Thankful for community, Dr. Bettyrae Easley finds the ‘positive’ during distance learning

On a sunny November afternoon, Dr. Bettyrae Easley took a trip to her local Vons clad in her mask and gloves to pick up groceries. Carrying her things to her car is a young man who greets her as if she’s an acquaintance. 

She knew an interaction such as this was inevitable. The boy is one of her students—and she does not recognize him. 

“He did have a little name tag on, so I actually came home and looked him up to see what class period he was in and who he was,” she said with a laugh. “So that was a very funny experience for me.” 

Since 2004, Dr. Easley has taught IB English HL 1 at La Quinta High School, as well as Theory of Knowledge. And like her colleagues, she has had to adapt her teaching model for distance learning as the COVID-19 pandemic rages on. 

As someone who never had to rely so much on technology, Dr. Easley used the aid of her family to teach her how to use the Zoom platform in order to reach her 200 students—many of whom remain faceless names on a screen. 

“Every day is a joy. I really love my classes, and I feel connected to them, even though I’m looking at screens with names,” she said. “I’m trying to really understand because I know I have students that have been hit by this virus.”

She recalls a particularly memorable mishap from the beginning of the semester when her internet failed. 

“I knew [my students] were all out there somewhere, and I couldn’t get to them, and then I panicked. I didn’t know quite what to do,” she said.

“Now I do. Turn off the computer, wait a few minutes, turn it back on, and there they are.”

Dr. Easley’s compassion goes far, but that does not exempt her from facing her own struggles inside the classroom. 

“This might sound crazy,” she said, “the drawback, and I think a lot of teachers will tell you this, is the grading and being online so much.”

Almost every weekend is spent grading her students’ work and preparing lesson plans, only to be online for hours on end for the remainder of the week. 

Despite obvious challenges, she believes that this year’s changes have also brought hope for teachers as they learn new ways of reaching their students.

Dr. Easley has learned that “giving students some time to write and or reflect” to limit screen time has been the biggest lesson she learned that she hopes to continue to apply in the future. 

“I’ve learned to slow down and take each moment as it comes, and I’ve certainly learned a lot about technology because I can Zoom every day,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Dr. Bettyrae Easley; Design by Miranda Muir/Hawkview

Although she always seems to be moving, Dr. Easley has learned to slow down by taking a step back to reach out to friends, family, and colleagues. Sharing stories and touching base reminds her that balance in life is a “positive.”  

“I would say, hands down, it’s really a joy every day to come and teach,” she said. “We’re working through all of this as a team, you know, all of us together.”

Dr. Easley said that although the disconnect between students and teachers is present, and the material covered is less than ideal, hearing each other’s voices and being able to chat brings her that sense of community found at school. 

Humans of La Quinta High School is an ongoing series featuring Blackhawk students and staff.