For today’s blog post, I’ll be sharing a letter from my dear friend, Mrs. Richardson. Mrs. Richardson is a second grade teacher in Cary, North Carolina. She has written an insightful and encouraging letter to parents about how the COVID-19 pandemic affected the 2019-2020 school year, what challenges teachers faced and how schools are fighting to overcome those challenges for the 2020-2021 school year. So, if you are sending your children back to school this year – whether virtually or in-person – I hope you’ll read this letter.
How COVID affected the 2019-2020 school year – and what will be different this year
During March of this year, teachers and students left school for Spring Break, not knowing we wouldn’t return for the rest of the school year. I have the last day in my classroom ingrained in my memory. I tried to make it fun for the kids. We did St. Patrick’s day activities, creative writings about what they would do if they found a pot of gold, Read and Feed, and watched the Bee Movie since we had been learning about flowers, pollination, and the plant life cycle.
These are the last images I have of my classroom. Everything frozen in time. Student work left on the walls, supply baskets strewn about as they had left them, countdowns on my board of things we would never get to. A time capsule of March 13, 2020.
Emergency Shift into eLearning
Over Spring Break it was very difficult to really have a “break.” Only a few days into break we were already getting email after email from our superintendent about what would happen after break. The district quickly tried to set up a paced guide for all subjects under an eLearning platform. This was made in an effort to help teachers have a guide for the rest of the school year. This turned our break into trainings, setting up our online platform, and becoming familiar with the content we would be teaching and HOW we would teach this completely virtually. During this time, I was in constant communication with my students’ families, letting them know what I knew as I found out, and trying to help them feel as calm and supported as best I could. This was extremely difficult since I felt like I had no idea what I was doing or what to even expect. It truly felt like the blind leading the blind.
As we rolled into eLearning for the remainder of the Spring semester, this was definitely an emergency plan. We had very little training and truly did the best we could. Our principal reiterated every virtual staff meeting to keep things simple for our students and families – we did not want to overwhelm them. My main focus was to help support parents in any way I could and simply make sure my students were learning SOMETHING during the last nine weeks of the school year. I knew this would be nothing like what and how I would teach them in school, and for my sanity, I had to be okay with that. The perfectionist in me wanted to scream, This just isn’t engaging enough! I could’ve done something so much more hands-on with this lesson! This isn’t how it’s supposed to be!
At that point in time, I had to let those expectations go. To better support parents I created a Google Voice account, which essentially gave me a separate phone number from my own and allowed me to be in contact with parents more easily, allowing them to text and call me with any issues they were having. Oftentimes this was far beyond my work hours, but at this point I felt like it was more than just my job and I needed to help them in any way I could. I also tried to make my Clever page (one of the online platforms we used for students) very easily accessible for my students. I set it up daily and tried to make it so that they could find every assignment quickly and without many steps. I set up virtual expectations for both students and parents. I did screen recordings for how to access different applications and complete simple tasks that students would be responsible for daily step-by-step. I recorded myself doing math lessons for students to watch before doing their own independent work. I tried to find fun and optional science experiments that went along with the unit we were working on.
This new way of learning was exhausting for everyone! As teachers, we worked to maintain relationships with students, even though we couldn’t see them face to face. We had Zoom lunches together, Zoom meetings with specific students just because they missed us, organizing car parades, and, for me, even visiting each student to deliver end of the year treats.
To sum up the Spring semester: we did the best we could in an emergency situation to make sure parents, families, and our students were supported and still learning.
The 2020-2021 School Year
This summer has been very stressful for many teachers and families. We’ve all been concerned over what this school year will look like, if we will return in person or remain virtual. If you’re a parent, maybe you’re wondering, How will this virtual learning be different from Spring? If school is virtual, how will I be able to work from home or return to work when my child is not able to return to school? How can I work AND monitor my child during online learning?
For a lot of teachers I know, it has been HARD. Direction from counties has been slow or felt like constant whiplash with changing plans. As teachers, we like to plan ahead, create engaging and rigorous lessons, and that is something that has been hard to plan for with lack of answers or direction on how we will be returning.
What will be different this school year?
When school starts this school year, I can tell you that no matter what your county decides or what option you choose for your child, this school year will be very different.
If students return in person, they may be returning in a blended model or in smaller groups, like my county, we will be doing rotations. Students will be required to wear masks in a lot of counties, recess will look different, lunch will look different, even teaching will look different. Students will be required to wash their hands a lot more, maintain social distancing, and learn new rules and procedures
If students return virtually, I can tell you with confidence that learning will not be what it was in the Spring. I know that is a huge fear for many parents who did not have a good experience with virtual learning in the Spring. Teachers have been trained all summer to prepare us to use different online platforms. We have actually had time to prepare for this go around!
I recently moved from Hillsborough County in Tampa, FL to Wake County in Cary, NC and in my school district we are returning virtually. I have been setting up my virtual Bitmoji classroom (which has actually been super fun!), learning how to create assignments, take attendance, create engaging and fun lessons for my students even though it will be through a computer screen.
I usually do fun activities at the beginning of the year that help the kids get to know each other, and also help me get to know my students. I’ve definitely had to be a lot more creative on how to do that this year, which is fun, but also extremely scary. Luckily, teachers are like a huge family and have been sharing resources left and right, from all over the country.
Virtual Behavior Management
Behavior management was a big question for me going into virtual learning this year. How can I keep my students engaged, on task, and behaving well “in class?” Sometimes it can be hard to do that in person, so it’s even harder to do it when they could really just close the computer screen if they really wanted to. So, for behavior I’ve created a couple of options. I ordered small aqua pails from Oriental Trading and a massive roll of tickets from Amazon. Each student will have a bucket hanging (probably in my dining room) and they will be able to earn tickets for different things, whether that’s staying on task, participation, sharing great thoughts and ideas, etc. They will then have a reward chart of incentives they can use their tickets for. They can choose to spend their tickets for something little or save their tickets (which can be extremely hard for young children) for something bigger and better!
I will also be using Brag Tags for each student. Brag Tags are cute little colored tags that can be put on a necklace, keychain, binder rings, or anything you want. These tags celebrate different achievements and students can work toward getting all of them added to their necklace. These will be on display for students to see until they can actually take them home.
For class incentives, I plan to use a virtual marble jar. When we were learning in person, I had a physical jar and marbles that I would use in class. The jar usually had different tick marks for levels of incentives, and the class had to work as a whole to reach these incentives. For example, the first tick mark may be extra recess time with popsicles and the top tick mark, which takes the most marbles to reach, may be a pizza party. For virtual learning, we will simply use the virtual marble jar and students will still be able to set a goal for themselves and vote as a class on what they want to work toward. This will obviously have to be tweaked a little bit since we aren’t together in person. I also have a virtual spinner that students can spin for either class or individual rewards.
Things That Will NOT Change This School Year
For many parents, this time has caused a lot of anxiety and stress. Parents worry about if they are making the right decision for their child, and this can be even more difficult with the voices of people all over the world shaming parents for any decision they make.
Yes, school this year will be different no matter which option you choose. However, what will not change is how well you know your child. You as the parent know what learning style works best for them, what their learning needs are, and what their health risks and concerns are.
I know many parents who have struggled with making the decision for how to send their child back to school because their child has been depressed. The time away from school, from their teachers, and from their friends has made them feel withdrawn. Remember, you know your child.
Something else that has not changed is that while you may not have control over every situation, you have control over you. You have control of how you react to things and how you let your child see you react. They watch you. They know when you’re angry or when you’re frustrated. Which let me be clear: you are allowed to feel these emotions. However, you do have control of how you paint the situation of returning to school and whether your child will go in afraid and resistant, or brave, excited, and willing.
Something that will not change is how much we, as teachers, love our students. To many teachers, they are like our own children for the year and even after they have left our room. We know our job has always gone beyond what is in our job title. There are many things teachers do that can go unseen, unnoticed, and unappreciated. But the thing is, we still choose to do this job and we do it because we love it. We love your children.
Virtual or in person, we will put our blood, sweat, and tears into every lesson, into creating amazing relationships with our students, and into making this school year better than the last.
Please also know that we are with you. We know how much families and parents have struggled during this time, many with the loss of jobs and family members. Something that has not changed is that we will do everything we can to support you and as always, we are here for you.
Love, Mrs. Richardson
Thank you, Mrs. Richardson, for your insight and encouragement to parents who are sending their kids to school this year! We’re grateful for your love for your students and your example of working hard to care for our kids in the midst of this pandemic.