Perspectives: ‘We teach!’ A teacher seeks to find a new normal

Posted 5/1/20

This has been such a stressful, frustrating and overwhelming time for everyone. No matter what our occupation or status in life, we have all been touched in some way, shape or form.

As educators, …

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Perspectives: ‘We teach!’ A teacher seeks to find a new normal

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Posted

This has been such a stressful, frustrating and overwhelming time for everyone. No matter what our occupation or status in life, we have all been touched in some way, shape or form.

As educators, we typically love a routine and a schedule, so dealing with a pandemic in the middle of a school year was not a part of our original lesson plans. This has been like a snow day that never ended but then morphed into something altogether different from anything any of us have ever experienced before. All of us have struggled to find a new normal and a new way of continuing to educate our students, because that is what we do. We teach!

To learn more about how Chatham County teachers are continuing to educate from their homes, click here.

We know our students and how they learn best, so that was the defining moment in planning what to do next. We all struggled with the question of how we move forward and allow learning to continue in the middle of all of this uncertainty. Each day in the classroom, we know that we have to take our students as they are with all of their individual learning capabilities and environments and grow them as learners. We differentiate to meet our student’s individual needs, so now we also had to differentiate to meet their individual learning environments. Although the county provided us with a plethora of resources, it wasn’t realistic to think that every student in every classroom would have the resources at home to take advantage of those learning opportunities.

As a school, our teachers created learning packets focusing on reading, math, science and social studies with activities for the students to do at home to supplement the district resources. Activities were differentiated giving them options of learning activities. Some activities required internet access, and others did not. It was important to offer many options for learning and to exercise a lot of flexibility.

This was the most frustrating part for me. During the creation and building of my learning packets, I would have to just get up and walk away from my table at times because the task was so overwhelming. After I finally decided which standards I would focus on because this learning must be focused and meaningful, I struggled with the best way to organize everything. In my head I kept hearing [Chatham County Schools Executive Director of Federal Programs and School Improvement] Carrie Little’s advice she would share when I worked with the team to create the summer learning camp materials, so I tried to keep it simple but explicit.

Many binder clips later, I figured out what worked best for me and hopefully my students, too. I even took it a step further and created at-home learning notebooks for some of my students who would benefit from that extra step of organization.

I think it has been interesting to see how we as a faculty here at Bennett have evolved and each found our own groove amid all of this time of uncertainty. To access those students with internet access, we use email, Remind, SeeSaw, Google Classroom and Zoom to communicate. I think it is ironic to note that Zoom was just an example of onomatopoeia for me prior to March 16, and now it’s a part of my daily vocabulary!

This technology is wonderful, but I included detailed at-home learning guides with my at-home packets for those who can’t always find internet service. I also try to make phone calls to try to reach my students who are not able to Zoom or go online. I have had conversations with parents and students in the school parking lot, at our meal-pickup site, at the post office, at student’s homes and even at “The DG” — Dollar General! I even went old school and mailed learning activities to my students to cover the week after spring break before we had our second packet pickup last week. The main thing is to make sure everyone still feels connected during this time of staying at home and staying safe.

In the weeks since all of this craziness started, I have personally witnessed teaching at its finest. I thought we did a pretty good job before, but I have seen teachers teaching their hearts out and doing what they do best using whatever resources they have available to reach their students. I am in awe of my colleagues and am honored to work beside them as we continue to focus on ways to help our students maintain some semblance of normalcy during all of this.

I have learned that there is no one right way to do this thing called school right now, but I do know that as long as our focus is on our students doing whatever we have to do to help them access their learning, we will be OK, and so will they. The silver lining to all of this is that I have had some of the richest conversations with my parents during this time that I treasure beyond words that I probably would never have had if not for these circumstances. I have been moved to tears by emails I have received and conversations I have had. Words can never adequately describe how my heart swelled when I saw a student on Zoom for the first time who was sitting in their car in our wifi zone in front of the school so they could participate. During a Zoom meeting one morning, one of my students asked if I could show them the classroom. As I turned my laptop around the room, I could hear various little voices saying, “There’s my desk!” “I see my pencil box!” “There’s my seat!”

The instruction of each of our students is our responsibility and their parents have entrusted us to teach them and grow them as best we can. I appreciate how these parents and families have rolled up their sleeves and became homeschool teachers.

The most awesome part is that these conversations aren’t just happening in my classroom but with other teachers in lots of other classrooms, as well. The bond that was forged between home and school at the beginning of the school year has grown stronger and more meaningful as a result of what we continue to go through together.

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