As you have flashbacks to your Romeo and Juliet days in high school, educators in Tennessee are working hard to teach our students these days and for some, it has little to do with the intricacies of the Capulets and Montagues. As we work in the pandemic, we face the challenge of teaching to students who are at the mercy of their internet connections.
I am Laura Moss, a 10-year educator from Henry County, where I teach agriculture education classes and am one advisors of the Paris FFA. I did not come to teaching from a traditional teacher education program but can tell you that I have the best job in the world. I thoroughly enjoy seeing students learn more about agriculture and have the hands-on learning experiences that come naturally from my classes.
We are on a hybrid model at the high school level where students with the last names A-K come in person two days, L-Z come on two days. On their off days, the students attend virtually and then we are totally virtual on the 5th day. The students also have the option to be 100% virtual. So, as we came back to school from the holiday break, the reality of needing high quality, fast broadband internet once again was a major determination of how I run my classes.
As I mentioned earlier, hands-on learning is a large portion of my classes as it is for many agriculture classes and the other career technical education classes like automotives, family and consumer sciences, and residential construction. My fellow teachers and I have moved to a virtual platform that is not always the most conducive to learning to a large majority of the students who take out classes, but our students have stepped up and tried to meet our standards.
Their internet connections have proved problematic at times and even the internet at school can cause headaches. I will say that our community has stepped up to assist our students. Many businesses have opened their internet connections so that students can travel to their businesses and use their internet if necessary. Last semester, I had one student who diligently traveled to a local fast-food restaurant on his virtual days so that he could “the good internet” instead of the slow internet he had a home.
Our Director of Schools, Dr. Leah Watkins, knows the importance of broadband internet. She says “We are at a point in education where Internet access is as important for students as paper and pencil. Research, practice, submissions, extensions to the learning, and even collaboration relies upon the Internet. Having this access allows our students to compete. As we consider post-secondary opportunities (career, Community college, TCAT, military), the application process much less the preparation for the work requirements of the opportunity, rely upon Internet access.”
We are blessed in Henry County for many reasons and one of those being that over 90% of our citizens have access to broadband internet, but some of our neighboring counties and their students are not so lucky. I hear “My internet cut out”, “I don’t have enough internet to stay on the Zoom and work on my assignment” or “My siblings needed the internet” on the daily and can only imagine how educators in counties without reliable access to broadband deal with the same issues.
We have little knowledge when the pandemic will ease, and when our students can return to what was our “normal” so the need for reliable, affordable broadband internet is even more important for the citizens and students of Tennessee. We cannot rely on the Spark Notes version of broadband service and hope that our state continues to understand the need for 100% of its citizens to have access to broadband internet.
Written by: Laura Moss, Henry County
About Laura: Agriculture teacher, FFA advisor and friend to many students, Laura teaches the Paris FFA chapter and also assists with her family’s dairy farm.