FAIRFIELD – Jake Engle is a native of Washington, Iowa, who is in his first year teaching at Fairfield High School, where he leads classes on U.S. history, American government and western civilization.
Never did Engle imagine that he’d spend his first year in the classroom enforcing a mask policy and wiping down desks and doorknobs to stop the spread of a virus. He didn’t expect to have to teach both in-person and online students at once.
“In our college classes, we were always prepping for plan A, B, C and maybe even D,” Engle said, “because we never know how things may go once a lesson starts. Teachers have always had to be flexible. In 2020, this is even more true.”
Unlike some first-year teachers whose student-teaching experiences were interrupted, Engle said he was lucky to complete his student teaching before the pandemic hit.
“I feel sorry for those student teachers, as it is such a fun experience that had to get cut short for them,” Engle said.
Engle said teaching in-person and online courses at once has presented some challenges.
He tries to think of ways of keeping the virtual students involved in class activities, which means creating discussions for them to join so they feel part of the classroom community. He said teachers must ensure that assignments are accessible for students in the classroom and for those learning from home.
“The biggest part is just making sure students know you are there to help them if they need anything,” Engle said.
At Fairfield High School, the students have assigned laptops, and the infrastructure for online learning was already in place. That said, it still takes work to form personal connections with all of the students, especially those who are fully online. Engle said it’s nice that the high school has gone to a block schedule where classes are long, because that allows Engle to spend more time getting to know his students.
When the weather has been nice, Engle has his in-person students go on walks around the block or around the track at Trojan Stadium.
“There have been a lot of changes, but our kids have been resilient,” Engle said. “That helps make things easier.”
– Andy Hallman
“Teachers have always had to be flexible. In 2020, this is even more true.”
Jake Engle, high school social studies teacher