School days: Former Dallas-area teacher launches a virtual classroom for marooned students – The Dallas Morning News
The smiling face of Lisa Van Gemert filled the screen, all cheery and welcoming like it was the first day of school.
And in a way it was.
“And, I’m live. Here we go. It’s very exciting,” she said, greeting the class on Monday.
“I’ve never done anything like this.”
A little background.
With schools closing here and around the country in order to slow the spread of the coronavirus, Van Gemert, a former high school teacher in Arlington, woke up Saturday morning and started thinking about all the teachers she knew, and all her former students who now have school-age kids and thought: “I wonder what I could do to help.”
That thought was followed by another: “I wonder if I could teach a class online.”
A quick search showed lots of options and resources for elementary-age kids, but not as many targeting secondary students. So that’s where she put her focus — to come up with material suitable for students in grades seven through 12.
Over the weekend she crammed the basics of YouTube, learning how to stream live and share slides. She put together a syllabus for a two-week English class, focused on short stories, to stream live online at noon Central time on weekdays.
She posted a flyer on her Facebook page, complete with links to the stories.
“And it went wild,” she said.
Over 120,000 people saw the flyer even before the first class. “It’s been incredibly awesome and amazing and humbling,” Van Gemert said.
Teachers are nothing if not resourceful. So it’s not a surprise to see some quickly adapt to the new circumstances caused by the sudden closing of schools due to the coronavirus.
That includes Van Gemert, a former teacher at Arlington’s Lamar High School who now trains teachers as a consultant and author.
Van Gemert launched her first class on her YouTube channel Monday with a smile and easy-to-remember handle.
“I’m Mrs. Van," she said. "I’m your friendly neighborhood English teacher, and I want to thank you for joining me.”
Off to the side of the screen, in the chat forum, someone named Jujimon wrote: “Hello thank you for this class.”
And then another student, Nathanael, asked: “Do y’all know how long this thing will last?”
She sat at a desk in an office of her north Arlington home, with natural light streaming in from a window next to her, and used slides to supplement her discussion. She seemed perfectly at ease, like she’d been doing it for years.
“It went really well,” she said later.
About 500 students tuned in live and another 500 watched the video later. Those watching included student teachers in college, who are required to observe teachers in elementary or secondary school class, “but they can’t because schools have shut down,” Van Gemert said.
“Student teachers are watching,” she said. “They’re observing us.”
She even noticed there was a teacher who asked her own students to take the class, Van Gemert said. “That was really cool and very helpful.”
Since that first class, she’s received emails from parents who sent pictures of their kids watching.
“And I got tons of writing samples from the students,” she said.
The class doesn’t just help the kids but also their families “who are looking for structure for their kids,” she said. “They know we’re going to do this at this time.”
Tuesday’s class featured the short story classic, The Necklace, by Guy de Maupassant. While Van Gemert talked, a live chat ran along on the right side of the screen. One young student said, “I think it is interesting to reflect on times our vanity has made our life so much more difficult. I feel like we are all like the main character (just not so extreme).”
In case the comments are inappropriate — these are teenagers, after all — Van Gemert’s husband steps in and puts the students in YouTube time out.
What’s YouTube time out? Good question. Turns out, the host can make it so a participant can’t post messages on the live chat for five minutes and will get a response notifying them them if they try.
Van Gemert’s husband, Steven, a software developer, turned out to be the perfect teacher’s aide for an online class. Working from home for two weeks, he monitors the chat and makes sure there are no technical glitches during the one-hour lesson.
At one point in the class, she talks about different types of irony. For example, she says, if you “ditch” school and your mother finds out, she could ask you “How was school today?”
That is “Socratic irony,” Van Gemert explained.
“Well, nobody can skip school right now,” she added, smiling. “So I guess that’s its own dramatic irony.”
Along with a seven-year stint of teaching at Lamar, Van Gemert was also an assistant principal at Martin High School in Arlington. She later worked as a youth and education ambassador for Mensa, an organization of people with high IQs, whose American headquarters is located in Arlington. In recent years, she’s consulted in the field of professional development for teachers.
She plans to re-assess the class after two weeks. She might keep going “if there’s a need,” she said.
But for now, she seems back in her element, a teacher in front of a class.
And in a world turned upside down, it suddenly felt nice to settle into something familiar.
My Lesson Planning
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March 19, 2020 at 04:33AM