Every student in Marion County Public Schools may have access to a Chromebook, but that doesn’t always mean they are familiar with the types of online resources this unusual school year has required.

That also means, for Marion County Knight Academy math teacher Seidina Conley, helping students overcome those technological challenges is sometimes as important teaching content.

“Not all kids are as technologically savvy,” Conley said. This year she’s relied on a tool called Classroom Relay which allows her to remotely view a student’s screen and help troubleshoot issues. “It’s been really, really handy,” she added

That’s just one of the challenges and changes Conley and other teachers across the district have faced this year. But the obstacles extend well beyond simple technical issues.

“It’s definitely been hard -- especially in the beginning when we all started digital learning,” Conley said. “It was tough as far as getting to know the kids and building those relationships. That’s my number one priority as a teacher -- I want to get to know the kids. I want them to know that I care and that I have their backs. But that’s so hard to do on the internet.”

When MCPS students were able to return to in-person learning, Conley says she “loved every minute of it” because she got to better know her students. However, there were still those who chose to remain on Distance-Learning, meaning she has students that she has still yet to meet in person.

That’s why she’s doubled-down on building relationships, even if it’s online, by creating a more lighthearted atmosphere.

“Everybody’s scared, everybody’s stressed, everybody’s worried and I try to keep my classroom light,” she said. “I tell dumb jokes every day, and I try to get kids to giggle or laugh or just try to relieve their everyday stress a little bit … and teach a little math.”

Sometimes coaxing the type of interaction she wants from her students involves appealing more directly to their interests.

“One time as class started I asked them if they preferred Harry Potter or Star Wars. It was a way to talk to students while they’re online.”

Creating a comfortable environment is important because, for Conley, students represent her work family.

“[Teachers} have two families: we have our school kids, who are like family; and we have our family at home,” she said.

While she has the option to work from home, Conley chooses to come to her classroom most days.

“When I’m [at school] I’m more focused on my students, and I want to give them the attention they need and they deserve. I want to stay 100% focused on my kiddos.”

Conley says that when students are finally able to return to In-Person learning for good, she’s most excited about “having my kids right here in front of me. I want to give them a high five or give them a pat on the back. I miss my kids being here.

“We do activities in the hallway when they’re here in-person. Now, I can send them the activity through Google, but it’s not the same as being able to get up and be around them, and them being able to talk to their friends and me being able to walk from group-to-group.”

Until then, Conley says that she wants to remind parents that teachers are doing the best they can during a very challenging time, and to remain patient.

“We are doing the best that we can to make sure their kids are successful,” she said. “I would tell parents to just be patient. It’s really hard on the kids, it really is. Everybody needs a little extra time.”

So far, she’s found that those from outside the profession have been both understanding and appreciative.

“There have been times when people find out I’m a teacher and immediately say, ‘Thank you so much for what you’re doing.’”