Back in the spring of 2020, the country was singing the praises of teachers because the magnitude of their position in society was realized when schools were shut down and the responsibility of teaching was left to parents. Social media was ablaze with teacher appreciation. There was a feeling of gratitude in the air, but that swell of recognition soon fell quiet as the year went on and the promise of returning to in-person learning became increasingly unlikely for most of America.
We wanted to check in with our teacher friends to see how they were doing. Sandy, Lulu, and Brandi are a few that we were able to catch up with.
Sandy is a middle school teacher who doesn’t know what half of her students look like but feels like she’s getting to know them through their words, and loves that even the quiet students are able to participate through email and chat.
A part-time teacher of all levels of students, Lulu has her hands full. She helps preschoolers prepare for kindergarten in the summer, teaches k-12 theater at an arts center, and is an online instructor of Film Studies and Arts Appreciation for adult students at the University of Phoenix.
Brandi has been teaching in a virtual school for the last seven years. With a Master’s degree in computer education, she felt well-prepared for the influx of students enrolling in her school.
What is your overall experience with school this year?
These teachers have used this time to learn new skills, move outside their comfort zones, and embrace the opportunities to reach even more students. Sandy said, “It’s been CRAZY! I’ve had to learn a bunch of tools in a very short amount of time, and I’m pretty tech-savvy! I can’t imagine how terrible it would be if I weren’t.”
Learning new tools and increasing their own technological confidence seems to be a common theme with the teachers we interviewed. As a university arts instructor, Lulu has had to come up with creative Zoom lessons and videos for basic concepts that are easier taught in class. She added, “teaching theater [online] is very challenging but doable. I love staying home though.”
What’s the best part?
For most people living through this pandemic, finding a silver lining may be difficult. But as teachers tend to be some of the most flexible and adaptable people, we were thrilled to see that the answers to this question varied so much. Sandy has loved “getting to know students without all the extra middle school stuff,” while Lulu says, “I don’t have to travel and I can eat all day, be with my husband, and pet the fur-baby A LOT!” Brandi enjoys being able to relate to help regular classroom teachers who have been struggling with the sudden shift to virtual learning. She’s happy to be able to share resources and ideas.
What is your biggest challenge?
Teaching theater online is difficult in itself, but Lulu’s biggest challenge is making sure her students are getting what they need and identifying these problems early through assessment. She says, “This is important because I need to catch students who need extra help early so that they do not get behind and/or feel overwhelmed. Struggling writers, readers, COVID-19 illness or procrastination causes problems to increase swiftly. The students are home too, so if they are not self-directed, they can easily miss classes or work and get overwhelmed.”
Brandi emphatically answered, “TIME! Trying to balance time between work and home is so hard. Also, the unknown. I am a planner and it drives me up the wall when I can’t do that because I don’t know what the state is going to decide about being open.”
What do you hope to take away from 2020?
These three teachers all have a positive outlook, taking the challenges from one of the strangest years we’ve experienced and turning them into learning moments, as you’d expect from great teachers. Sandy said, “I hope to take away new skills, but also a different approach to teaching. A lot of grace has been given this year. I’m hoping to keep that going. Even outside of a pandemic, we all need a little more grace.” Lulu and Brandi, having survived 2020, feel confident that they can now take on anything they put their minds to.
Let us all have that confidence as we welcome the new year! We agree with Sandy when she said we could all use a little more grace with each other and ourselves. And we know that 2021 isn’t a magic pill that will make all the challenges of 2020 disappear, but we still have the hope that things will get better and we will find new ways to get “back to normal” this year.