School Highlight: A conversation with Charles Evans Hughes Middle School PE teacher Carla Richardson


PE teacher Carla Richardson

Charles Evans Hughes Middle School was one of three schools chosen for the 2020 UCLA Health Sound Body Sound Mind Fitness Center Grant. They were the only school to have a successful ribbon cutting ceremony prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. We spent some time with grant coordinator and physical education department chair, Carla Richardson to discuss how teaching online has shaped her outlook.

Jocelyn: Have you changed your approach to online learning since the spring? Carla, you told us you conducted themed days, like “Move it Mondays” and “Technique Tuesdays” has any of that changed?

Carla: In the spring, we were thrown into online learning and so I made a focus for each day: Move It Mondays, Technique Tuesday, What's It About Wednesdays, and Thursdays and Fridays were office hours. This fall, I'm focused on the social, emotional and physical well-being of my students. For the first two weeks, I have activities where they can connect with me and with each other. Now that we are connecting, we can start moving! I'll be teaching in units starting of course, with health and fitness!

Jocelyn: How do you encourage or motivate your kids online?

Carla: I have several computers going! One main screen for the lesson and two other screens to see my students work out! With 54 students, it's several pages of students for me to go through. I make sure that I say everyone’s name at least once with a critique, encouragement, or cheer!

Jocelyn: Wow that’s incredible! So what does a typical day look like for you?

Carla: I opted to work both from home and at school. At the moment I work at school. I want to be comfortable with everything before I shift working from home. It's weird to be at school with no students. The day before school started, I was in my office and when I left for the day, I was so excited about the first day and then realized that there won't be the first day excitement. That made me sad. But working from school gives me focus and during my lunch hour, I can play my music loud while working!

Jocelyn: That’s totally understandable. What is it that keeps YOU personally motivated?

Carla: In the spring, virtual learning was new for me so I did asynchronous teaching. When I held office hours, students would show up with no questions. They just wanted to talk to me and their classmates. I looked forward to my office hours but still wasn't sure about synchronous teaching. This fall, I'm all in! And I LOVE IT! The first activity I assigned my students was to record a video about their background story (if any) of their name and how to correctly pronounce it or their nickname. I would never have been able to make this connection if we were teaching at school. I was able to put the name to the face and because each story was unique, it helped me to remember who they are in our zoom meetings! To answer that question, students keep me motivated. Virtual or not, if you love teaching kids, you love teaching kids.

Jocelyn: Wonderfully said! What advice do you have for teachers who may be new or struggling during this time?

Carla: I have a student teacher from CSULB this fall! He is interning and teaching three of my classes. What a time to earn your credential! My advice that I tell him: one step at a time and expect the best but prepare for the worst. Kids are compassionate little human beings. They empathize with me when I make mistakes and sometimes, they are the ones who are teaching me! Be open, versatile and slow it down.

Jocelyn: Absolutely! Lastly, what do you hope your kids will take away during this period?

Carla: I want the students to know that no matter what the current situation is, what remains is your character. People will remember who you are not what you did. So be kind, encouraging and empathetic because everyone's situation is different. I have students who have had to leave their homes for financial hardship, students who have family members who are dealing with COVID or have passed due to COVID. Then there are the current political and social injustices that we, as a society are dealing with, that students see too. At the end of the day, we are human and although we are learning to be physically fit, we need to also learn to be compassionate people. In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy."