It’s not easy to teach second graders online during COVID-19. One local teacher shares her story and her promise to parents.
I counted down the days until I would get to hug my students again. My maternity leave was drawing to a close and soon I would be reunited with my school family. Even though I was sad to be leaving my own babies, I was excited to dive back into delivering engaging instruction to my second graders.
But that day never came, at least not the way I imagined it would.
I stood still in my classroom, taking in the eerie silence for the first time. We were given just a few hours to grab our belongings before having to vacate the building. I stared at my lesson plan and the colorful anchor charts on the wall choking back tears as I thought about my students. Who would high-five and hug them each morning? Would they have enough to eat at home? Are their needs being met? School is so much more than just a building. It’s a safe haven where each child could go and build strong positive relationships with their peers. It is a place where they have someone who loves and cares for them. A place where there is always a warm meal waiting. Not all of my students had that.
I grabbed my guided reading binder, some books, Expo markers and log-in information for different resources. Nothing extensive because I knew this wasn’t a permanent thing. Then I went to join my colleagues in the hallway as we comforted each other and agreed we would soon see each other on Zoom.
COVID-19 may have closed our building, but school was still alive and well. My partner teacher called me on the phone at 8 a.m. the next morning, and we got to work on our Google Classrooms. We were more determined to be aligned and to engage our students than ever before! Thankfully, all our slides with our Learning Targets for each lesson were already housed on Google; all we needed to do was adapt our assignments. We began posting assignments every morning and communicating with each student during regular school hours. I was pretty impressed with how creative my colleagues were getting, too! Teachers in our building created YouTube channels for read-alouds and used Weebly to put together websites. We made videos to send to families showing them how much we appreciate and miss them. Our incredible PTA continued going strong, just in a new format.
Over 30 of us gathered on Zoom for our first staff meeting. Stories were shared, tears were shed and laughs were spread as we talked about how the virus was impacting our personal and professional lives. My grandpa, an 80-year-old man who had recently battled cancer, had been admitted to Beaumont Hospital. With a shattered heart I shared this news with my colleagues, a group I was so used to venting to on a daily basis. Their hopeful words helped me pick up the pieces and reminded me that even from afar they had my back. I knew that this is what I needed to be for my students’ families. I can’t just be someone who is pushing out academics from afar; I also have to have compassion for their different situations. I reached out to parents right away through email and phone calls to let them know: I am still here for you. I care and will do whatever I can to support you. Venting was both needed and welcomed.
Our staff meeting was just the start — I began attending Zoom meetings with curriculum coaches and teachers across the district on a weekly basis. Each professional development taught me how to continue to provide the best possible instruction to our students. My toddler often popped up unannounced for celebrity appearances, and my baby cried for my attention at times. Good thing Zoom comes with a muted microphone feature!
Nervously, I held my first Zoom meeting with my second graders taking place only an hour after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer announced that schools would be closed for the rest of the year. Would they be sad or begin asking questions about the virus? About half of my students showed up, but since it was so new I decided to call it a win. Kids are resilient, and even though they really missed being at school, seeing their friends again brought overwhelming joy. Everyone couldn’t wait to share their pets, the projects they had been working on, how they were feeling and how they were helping their parents at work. Some even joked about how they were driving their parents crazy! At the end of all this, we adults might remember the fear, but our children will be holding onto the memories of all the fun they had at home with their families. I may not have been able to hug each child, but you bet we exchanged many air high-fives! To my pleasant surprise, more students began participating with each passing day.
The dreaded school cancellation announcement certainly shook us as a staff. We are not on a vacation, nor do we want to be. We want to be in our classrooms with our students. Expectations for schoolwork moved in an even more serious direction. Spring break became a time for staff members to come together virtually to develop instructional packets to be mailed to every home, making learning accessible to all. Teachers would now be delivering lessons in real time twice a week through virtual meetups, but how? Most of our materials were still locked away in our classrooms. We will be getting just 30 minutes to re-enter the building and grab what we need to teach and get out. This will be a true test of our flexibility, but I know we will rise together. After all, we are Teacher Strong.
The bond between home and school is not one I take for granted. Parents began creating schedules mirroring a typical school day to try to keep their child in a routine, all while balancing a very difficult work situation. It’s not easy when you have to work from home, relying on the computer but having to share your device with your children so they may complete their school work. Essential workers have to go in full-time while trying to figure out what to do with their children who are now home. Parents who have been laid off are frantically trying to apply for unemployment while still giving their family all they need to survive.
As the quarantine lengthens, schedules begin to fizzle out as children challenge their parents’ sanity. Parents, you are doing an AMAZING job. The secret to combatting the added stress of school work at home? Little bits at a time. Have your child do 15 minutes of work then let them have a fun break as a reward! Don’t worry about putting together a schedule. These are unprecedented times. I promise when we return to school together, us teachers will differentiate instruction to meet each child where they are. We will not let your child fall behind.
Thank you to the heroes of the school world, our custodians and food service workers. Food service workers have been bussing meals to thousands of people each week. Custodians have been essential to sanitizing every inch of our school building so we have a safe environment to return to. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed and are appreciated beyond measure!
If this pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that you don’t need a building for school to exist. It is carried on through the hearts of each teacher, administrator, support staff member and student.
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