Cultural Classroom is an initiative aimed at providing opportunities for Southeast Missouri educators and increasing opportunities for cultural education in local classrooms. In light of the unprecedented circumstances surrounding COVID-19 and the changes associated with remote education, we wanted to highlight the experiences of a few local educators during this time.
Andy Tilmon is a social studies teacher at New Madrid County Central High School, and took part in Cenet’s pilot Cultural Classroom trip to the Dominican Republic last summer. We were able to catch up with him during this busy time to get some insight into his experience with teaching remotely.
How are staff and students currently handling remote education?
Many of our students do not have access to internet access, which puts them at a huge disadvantage during our time away from school. As a result, we are only providing our students with enrichment opportunities to promote continued learning. However, the most important thing has been ensuring that all of the students are okay. So many of our students rely on the school as a source of food. While education is important to us, the students cannot learn if they are hungry.
What do you consider the biggest obstacles with teaching remotely, and do you see any long-term effects?
The biggest obstacle for me has been the lack of one-on-one interaction with my students. My lessons are not live. I have been forced to record lessons, share video clips, readings, etc. to provide the appropriate information while diversifying the lessons like the classroom. This does not allow the students to ask questions or me to ask them questions to check for comprehension.
My biggest fear is that my students are missing valuable content that is crucial to their future education. With high school social studies, each year builds upon the last. I fear that by missing the entire last quarter of the year, my students will miss out on very foundational knowledge that they will need to be successful in the next course and as active citizens. As such, my students’ next social studies teacher will be forced to play catch up with them in the same way I will need to do with my incoming group of students.
Have you had any opportunities to develop international curriculum in your teaching during this time?
To be honest, right now I am in survival mode. I teach about the world in my classes, but right now I feel limited to just teaching the “need to know” content. This is certainly a trying time for my students and their families, so I do not want to overwhelm them. I’ve tried to keep things as straightforward as possible.
Has this situation changed any perspectives for you?
I think this experience has illustrated that in teaching you must be flexible and willing to try new things, even if that requires you to go beyond your comfort zone. However, most teachers are already doing this in the classroom on a daily basis. Sitting in front of a computer at home is just another example of how we must adjust our teaching strategies for the needs of our student population.
Are there important takeaways that we can glean from this experience as an exchange and travel community?
I tell my students all the time that we live in an interconnected world. This experience truly illustrates this. Covid-19 is not just a disease that has made people sick. It has disrupted global supply chains, exposed how much we are dependent upon certain industries and what our lives are like without many basic services. It has illustrated how many luxuries we enjoy in a more developed country that we often take for granted. There are literally dozens of ways in which this pandemic has highlighted our interconnectedness. Covid-19 is a good teaching moment and will be for years to come.
Any words of encouragement for discouraged travelers and/or students right now?
This too shall pass. History shows us that this is temporary.
What’s the first thing you’re excited to do once things get back to normal?
Seeing family and friends in person once again.
Thank you to Andy for taking the time to chat with us about the current state of education for students and teachers across the country. For more information regarding Cenet’s local programs, check out our website.