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Old Teachers, New Tricks: Alabama Educators on Going Digital

Since having to make the switch to remote learning in early 2020, veteran teachers now readily use digital platforms such as Google Classroom, myON, Padlet and Screencastify to enhance lessons and communications.

concept of e-learning technology, graphic of realistic computer notebook with book's pages as screen
(TNS) — Veteran teachers say the pandemic forced them to embrace technology, and they'll use it for communicating with parents, notifying students of assignments and creating visual aids as they return to the classroom this month.

Stephanie Roden, who is entering her 14th year in education as a gifted specialist at F.E. Burleson Elementary in Hartselle, said the COVID-19 pandemic played a vital role in getting older teachers acclimated with technology.

"Working with teachers who did not think they were very good at technology pre-COVID and then working with them post-COVID, they're actually very technology savvy now," Roden said.

When students went to remote or virtual learning beginning in 2020, all teachers had to utilize technology to prepare lessons online and lead classroom discussions through a computer screen. Now they readily use programs such as Google Classroom, an online learning platform, and Padlet, a virtual bulletin board where users can post texts, images, links, documents, videos and voice recordings.

Christy Bennich, a six-year reading coach at Crestline Elementary in Hartselle and a 27-year educator, says Padlet provides additional resources for helping children learn to read.

"I now have an online platform that parents can access," Bennich said. "Students' work (that) they need for reading, things parents can do at home, now they have an online platform they can go to."

Bennich said before the pandemic, she struggled with creating PowerPoint slides but after "being forced to" make several slides during the pandemic, she does it with ease now.

Roden, 40, said online learning platforms such as Google Suite and Screencastify were vital in reaching students last year.

"G Suite encompasses documents (and) slides, which is a presentation tool, among many other different avenues, and we have several teachers in our district who are Google certified," Roden said.

Screencastify is an online application by Google that allows individuals to record video from their devices to play back later and share and also has video-editing features.

"We can take a video of our screen and put our face with it so students could see our presentation and it makes it more like face-to-face learning even though it was virtual," Roden said. "It's something that many of us had never heard of before and we now use regularly to make sure that we have our lessons for any student that may need them if they were virtual or just to enhance their own lessons."

Karen Brown, a reading coach at Tanner Elementary who is entering her 36th year teaching in Tanner schools, said she also did not understand technology fluently before the pandemic.

"(Technology) has been the biggest challenge for me and that's sent many really good teachers out the door to retire," Brown said. "I've gotten better with technology. ... (The pandemic) forced us all to figure it out and get trained or whatever we needed to do."

Brown said she still uses myON, a student-centered, personalized digital library that gives students access to more than 7,000 enhanced digital books. She said if students have to go home, they will have an opportunity to still read books online that she assigns them.

Brown also said using Apple technology was challenging and said she was "forced" to learn how to work on a MacBook laptop.

"Now, I love it," Brown said of her laptop.


Longtime teachers say they look forward to starting the school year without pandemic restrictions on in-person instruction and want to get to know their students.

Pam Brannon enters her 24th year in education having taught only at Benjamin Davis Elementary and Leon Sheffield Elementary Magnet School. She taught fifth grade at Leon Sheffield during the 2021-22 academic year and will begin a new role as the school's gifted specialist when Decatur students return to classes Wednesday.

Brannon, 54, grew up in Decatur and graduated from Austin High School. She received her teaching degrees from Athens State University and the University of Alabama. Brannon and her husband James have two adult children and they graduated from Decatur schools as well. She said teaching during the pandemic had its challenges, but she was able to get to know her students better by talking to them one-on-one instead of in groups.

"We all bonded from a difficult situation," Brannon said.

Although a seasoned educator, Brannon does not hesitate to learn new teaching methods from younger teachers entering the field.

"I'm always open to what brand new teachers bring to the table," Brannon said. "I am one to reinvent the wheel every year to keep things fresh and up to date."


Roden has been teaching for 14 years in Limestone County, Decatur, and now Hartselle City Schools. She grew up in Winston County and graduated from Athens State University. She has watched social media evolve into several different forms and said while social media has its negatives, it has helped her to become acquainted with other educators and learn new ideas.

"I know, as a teacher, there are so many communities on social media that I have joined that give me so many ideas and pour into me to help me be a better teacher," Roden said.

Roden has built a miniature roller coaster in the robotics classroom that her students in the gifted program will work with this year.

"We're going to learn how a roller coaster works and just become critical thinkers through that process," Roden said.

Bennich, 51, will begin her 27th year as an educator and said she and other Crestline teachers will have a better start to the school year. She plans to help students catch up on the valuable instruction time they've missed because of quarantining and having periods or remote instruction since March 2020.

"We still have a few gaps here and there, but we're in a much better position," Bennich said.

Brown, 59, said new teachers coming into the field must listen to their students and get to know them on a personal level in order to build and maintain relationships.

"They have to take the time to find out about each kid in their classrooms," Brown said. "You've got to find out their story. You've got to find out what's going on in their life and you've got to show them that you care about them because a lot of kids will do whatever you want them to do as long as they know you care about them."

©2022 The Decatur Daily (Decatur, Ala.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.