What's the Plus?
Published in

What's the Plus?

by Kathy Pierre

For Coral Zayas, the COVID-19 pandemic became an opportunity to spring into action.

Over the past three years, Zayas, a bilingual teacher in Austin, Texas, and a Teach Plus Texas Policy Fellowship alumna and current Ready to Lead Fellow, has had to scramble because she’s had several teaching assignments.

“What I’ve always gotten really good at is how to integrate technology because that’s the only way you can teach that many subjects in a day with as many kids as you have: by combining it with technology.”

Zayas’ students are all at different levels for the material and for the language they’re most able to learn the material in, she said. Because of that, she teaches one group in English while the Spanish-speaking group works on something on the computer and vice versa.

That has prepared her for this moment.

“It really feels like I finally get to use my best skill set,” she said. “So what’s very overwhelming for a lot of teachers right now; I finally feel like I’m in my wheelhouse like I’m actually getting to use what I’m really solid at and what I’m really good at.”

Zayas has been incorporating technology into her classrooms for her entire decade-long teaching career. Outside of technology-centered professional development opportunities through her district, she’s also taken advantage of courses from companies like Google, Apple, and Microsoft and earned certifications from them.

She is working on a master’s degree in learning design and technology.

A Teach Plus Texas Policy Fellow, Zayas believes Teach Plus helped her with working remotely and pressure testing the tools that would help her collaborate efficiently from a distance.

More importantly, she feels her fellowship taught her that her voice matters.

“I think that’s the biggest thing I can take away from Teach Plus is that they really helped us feel like your voice matters,” Zayas said. “Things like, ‘You need to speak up and say what’s going on because you have first-hand experience. You’re the one in the classroom.’ And now we’re the ones in the virtual classroom.”

“I definitely think all those things really, really helped and made it easier to navigate the system that we’re working in right now.”

Curating resources

Although Zayas finally “feels useful,” to a large extent, her students aren’t able to reap the benefits of how technologically savvy she is.

“It’s a really hard spot to be in because I feel that I can help other students more than I can help my own,” she said. “I only have four kids with a computer at home, so here we are switching to online learning and I’m like, but my kids don’t even have a computer at home.”

Zayas said although she’s known her students didn’t have computers at home, her district recently required her to document that. She believes they are working on a solution to get students what they need.

From the time Zayas learned teaching would transition to online, she started tapping into things that could help her fellow teachers.

One of the first things Zayas did was build a website where she sifts through the resources being recommended to teachers and finds the “best of the best” — as long as they’re free. The website also includes a section of resources for parents. Her goal is to eventually have the website translated into Spanish, so it can be useful to Spanish-speaking parents, too.

She’s also found several new Facebook groups with thousands of teachers that have been helpful.

“The amount of information that’s being shared there is a lot, so it was really overwhelming for a lot of teachers,” she said. “And now I actually get to help other teachers do it so while they’re stressing out, I’m feeling a lot calmer.”

Her school officially began remote instruction April 6, but Zayas isn’t completely sure what that will look like for teachers or students yet. But she plans to continue updating her website and finding resources for parents and teachers alike as much as she can.

“This actually gives us a chance to be really creative with what we do with the kids as we continue,” Zayas said. “For me, that’s what it should be about. It shouldn’t be about teaching to a test, so I just really encourage other teachers to take this time as not an overwhelming challenge but a way to try something new with your kids.”

Coral’s website: https://coralzayas2012.wixsite.com/innovatingtogether

Facebook Groups Coral recommends:

  • Educator Temporary School Closure Group for Online Learning
  • Amazing Educational Resources
  • Teaching During Covid-19
  • Dual Language Online Learning

Twitter hashtags Coral has found useful:

  • #remotelearning
  • #distancelearning
  • #covid19edu
  • #familyedtech
  • #remotelearningeduresources

Kathy Pierre is Senior National Coordinator of Communications and Media at Teach Plus.

Coral Zayas teaches 5th grade bilingual at TA Brown Elementary in Austin IS. She is a 2020–2021 Teach Plus Ready to Lead Fellow and a 2018–2019 Texas Policy Fellow.

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