What a different world we are living in! Who would have guessed the 2019-2020 school year would basically be “over” in March? Learning new teaching strategies on the fly. Trying to figure out how to communicate with students and their parents. Tracking emails and phone calls and homework submitted (and not submitted). No closure, no official good byes, no hugs…I “socially distanced” myself from three elementary teachers, but got their responses to a few questions that reveal just how resilient and amazing teachers truly are. Please enjoy!
Share your perspective on how the COVID quarantine has affected you mentally as a teacher.
Makayla Browning, 5th Grade Teacher, Western Elementary, Georgetown, KY
As a teacher, I find myself lost during this quarantine. Of course I can still virtually teach my kids and create quality lessons (although they look very different now). I can send them resources and links to videos. I can answer their questions through Google Classroom and Zoom, which have both been Godsends. However, my job is about so much more than just creating lessons and teaching kids.
During this time, I sometimes find myself lost as to what to do with the quiet. I don’t get to hear J, A, R, and D sitting together making jokes all day. E isn’t misunderstanding the sarcastic tone in my voice, causing the whole class to laugh when he does the exact opposite of what I wanted because “you said you wanted me to do it again!” I miss their laughs, their smiles, their voices. I miss seeing that light in their eyes when a concept they have been trying to learn finally clicks. I can’t hug them through a screen.
I hate that my fifth graders are likely going to miss their final elementary school field trip, their promotion ceremony to middle school, and their end of year celebrations. To say that this quarantine has been hard on me emotionally would be an understatement. My husband keeps asking if I am okay even now as tears flow from my eyes while I’m writing. It’s natural for teachers to grow tired throughout the year and appreciate the breaks we get, but none of us were prepared for this “break” to last for potentially the remainder of the school year.
When they walked out that last day, we didn’t realize we were potentially saying “goodbye” for the rest of the year. As a fifth grade teacher, that essentially means “goodbye” for good. I don’t have the privilege of reconnecting with my kids in the hallway next year. They are going to a new building across town. I think that is the hardest part for me to reflect on emotionally. I am definitely adjusting to life as a virtual teacher, but I have my moments of sadness when I think about the things we are missing out on as a family.
Kelly Manley, 5th grade teacher, Anne Mason Elementary, Georgetown, KY
The COVID quarantine has affected me mentally as a teacher tremendously. This time has been a real challenge because I am balancing my work life with motherhood and being married to a teacher who is experiencing the same thing. Teachers are being stretched thin right now trying to keep up with the demands of creating content and connecting with students each day. It is hard to differentiate between work time and personal time because I’m answering messages with parents until I go to bed at night.
I also see this time as an opportunity to grow. I am trying new technology to distribute content to my students, and I have a little more time to collaborate with and learn from other teachers. I would rather be in the classroom with my “normal” routine and schedule, but while we are quarantined at home, I will do whatever I have to for the success of my students.
What are you doing to stay in contact with your students and parents during this time?
My main forms of communication with my students come through Google Classroom and Zoom. Google Classroom gives students the ability to ask me private questions if they are struggling on assignments. I also post daily morning videos and a question just for fun for my students to interact with me and each other. Zoom is my favorite as it allows me to see their sweet faces. We have a small portion of academic time and then end with a fun game just to spend time with one another.
I communicate with parents through the Remind app and phone calls. I speak to the majority of my parents every day through one of those two methods. Some parents have requested that I contact them daily, some weekly, and some have opted to just contact me first if they need something.
I work hard during the year to build an open, supporting relationship between myself and parents and I am very thankful for that at a time like this. My students’ parents are amazing and so supportive of their children’s learning. We wouldn’t be able to get through this if we weren’t a team!
I use ClassDojo. It’s a free app that parents can download, contact teachers, and see updates about behavior/academics, etc. I post most often on the Class Story page with updates about our classroom, things going on with other parts of our building, and what my family are doing to stay busy. If needed, I’ll send a personal message out to all parents through the Message page but mostly I communicate using the Class Story.
I’m also sending out letters to students in my homeroom this weekend. I’ve worked on them for a week and I’m so excited for my students to receive personal mail! Every card has a personalized, handwritten note from me and my home address if they want to respond. I think a few will write back and I can’t wait to read them!
Amy Baker, kindergarten teacher, Meadowthorpe Elementary, Lexington, KY
I am talking to parents a lot more and getting to know them. They are also getting a pretty good idea what we do during the day. I am also celebrating any accomplishments on line with them and the rest of the class. They love to see how they are doing, and some have really taken up the challenge to get more minutes on their assigned computer programs (Lexia, Dreambox, etc).
What are some unexpected positive teacher-student outcomes that emerged from this difficult time?
While my heart aches to be with my students, there have, of course, been some positive outcomes that have emerged. My students are journaling every day about their thoughts and feelings. Through this, I am getting the opportunity to learn about my students on a very deep and personal level. I know what makes them happy, sad, scared, and frustrated. I talk to my students about their prompts on occasion and it has been an awesome opportunity to bond with them. I also connect with my kids on a weekly basis through video chats. This allows us to come together and actually see/ interact with one another. It is awesome to see my students interact with each other and laugh as we play educational games. No one is arguing over what place they came in, no one is embarrassed to ask a question if they don’t understand, everyone supports one another. They are just happy to see each other. Even though we aren’t physically together, we are growing stronger and closer as a family and my heart smiles at that.
I’ve really enjoyed watching my students adapt during this time. My students were familiar with the non-traditional instruction (NTI) format so giving packets and online work wasn’t a new thing for them. I have always told my students and their parents that NTI work should not be a fight, do what you can and we’ll make it work. I’ve held Zoom sessions a handful of times in the last few weeks. I’ve made a point to not talk about school work during these sessions on purpose. I don’t want to talk about the work, I want to talk about them and what’s going on in their lives. During the regular school day, I hold a Morning Meeting first thing, regardless of our daily schedule. Every student is greeted, shares something that’s new or exciting, and we keep “academic” conversations on the backburner until “class” time.
My Zoom sessions have been very similar to our in-person meetings. I’ve found that my students rely on that informal interaction almost as much as I do. Relationships with my students has always been a strength of mine, it drives my daily instruction, and it helps me show those students who need the most support (emotional, social, academic, etc.) some sort of success and love. I miss hugging my students, talking with them about what they had for dinner, what their weekend plans are, what’s bothering them, and overcoming hurdles as a class family.
Email, texting, calling, or Google Classroom. It is kind of fun once you figure out how to use it all.
Do you have any parting thoughts/words to share with your students?
I love you, I miss you, and I’m more proud of you than you could ever imagine. Your determination and dedication to continue learning during this time inspires me. I have thoroughly enjoyed our year together and have grown to love each and every one of you with all of my heart. I have loved watching you grow into the amazing young men and women that you are. Even though this part of our year looks different, I am excited to continue to learn and grow together in new ways. Remember that I am ALWAYS here for you if you need me. I’m just a phone call away.
To my sweet scholars! I love you guys. I miss you so much! I miss our conversations, hearing about your worlds, and telling you about mine. You will get through this challenging time! We might not be reunited in-person for a long time but I hope we’ll get there eventually. I need to see your dance moves, hear your fun facts, listen to you all giggle and hold each other accountable. I love watching you all help each other and boost each other up. Keep doing that, even from afar. Stay sweet, stay strong, and wash your hands!
I love my babies and it really came to life how much I miss them when I saw a student and we were unable to hug each other. It really hit home how much we have lost. But we will see each other soon and I can’t wait!!!!!!
Heather is a Professor in the Department of Kinesiology and Health Promotion at the University of Kentucky. She is a former physical education teacher, and co-author of Dynamic Physical Education for Secondary School Children, 8ed. Heather was also the recipient of the NASPE Curriculum and Instruction Young Scholar Award and a AAHPERD Research Consortium Fellow.