by: GCVS Guest Blogger Jenny Plant
To my hardworking brick and mortar educators and parents:
As I am confined to the four walls of my home, my thoughts are going out to you, my fellow educators: the teachers, parents, and guardians during this pandemic. I cannot pretend that I am not exploding with empathy with what you are dealing with during this difficult time. This is partly because I have not stopped teaching and learning at all since this started. I, unlike many of you, did not have to learn online platforms at the drop of a hat as a brick and mortar teacher and/or suddenly become a homeschooling parent/guardian due to school closings.
I have been teaching at a virtual school for 5 years now as a special education teacher of various grade levels. During this time, all of us in virtual schools really want to assist and we don’t really know how. I know you have access to many free websites and curriculum activities at this time. Some of our children from the brick and mortar schools don’t even have computers at home yet and my heart aches for them. When one of our students has a problem with their computer, they often go to their local library and log on there for the day. Sadly, this is not an option for anyone right now. Technology is certainly what is connecting us to our families, friends, colleagues, and students in this upside down world we live in. I realized I can try to assist you in another way: by offering supportive words. I reached out to some of my brick and mortar educator friends on social media. Many expressed the desire to have help, but no one really seems to know where to start. So many districts are giving different information based on what they have decided, so it is impossible to have that one uniform answer. How could we possibly have been prepared for something like this? I certainly never thought I’d see it in my lifetime. You are not alone.
Tip #1 and the most important:
- DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP!
The first year I taught online, I could get into the classroom and had a couple of tricks up my sleeve and that was about it. New technology came flying at me from all angles. It was like over-saturation of a good thing. I was overwhelmed and I didn’t know what was best for my students. I have a very good handle on it now, but I STILL ask some of my colleagues for advice on unfamiliar programs. We all seem to have some things that we are good at and we are constantly sharing that knowledge with one another. I am still a novice five years later. With all of the new programs coming out constantly, I don’t see that changing anytime soon.
2) LEARNING NEW THINGS TAKES TIME. I KNOW YOU KNOW THIS, BUT IT’S EASY TO FORGET AT A TIME LIKE THIS.
Don’t think that you will sort out what’s best for your students or child immediately. It takes time. Also, please don’t forget that for the little ones play = learning. You can get a lot accomplished with play, games, and songs. Many of you are probably doing this already and your kids are learning without knowing it. I have heard from some of my friends that classes are not being offered online to their Kindergarten kids, as classes are for their older learners. Some districts are viewing Kindergarten as non-essential at this time. The irony is that for one of my friends, her Kindergartener is the only one of her three children that wants to get on the computer and interact with her teacher and peers right now.
3) PROVIDE STUDENTS (AND YOURSELF FOR SANITY’S SAKE) WITH BREAKS AS NEEDED.
I don’t know about you, but I am an active person with ADHD, which takes me on many side journeys throughout the day. Despite these challenges, I still get a lot done before the sun sets. I’m not going to pretend that the ability to focus appeared over night because that would be the biggest hyperbole ever to come from my pen; it was one of the biggest obstacles in my lifetime. I am deceitfully seen as cool, calm, and collected by my colleagues and friends. On the inside, I am a long-tailed cat in a roomful of spirited monkeys on rocking chairs. We all have our challenges and, right now, you all have a mountain to climb. Mindfulness breaks and simply just remembering to breathe is essential. I know kids have the tendency to take advantage of breaks (give a little, they take a mile), but offer them leeway right now to see what they need. Kids are so resilient, but they are hearing the news and listening to people talk. You probably already know this, but even if you are trying to hide your concern, it’s written all over your face.
4) HUMOR GOES A LONG WAY. I find out what my students are interested in and run with it. I find memes and research topics and throw their interests back their way. They’re often impressed (and sometimes confused. How does the old lady know this? hehehe). My son often helps with my “coolness” and says I still need a bit of work, but your students will appreciate the effort.
5) WHETHER YOU REALIZE IT OR NOT, YOU ARE ALREADY ROCKIN’ IT
I am hearing about some super impressive things that all of you are doing with your learners as parents and teachers. You are already climbing that mountain. The view when things settle is going to be amazing. When your schedules go back to “normal,” you are going to look back and realize that you did something you never thought you could. You homeschooled your own kids without thinking you’d ever have to. Some of you are homeschooling your kids and teaching your students at the same time. Some at very different grade levels. Who does that? I can’t even find words for the respect and admiration I have for all of you right now. We at the virtual school tip our hats to you. I am also in awe of my colleagues: some suddenly have full houses and lessons to assist their own children while still keeping up their full-time classrooms and duties at the virtual school. For some of them, their partners are deemed “essential,” so they are on their own with this balancing act. I know this is true for some of you as well. We all have our trials, but we are there to support each other. Kindness has always been key, but when we as a society are going through something unprecedented, we must adapt and come together as a community. You may have to social distance yourself from your neighbors, but you can still support them. I know you are all tired, but this will not be forever.
6) STUDENTS ARE CRAVING STRUCTURE AND ROUTINES RIGHT NOW
I was discussing something very interesting with my colleagues today. The first week that the schools shut down, students were very quiet. Attendance was lower. Students didn’t know what to make of all of this either. Students had wanted nothing more at first than to play video games and chat with their friends who are home. They were also scared and many still are, but with reassurance, they will be okay. Attendance is now up. Now our students at the virtual school are working hard to finish this quarter. It’s incredible. They seemed to be craving that structure.
Let’s go back to rule #1. DON’T BEAT YOURSELF UP!
I am so grateful every day to be able to assist my students and families without constantly trying to navigate a new situation. Sheesh, nevermind the weight of wondering if someone in your immediate circle is going to get sick and then you will need to care for them.
We are all in this together. My colleagues and I want to help; please let us know what you need. Right now, I can only offer words of encouragement and express my admiration. It does get better, my friends. I promise you that.
Jenny Plant is a special education teacher at Greenfield Commonwealth Virtual School. This is her 5th year at the school and her 24th year teaching. She has taught a wide range of students of varying abilities, from preschool to college level. Her focus is now with middle school students. She holds an Ed.S. degree in education. She embraces lifetime research in education, as we constantly find out more about how students learn.