As an educational consultant and coach, I spend much of my time helping to grow teachers into the kind of educators who will inspire and challenge their students. Sometimes this involves being a cheerleader, other times a therapist, but it is always humbling to see teachers make some major shifts in their thinking and in their pedagogy, resulting in better learning for the kids.
One teacher I helped grow is my very own daughter, Sasha. As a little girl, she dreamed of becoming a teacher. She loved white boards, erasable markers and overhead projectors. She also loved books and writing stories. She would come to “help” me teach my high school classes on her days off. She loved school (for the most part) and thrived.
Sasha majored in English, and when it came time to choose a field of graduate study, she unsurprisingly chose education. Her training teachers saw the spark in her, and encouraged her to dive deeply into her student teaching. She fell in love with the kids, the classroom, the content, the whole package. Sasha is now teaching high school English at a large public school. During her first and second years, she grew into a skilled and caring educator, thankful to be at a school which valued her and supported her development. She received tenure, and thought that her third year was going to be glorious. Then COVID came and her world (and all of ours) changed...
As her mother and her informal coach – I thought it would be interesting for her to share some reflections about the changes she has experienced as a relatively new teacher in the face of this new world of virtual teaching and learning.
With remote learning, I lost my favorite part of teaching: interacting with students and watching them interact with each other. Community building doesn't end; we are constantly getting to know each other better throughout the school year. We were lucky because my students and I had already developed relationships. Students felt safe in our class because of this, and recognized their increased willingness to take risks and be vulnerable, which is necessary for growth. It has always been amazing watching my students support, teach, learn from, and show kindness and empathy to each other in the classroom". Whole-class Zooms are not the same: it's awkward and quiet.
Under the circumstances, I was fortunate because our final units were well-suited for independent work, and I could give more individualized feedback than usual. Most students actually learned. Yet I especially worried about students with IEPs, students struggling with mental health, and students needing extra support to learn English. Phone calls helped a little because they knew me, but they really missed their classmates.
In their final reflections, I asked my students to write about a good memory from the year. The winners:
- having small student-led group discussions on a shared text
- watching each others' speeches about their values/identities
- taking breaks on block-period days to play games
If we continue distance learning with new classes in the fall, I don’t know how to digitally incorporate the important community building pieces that create safe and loving classroom communities. Most (though I hope all) of us will keep learning and end up being okay either way, but I look forward to when we can all feel more connected again, because my students make each other better people, and they make me a better person too.”
We live. We learn. We grow. And, hopefully, we all get better– even in the tough times.
(Thanks to Sasha Jones for sharing her reflections!)
Written by: Linda Wolvek