Six Rutherford educators contribute to PBS television distance learning project during COVID-19 shutdown

Making adjustments in the classroom is a major part of being an educator.

Every day teachers adjust lesson plans based on students understanding and eventual mastery of the subject being taught.

In the face of the COVID-19 school closures, educators nationwide have been forced to make some of the most difficult and unimaginable adjustments of their careers.

In Tennessee, the Department of Education recently partnered with PBS stations across the state to offer 1st–8th grade students up to 30 hours of standard-aligned instructional lessons per week, according to a release from the TDOE.

Six educators from Rutherford County Schools were selected to lead the entire programming for the middle school lessons.

“They contacted us and said they wanted some of our most effective teachers,” said Dr. Jimmy Sullivan, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum & Instruction.

He consulted the district’s specialists and coordinators in making those selections.

Meghan Gilley, Jessica Alley and William “Kane” Ayers were chosen to host English language arts lessons for sixth, seventh and eighth grades respectively, while Reginald Carruth, Kayla Anderson and Candace Thompson are leading the math lessons.

“We could have chosen dozens,” Sullivan added, “and they only wanted our help with middle school.”

“When Dr. Sullivan reached out to me about participating in recording lessons — not just for my students or even simply students in Rutherford County Schools, but for the entire state of Tennessee — I was so incredibly excited,” said Alley, a seventh grade ELA instructor at Christiana Middle.

Thompson added, “That’s a true testament of what being an educator is and I also think it’s a testament of just how forward thinking this school system is.”

The 30-minute segments for first through sixth grades began airing weekdays between 10 a.m. and noon CT on each of the six PBR stations across the state. The seventh- and eighth-grade sessions will begin airing April 13.

A complete schedule is available HERE.

“When they told me it would just be in front of a video camera and that, of course, there would be no students, I thought this has the potential to be a little bit awkward,” Thompson said, “but I knew we’d get it worked out and we did. It’s been great.”

The ELA lessons, which are rich in text and literature, presented challenges unique from the math lessons. After “brainstorming” as a group, Gilley, Alley and Ayers decided to focus the camera on themselves with the materials projected on a screen behind them, but the text was difficult to read.

In their second attempt, they focused the camera on the text and each instructor talked off-camera.

“We were like, ‘Gosh, that’s not personal at all,” Alley explained. “They’re just hearing some voice and that’s not teaching and that’s not what we want.”

The third attempt worked like a charm.

They broke each lesson down into a series of pages in a PowerPoint presentation, which also allowed them to upload the applicable video segment of the lecture to each individual page along with any other elements.

Though it is an adjustment from being in a classroom, students have related the visual of the PowerPoint to that of Skype and Facetime — a pair of social media platforms students and parents are accustomed to using already.

“The main thing on the screen is the text,” Alley explained, “but then I’m still there in the bottom corner. I’m interacting.”

“We’re constantly making adjustments,” said Thompson, who has relied on her experience in the classroom in an effort to anticipate potential areas of trouble for students, “and we’re trying to figure out what works best for our children. This is just another opportunity to do that.”

It is certainly a unique situation that has taken some getting used to for everyone involved.

“I don’t think there will ever be anything that takes the place of what in-person interaction that you have with the teacher,” said Thompson, who ultimately loves seeing Rutherford County Schools featured across the state. “However, I do think, in the future, we will see more online platforms so I’m excited this opportunity kind of gives me a chance to work with that and see how I would do in that situation.”

Sullivan concluded, “The academic excellence in Rutherford County should be a sense of pride for all of our citizens.”

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