It’s not the way I would have enjoyed learning, but, hey, we didn’t have a pandemic when I was in first grade.

There was the threat of polio, and we’d have “duck and cover” drills when I was in elementary school, but that’s nothing like online learning, which I had the privilege of seeing recently.

But there was no mention of what Dick and Jane were up to; my early reading came from that series, which featured memorable (to me) lines like “See Dick run.” Nor does Enchanted Hills Elementary teacher Holly Silva’s virtual classroom have a chicken coop, which my first-grade classroom had – and was even featured in the Royal Oak Tribune! (I don’t know what we learned from that; being that the chickens were in a cage, we couldn’t determine why they crossed the road.)

I found a copy of McGuffey’s First Eclectic Reader,” from the late 1800s, in which teachers were provided advice to impart to their students. (My copy included a copyright date, for a later printing, of 1920; the book’s in great condition for being a century old.)

Here’s Lesson 1: “The dog. The dog ran.” That’s it. As a cat guy, I was disappointed, until I looked at Lesson 2: “The cat. The mat.

“Is the cat on the mat?

“The cat is on the mat.” (Are you keeping up with this? Maybe this predated the invention of the litter box.)

It gets harder as you go along, with one lesson in cursive (you old-timers will remember that format), and an actual story for Lesson 59. New words for each lesson appear before the actual paragraph(s) to be read.

At any rate, I think I would have progressed well in McGuffey’s reader; I don’t think I would have been a good online learner.

Enchanted Hills Elementary first-grade teacher Holly Silva.

So I don’t think Enchanted Hills Elementary first-grade teacher Holly Silva would have enlightened me, as she enlightens her new students via their Chromebooks. I was given an opportunity to watch a recent lesson online.

She had 18 students in the session I observed, working hard to get her kids to learn how to spell “cat” and “bug,” which she managed to turn into a three-syllable word: “Buh-uh-ug.”

Duly impressed with her patience and how well those kids responded, I came up with a few questions for Silva, who grew up in Las Cruces:

When did you decide to be a teacher? I knew that I wanted to be an elementary teacher after participating in a high school program called Youth Tutoring Youth. I spent one class period every school day my senior year of high school at an elementary school in Doña Ana helping classroom teachers run either a small group or assist in one-on-one tutoring with students that needed additional support in reading and math. I enjoyed the tutoring program so much I knew that I wanted to pursue a career in teaching.

What do you like best about first-graders? My favorite thing about first-graders is their excitement for learning. They have such a great attitude and willingness to learn new things.

Are there advantages to teaching online that aren’t possible in-person? One advantage to online teaching is the close parent contact I have with parents right now. I am in touch with parents daily helping them navigate the virtual learning platform. The younger students need a higher level of support to help complete their learning tasks, so I provide real-time feedback and support for the families.

What are the drawbacks to online teaching? The hardest drawbacks to online teaching are that I really miss the personal contact and interactions with students in the classroom. I miss seeing students’ faces and getting the opportunity to hear the random funny things they share and watching them learn together in a shared physical space.

Did you need a lot of time to prepare to teach in this “new normal”? The prep time is considerable and definitely more hours go into preparing online lessons than direct instruction lessons at a school. Every piece of content delivered to students needs to be recorded, uploaded, synced from other digital platforms and reviewed after completion. And often in a digital world sometimes links do not work or variable internet speeds make things harder or things just simply take longer to put in digital format. I work with my grade-level team to prepare the content that is delivered to students over the course of the week to help lessen the load and share resources.

Where are you teaching from? I teach exclusively from my home and I have only gone to the school to pick up teaching materials and help with Chromebook distribution from my class.

Will you feel safe and secure when your students return to the classroom? I will feel safe and secure to return to the classroom when the time is right.

This is one reason why Rio Ranchoans can be proud of what their school district has accomplished, especially in this “new normal,” with teachers like Silva.

“I have worked with her across two school sites over a few years and she is an exceptional teacher,” lauded Enchanted Hills Elementary Principal Jennifer Bartley. “We specifically selected Holly to serve in the virtual role because she is such a strong instructional leader who has great skill in building and developing relationships with students.

“Like so many of our RRPS teachers, she is enthusiastic and brings great energy to daily learning and activities.”

I can’t recall any of my elementary teachers having much enthusiasm and energy; they seemed more like Ben Stein in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” (“Bueller…. Bueller … Fry.”)

 

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