Teach Plus California Policy Fellow Jesus Galindo teaches 3rd-grade dual-language immersion in Richmond, California. Jesus is in his eighth year of teaching and has been teaching third grade for the past six years. Jesus’ school has been learning virtually since March 2020, but because of his relationships with the other bilingual teachers on campus, he’d already met most of his students in person. That rapport has been invaluable over the past year and a half.
A Day of COVID Teaching
In his classroom, Jesus has always prioritized social emotional development, but he says the virtual learning process has made it even more important. A few times each day, he opens the floor for his students to share their thoughts and feelings.
“The kids are hungry for connecting and sharing what they’re going through, so our sharing time is the most humanizing part of the day,” he says. “And I always take the opportunity to make myself vulnerable and tell them what’s going on in my life. For example, the other day, I told them about how I was feeling a little sad that I wasn’t able to go visit my tia in Watsonville.”
The school has been operating on a shortened schedule of 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. in order to help mitigate some of the fatigue of students looking at a computer screen for extended periods of time.
“Given where we live, close to Silicon Valley, we’re aware that all these different devices do shape our minds, and sometimes that can be in a negative way,” Jesus says. “We want to make sure that we’re being really thoughtful about how much time students spend in front of a screen.”
Jesus teaches from his classroom because it’s where he’s most comfortable and where he’s most able to minimize the distractions of construction at home, the family dog barking, and sharing an internet connection with his other family members who are working from home.
“It’s almost like I’m on autopilot [at school] — I know what to do, where everything is, and how to work everything even if I am teaching in a virtual format,” he explains. “My thing is really, how do I set my students up for success, not just right now but for the rest of their lives? And I think a big part of that is my ability to deliver good quality instruction and build a strong classroom culture. I want to be somewhere where there are no constant distractions, and my classroom is that space.”
Access to technology has not been a point of contention for Jesus’ students. Several years ago, West Contra Costa Unified School District adopted a one-to-one technology program. However, having parental support for the students as they use their technology has been a bigger challenge.
“A lot of parents are unfamiliar with how to use technology, so there are some problems, logging in or verification issues that sometimes the students cannot fix by themselves.”
Jesus estimates only about 20 percent of his students have access to a parent throughout the day.
“From the very beginning, I could tell who had access to a parent and who didn’t and the students who had the most difficulty with conductivity issues or logging in were usually those students who were by themselves.”
One of the major challenges Jesus faces is having his students engage consistently across subject areas.
“I think there’s an intrinsic motivation that’s easier to develop in person,” he says. “We have a small number of students who are showing up and participating, but we have a huge chunk of students who are showing up, but they’re not actually doing work. I think having a growth mindset plays a big role in that.”
Jesus has noticed that when students get work they deem difficult, they’ll often go to a coping mechanism of doing something comfortable on the computer like playing a game or watching videos.
“The more rote it is, the easier it is, but the more conceptual content is definitely easier to teach in the classroom. For example, when I was teaching my lesson on fractions, in the classroom setting, I would have manipulatives and the students would be able to have a discussion. The same thing is difficult to pull off in the virtual environment.”
From COVID Solutions to Systemic Changes
One of Jesus’ biggest hopes for when schools return to in-person instruction is that they will prioritize parental involvement and relationships.
“In the same way that we have metrics to measure academic proficiency, we should have a way to measure parent engagement and the relationship that we have with them,” he says. “At least for me, it feels like I can predict success based on how strong of a relationship you have with that parent or how strong of a relationship the school has with a parent.”
For Jesus, this is also an opportunity for schools to change systems on a larger scale.
“My hope is that when we’re back, we’re not just talking about safety, but we’re talking about how to change things that didn’t necessarily work in the past: large classroom sizes, school being about mastering academic concepts but not allocating time for teachers to develop strong relationships with their students and social emotional lessons that are purposely integrated throughout the day.”
This experience has reminded Jesus why he is so committed to advocating for his students and their families.
“I want to be more unapologetic about being an advocate and letting my voice be heard,” he says. “That’s part of why I’m in Teach Plus. I love instruction, I love helping kids read and helping them be successful, and I really love when I get to create a counter narrative for kids. But I realize now that if I really want all of our kids — especially our kids of color — to succeed, I need to have the courage to be more vocal about what we’re doing as a community, and look for people who are going to help me change that.”
Kathy Pierre is Senior National Coordinator of Communications and Media at Teach Plus.