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For Chris Semk, the Classroom Experience is Irreplaceable

Chris Semk teaching

On a regular school day in a normal year, Dr. Chris Semk has his French and Latin classes set up in a circle. The format enhances conversation, and, as a teacher, he likes to be able to see each student’s facial expressions to be sure everyone is following along. 

But it’s not a normal school day or year, and Dr. Semk has had to rethink his classroom dynamics. “One of the most wonderful things about language teaching is improvisation,” he says. “Almost anything can become a reason to communicate.”

That’s all changed in his online classroom. What is now key is planning ahead to keep students on track. He’s had to sharpen his own goals for his classes — being able to read simple Latin texts, for example — to be sure his new weekly plans get students to the end goal. The plans include checklists; short, meaningful tasks that review material rather than introducing too many new concepts; and “a lot of choice.”

“If anything, this experience has reinforced my conviction that live, in-person teaching is essential,” says Dr. Semk. “It has also proven what I’ve known about Walker’s since arriving here: it is a very special place. The faculty rose to the challenge of emergency remote teaching with grace, creativity, and compassion.”

Watch Video

Walker’s Dean of Academic Technology and Innovation Sarah Edson has been facilitating faculty sharing through a series of recorded conversations. Enjoy her conversation with Dr. Semk who shares some of his approaches to teaching and learning amidst our current circumstances. Chris leads classes in both the Middle School and Upper School and is working to design flexible learning experiences that are as student-centered as possible.