," my first reaction to a new computer skill is dread and fear. Knowing we would have to switch to remote learning because of the pandemic, I was afraid that I wouldn't be able to master the basic skills of holding class on Zoom. I was also concerned that I wouldn't be able teach effectively without the ability to do the fun, hands-on and interactive activities that have enriched my teaching for decades.
This summer, to prepare for online teaching I attended the NewCAJE classes and the Behrman House webinars. They were helpful, but, when baffled, like the simple child in the Haggadah, I often didn't have enough background to ask the necessary questions. I was often in tears.
I reached out to my adult children for their patient assistance, but it was really quiet, solitary trial and error followed by repetition that led me from trepidation to jubilation as I mastered the digital turn-page materials. Woohoo!! I am a technologically challenged, very hands on veteran (read: old) teacher who just successfully used the turn-page versions on Shalom Alef Bet and Israel, It's Complicated.
Thankfully, I was already familiar with the material, so once I learned the tech piece, everything else quickly fell into place.
Here's how the teaching experience has been for me this new school year: All the classes are now taught on Zoom. When students are receptive and enthusiastically participate, the class unfolds almost as well in a live classroom. When the group is quiet, and questions are met with smiles or blank stares, it's much more difficult to draw them out onscreen.
I am finding that varying Hebrew levels remain a challenge - I'm thinking of meeting with beginners for ten minutes before class, covering the other subjects together with everyone, and then meeting with the more advanced readers for an additional ten minutes.
What I'm finding this year, more than ever, is that students need connection as well as content. Our dedication and support as educators count much more than your technical expertise. My advice to other tech-hesitant educators is to be honest about your learning curve, role model for students the confidence to develop new skills, and ask them for assistance when you need it - they are a great resource. Stay calm, and keep your sense of humor.
I'm so grateful for the hard work, innovation, and support to enable Jewish education to flourish throughout the years and especially now. If I can do this, so can you.
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