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5-in-5: Q&A with Teachers Tracy and Maren Kelly

Most episodes of Future of School: The Podcast feature a “5-in-5” rapid-fire interview with an innovative teacher―five minutes, five questions, five perspectives direct from a practitioner. The podcast prioritizes hearing from every voice in education, from the association and district leaders driving purchasing and policy, to the teachers delivering instruction in the online or physical classroom, to the students and parents who have experienced the benefits of having meaningful choice in education.

The latest episode of Future of School: The Podcast features a “5-in-5” interview with Tracy and Maren Kelly. Tracy is a special education teacher of ten-plus years who taught high school and higher ed and who is finishing his dissertation. Maren, who also happens to be Tracy’s wife, is a middle school special education teacher.

Our 5-in-5 interview series highlights teachers’ perspectives on the future of school. Read below for an edited recap of the conversation between Tracy, Maren, and Amy Valentine, Future of School CEO and Education Evangelist, or listen to the full episode above to hear from Tracy and Maren, as well as Stuart Udell, CEO of Achieve3000, and student Glen Stahl.

Amy Valentine: Talk to us about the first experience that opened your eyes to the potential of blended and online learning.

Tracy Kelly: I think the first one for me was at the university level when teaching general education preparation for teachers, strictly online. It was all virtual. I think that’s how I got started in virtual. The year after, I went full time at the university, and I was doing hybrid. I was doing virtual and some face-to-face for four or five years. I became certified to teach strictly online and hybrid through Quality Matters. Now, look where we’re at, teaching everybody virtually.

Maren Kelly: My answer is entirely different. I would have to say that March 13 of 2020 was my last full day in the classroom, and the next week, they mentioned, “By the way, you’re going to be teaching virtually.” Since that time, I have been teaching completely online, which is new to me.

Amy: Maren, from your perspective, with your short amount of time doing online instruction and remote learning, what is one thing that you think people either inside or outside of education misunderstand when it comes to learning online?

Maren: That it’s easy. I know that many of my parents and other parents think it’s automatically a lot easier to teach online because we’re not in the classroom. But what they don’t understand is the whole behind-the-scenes aspect.

There are probably five different platforms that I’ve had to learn in a short amount of time to try and reach my students to the best of my ability and their ability. Luckily, my parents have been extremely understanding and helped with everything.

Within teaching, though, I’m not sure that there have been many misconceptions because we’re all struggling, trying to learn, and just trying to figure it out. As I’ve said, I think the biggest misconception is that it should be easy and seamless. It’s not.

Amy: Tracy, what about from your perspective? What is one of the biggest misunderstandings when it comes to the discussion of online learning?

Tracy: The research will show ─ and I know, especially in our house ─ that we are making ourselves available more hours of the day for students and families. Even our administrators are available because there’s a synchronous and asynchronous combination and we’re all over the board. Is it easier? It’s different. Is it less time? No. It’s more time, and it’s a juggle. It’s a bigger juggle than face-to-face. I think that’s the biggest misunderstanding.

Amy: What’s one strategy that you think every educator should use in their instruction?

Tracy: My mindset took me to patience. I don’t have a lot of it. I think that’s why I joke so much because what we do is stressful. Building a relationship in virtual is even more critical because we’re making that relationship not just with a student (regardless of that student’s level or grade level), but they’ve also invited us into their homes. Now we’re building that relationship with the family and the dog. We’ve had rabbits. We’ve had hamsters. We have to build that relationship so that families feel comfortable enough to let us into their homes and their daily lives. I think that’s what’s most important at this point.

Maren: That’s funny because I keep joking that if I were a brand new teacher ─ this is my 15th year teaching ─  I probably would have quit by now.

It’s time management just because there’s so much going on. We are a household of two educators, and we have a fifth grader and a third grader at home that we’re also trying to teach and manage, not to mention that he’s going to school and IR