By SARINA AHMED ‘23 and MAHA MUSTENSIR ‘23
The 2020-2021 school year has been unconventional and unpredictable, catapulting curveballs for teachers and students alike. Circumstances have been unprecedented, calling teachers to maintain resilience now more than ever. Forming connections and communication between students and teachers has been stunted due to this online forum, causing teachers to go above and beyond in an attempt to create a semblance of normalcy for students. For new Edison High School teachers, tackling a new teaching environment while simultaneously adjusting to an unfamiliar online medium has offered challenges yet some rewarding experiences.
Prior to teaching at Edison High School, forensic science and biology teacher Ms. Jessica Eckhoff was a resident of Harrisburg, Virginia where she attended James Madison University for both her undergraduate and graduate degree.
“Go Dukes!” she says.
Ms. Eckhoff shared that her aspirations for teaching started as early as her freshman year of high school. She said, “I had amazing teachers who inspired me to be the best version of myself and work hard, and to help me through hard times, and so I wanted to be able to do that for others in the future!” Her wholehearted intentions are reflected in her attempts to connect with her students, despite the often isolating and impersonal barriers of Zoom calls.
Eckhoff has been disappointed over not being able to meet her students face-to-face, making it difficult for her to get to know them. In addition to connections with students, Eckhoff also wishes that she could interact with her fellow teachers more.
She has tried to make classes as interactive as possible, posing her students with a non-content related “QOTD,” or “question of the day” at the start of the period. It has offered her students an opportunity to not only share details about themselves, but to learn a bit about her as well. Regardless of the hardships that everyone has been faced with, Eckhoff has admired her students’ enthusiasm and willingness to learn. This year, being new to Edison High School and the uncommon teaching styles, she shared that this year has been a learning experience for both her students and herself.
Outside of the classroom and the Zoom calls, Eckhoff enjoys watching the TV show “New Girl” and considers herself a movie buff. Additionally, she has a passion for weight lifting and exercise. Eckhoff also loves listening to podcasts and watching true crime documentaries, which fits with her role as a forensics teacher.
Eckhoff offers a reminder and a message to her high school self: “The best advice I would give is to try and be present. Don’t worry so much about where you’re going or what’s going to happen next, and just enjoy the moment you’re in because it passes by so quickly! It’s the little things and the joyful moments in life that matter most.”
Bidding farewell to New Brunswick High School and Hammarskjold Middle School, Ms. Emily Newbold has recently been welcomed to the Edison school district as a tenth grade honors English teacher. Although she was not planning to be a teacher at the beginning of her journey, Newbold figured out that it was what she wanted to do the most at the end of her five-year master’s in English education at Rutgers University.
Newbold agreed that this year is not even close to the normal learning and teaching circumstances. That has not stopped her positive attitude. She shed light on the pros of online teaching, saying that the time she saves from not having to commute back and forth from her home and school goes to preparing her lesson plans and communicating with students, making her more efficient on a daily basis.
Newbold says she would have loved to see her colleagues and students in-person. Having years of experience in teaching while interacting with your students in person makes the transition to everything completely online quite tedious and exasperating. Having spent most of her time communicating with her friends online and in voice-calls, Newbold is used to a moderate reliance on technology but understands that for many students it might not be the most effective method of learning.
“For many students, I’m sure it can be hard to be invested in school when you’re in your own home, there’s a pandemic going on, and there are a million things other than school to be concerned with. All that combined with online fatigue can be frustrating,” she said.
Newbold explained how she is making the best of the situation and is using the things provided to her in a useful manner. For example, she communicates with most of her students with the chat feature on Zoom if she sees them having a difficult time grasping a concept or just to answer questions that the students might have. Understanding that online learning is not the most feasible option, Newbold hopes to create a virtual environment where her students can openly engage with each other and look forward to coming to her class.
Newbold’s favorite thing about teaching has been establishing relationships with her students. “I love making connections with the students! Relationships have always been my favorite thing about teaching. The relationships are what makes it fun and exciting!” she said.
Playing Among Us and Valorant with her friends in her free time is what has helped Newbold relax and have fun. Moreover, she just finished building her computer last week, which she said “was a blast”. An avid reader, she has been reading Bestiary by K-Ming Chang.
Reflecting on her high school experience. Newbold said, “I’d give myself the advice to enjoy where I’m at while I’m there. Growing up, I was always waiting for the next thing. In high school, I’d say to myself, ‘when I go to college, my life will be better’. But then, I’d be in college saying, ‘when I graduate, my life will be better’. In reality, all parts were good and a lot of fun with only some bad, and I should’ve enjoyed life while it was happening!”
Having taught at two other schools in New Jersey before joining Edison High School, Ms. Jaye Caban has always had a passion for teaching.
Caban’s first year at Edison High School while being in a remote situation is very different from what she expected as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Not being able to meet with her colleagues, engage with her students outside of the classroom setting, and not attending extra-curricular activities has made her realize that she is not getting the proper experience that would have been attained otherwise.
Caban said that while making connections with her students is quite an obstacle this year, she has tried her best to get them participating. She added, “I try to include activities in class that help me get to know the students, such as surveys, scavenger hunts, and I always ask how they’ve been or how their day is going… anything to get to hear about them personally.”
Caban’s favorite part of teaching is watching her students learn and grow throughout the school year. Furthermore, she likes to spend her free time by, “taking care of my ‘baby’ who is almost one, sailing, or exercising.”
A piece of advice Caban wanted to give her high school self was: “You can’t change anyone, except yourself. Be wary of anyone who tries to change you.”
English teacher Ms. Sarah Wilson is no stranger to the Edison community, as she previously worked at Thomas Jefferson Middle School before coming to Edison High. She comes from a long line of teachers, which originally discouraged her from wanting to teach and instead pursue law in college.
However, she soon realized that her classes were not fulfilling her, as she found herself bored and in search of something different. Wilson recalls that she “bit the bullet and switched to an education major…” and was “instantly happy with the decision.”
Wilson loves to watch her students learn and grow, and shares a common sentiment amongst newly-joined teachers: she has experienced the difficulty of having to socialize with students over Zoom, making one-on-one connections difficult.
Despite the challenges of meeting students over zoom, Wilson acknowledged her advantage of coming from Thomas Jefferson Middle School and said how this actually enabled her to make connections quickly without having to focus on introducing herself to the unfamiliar faces of her classroom.
Wilson’s favorite aspect of teaching has been finding “aha” moments with her students: witnessing ideas and concepts register in students’ brains. Wilson shared a memorable “aha” moment when “I [she] was teaching theme yet students were not understanding how to find a theme. However, after teaching them the S.L.I.M.E. method they were able to figure it out. Seeing confidence in their eyes no matter how difficult the lesson is one of my [her] favorite things to witness.”
When she is not teaching, Wilson can be found on the volleyball court or at home with friends and family. Additionally, she spends her free time cleaning or watching Netflix and Hulu.
Advising her high school self and current high school students, Wilson remarks, “Don’t be afraid to explore your options. You don’t need to have your entire life planned out right now. Explore, have fun, and live your life the way you want to. Ultimately your own happiness is the most important gift you can give.”
Physical Education teacher and Volleyball Coach Mr. Jason Wernlund’s passion for teaching began as early as his fifth grade Spanish class.
“For a majority of my life, I wanted to be a teacher, specifically a physical education and health teacher,” he said. “I remember creating a poster in 5th grade spanish class explaining that I wanted to be a physical education teacher. To add a little bit of life, I proceeded to draw myself throwing a dodgeball at someone in the poster!”
Wernlund maintained this goal by attending Kean University where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in P-12 Physical Education. He then worked at Cranford Public Schools, before joining the Edison High School family.
Wernlund’s first full year of teaching has been altered substantially due to the coronavirus: teaching Physical Education over Zoom has posed obstacles, and interaction with students has been significantly more challenging. With both the girls and boys’ volleyball seasons being pushed back, Wernlund was disappointed, but still grateful to be able to coach. Primarily, he simply misses seeing and speaking to his students face-to-face.
Wernlund acknowledged the overall difficulty of the circumstances with the coronavirus and has tried his best to accommodate the mental health and well-being of his students. He has created relationships with his students despite the virtual barrier. The way he has managed to do this is by, “looking at my students as humans, not just students. I understand as teachers we can ask a lot from them; and with students having 7-9 teachers, the amount of work can start to pile up” he said.
Wernlund assesses the feelings of his students and accommodates accordingly, but with proper planning. He has tried to make a point to ask about his students’ weekends, music taste, and overall high school experience. He also allows students to meet with him after school to simply talk, regardless of the topic.
“Just by knowing that someone is listening, especially during these trying times as a nation,” he said.