Student Story: Teachers Overcome Challenges Of Balancing Virtual Lessons And Real Home Life

By: Thomas E. Edmund, Jr.Gateway Regional High School

WOODBURY HEIGHTS N.J. — The teachers and staff of Gateway Regional High School have been adjusting to life at home while still providing for their students. While students are staying at home during this time, their teachers are still present to offer opportunities to foster growth even though they are miles apart. Being quarantined has proven its many challenges; but the ultimate goal is to continue education outside of the traditional classroom. 

Dr. Holly Bush, a Special Education teacher for students in middle school said that virtual learning is a work in progress. She found that her students were not keeping up with their academics, so modifications had to be made to ensure that the seventh and eighth graders can still be able to learn at home. Making lessons more interactive proved to be more beneficial. 

“We found that the students were not completing their assignments, so we changed the format,” Bush said. “We meet everyday with the class, and Mrs. Antolik (GRHS’ Crisis Counselor) also joins us and we completed two assignments. The kids receive PBIS (Positive Behavioral Interventions and Support Program) Rewards points for ‘attending class’ and for completing assignments. Mr. Kyle Reim (Bush’s classroom aide) made the first deliveries last Friday. We have begun a weekly raffle for students who attend all classes, they will be entered and a name will be randomly drawn, every Friday for a pizza delivery.”

PBIS is a national program that schools use to reinforce positive behavior in all students; Gateway’s Guidance Department initiated this program a few years ago.  Gateway has a PBIS store, where the kids can redeem their points for items such as Gator Gear, gift cards, school supplies, or a positive call home.

Virtual learning may not be a fit for everyone, but Bush and Reim have made the appropriate adjustments so that all students can receive the help that they need to succeed. When not online with students, Bush mentioned that she has occupied her time at home with her husband by joining the book club started by the school’s librarian, Mrs. Ariel Sears, staying in contact with her extended family and colleagues through Facebook and daily phone calls, doing puzzles, and her favorite past-time, which happens to be cooking.

For Ms. Cynthia Fulgham, who is an English Language Arts teacher for students in the seventh grade, virtual learning is quite challenging, as she is unable to be there for her students in-person. “The learning that takes place without the human interaction with a ‘teacher’ is different and in my eyes not as impactful. I am having the most trouble adjusting to not ‘being there’ with the kids to encourage them, question them, support them, and in some cases ‘hound’ them,” Fulgham admitted. 

She goes on to say that transferring assignments may not be her biggest worry, but that the interaction does not transfer, as she anticipates questions and concerns from her kids. Like many of Gateway’s teachers, Fulgham misses her loved ones, whom she cannot visit right now, but has remained in contact with colleagues, students and family via Zoom, Facetime, and occasional visits, while maintaining COVID-19 guidelines. When she is not online, Fulgham has been reading books, knitting, cross-stitching, and spending time in the kitchen and the garden.

Mr. Michael Joyce,  Gateway’s Careers teacher is thankful for all of the essential workers who are fighting the pandemic, and even though he may be unable to see his students, he says that is very fortunate to be able to work from home and be with his wife and children, as he knows many families do not have that same opportunity.

Daily schedules may have shifted a bit, but Joyce identifies the importance of being accessible for his students while also connecting with his son and daughter. His son, David, is in fourth grade and involved in Cub Scouts while his little daughter, Autumn, is a first grader who finds it difficult when her parents have to answer emails or go onto Zoom. Joyce’s wife, who is also a teacher, has to balance work and home life as well. 

“I have a weekly phone call with my supervisor,” Joyce explained. “I meet with my department once a week via Zoom as well as having weekly Zoom meetings with my classes. I also set up a weekly Zoom with my family (Mom, siblings, their spouses, my nieces and nephews, and even a family friend who lives in Ohio). We also Facetime my mother-in-law and Zoom with my wife’s side of the family. I also have a text chain with several groups of friends. I am continuing to be a Cub Scout Leader and meet with the adult leaders via Zoom and my den (Webelos-Grade 4) via Zoom too.” 

In order to occupy his time at home with his wife and kids, Joyce responded that some of his activities have included putting together a giant Philadelphia Eagles helmet from Legos,  playing the board game, Ticket to Ride, and watching movies like Band of Brothers and Dunkirk. 

Mr. Michael D’Alessandro, an algebra teacher for freshmen and sophomores, noted that his students have been doing a great job adjusting to their new habits of virtual learning, amid the necessary quarantine. Similar to many colleagues, D’Alessandro spoke of the differences in providing for students while also helping his son and daughter with their class work. 

“In my house, we have developed a nice schedule that we can follow to make sure we get everything taken care of for work and school,” he said. “We then have time in the afternoon to do something together. Reaching out to our parents and siblings to make sure they are taking the necessary precautions to stay home has also helped relieve stress.” D’Alessandro replied that he has also stayed in contact with colleagues, students, and family through emails, Zoom, Facetime, and daily phone calls.

During the quarantine, D’Alessandro added that he and his family have tried to stay active by getting outside. “My daughter will train for soccer or pitching everyday. She goes on long bike rides and jumps on the trampoline with her brother. My son has started jogging with me and he practices his karate every day. My wife will go for walks or catch for my daughter. I workout  and run each day. As a family, we play board games, watch movies, and have just enjoyed each other’s company.”

Even though teachers are unable to be at school with their students during this time, the teachers have expressed the universal struggle with not being able to be of immediate assistance. While they may not be able to answer questions or encourage students; teachers have noted that they will come out of this quarantine much stronger having learned the abilities of their students and spending time with different forums of modern technology. 

Thomas E. Edmund, Jr., “TJ”, is a senior at Gateway Regional High School in Woodbury Heights, NJ and an intern at After graduation, he will be attending Rowan College of Southern New Jersey to begin his quest to become a journalist. 

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