I remember April 1983. I was seven years old, just a month away from being eight because you count down to your birthday at that age. David Copperfield made the Statue of Liberty disappear on TV. Now, I had never seen the Statue of Liberty in person, but I knew it existed and then it didn’t! It was magic, until I was informed that magic wasn’t real. Magic is such a big part of childhood. I had learned that magic wasn’t real and making things disappear was just an illusion.
Now here we are, in the year 2020, and the end the school year has disappeared for many of us! I said “I love you! Have a great long weekend!” on March 12th and I haven’t seen my kids in person since then. I haven’t gotten to be in my classroom since March 30th at 5:00 pm. And the saddest thing is, I know I’m not alone. These changes came fast and hit us hard. Many of us are in a whole new world. We are learning a whole new way of doing things. We now have “essential” workers and the rest of us. Where I’m located, teachers aren’t considered “essential” because kids aren’t in the building. Although, staying connected and visible to your class has never been more essential for every teacher! Here are five ways that I am trying to minimize the effects and stay “visible” during The Amazing Disappearing School Year.
Google Hangouts, Zoom Meetings, WebX, and other online platforms have become the “new normal” for delivering instructions. I have two Google Hangouts a day for my class. I do this because I want to make sure that we see each other, and they know I haven’t gone anywhere. In a world that is so uncertain, this is one way that I can help provide consistency.
I believe it is important for our kids to see us every day. It helps them understand that just because the school had to close its doors, doesn’t mean that we aren’t still part of their lives. It also goes the other way because personally, it is important to me to see my kids every day, like I would if we were at school. Now, I know teachers who are holding one online class a week, and if that is what that teacher can handle, then that meeting needs and must be applauded.
This mass quarantine has put a real spotlight on how far technology has come and the capabilities it has. But because the world is not equitable, and not all children have access to technology. Some students might not have access to internet in their homes or other might not have access to a device. Students may also not have the capabilities to join an online educational experience. As teachers, we have to make sure that we do not leave these students out just because they can’t, or maybe just aren’t, joining our online meetings.
That is when we must travel back to a simpler time. Pick up the phone, dial their seven digits, and touch base with them that way. I have made several phone calls, as I’m sure so many teachers are, and on one call I asked my student how she was doing and she stated, “I’m doing more better than I thought I would!”. It was a great comment that really hit me hard about how much I miss my kids and their personality. In those group meetings online, it can be hard to talk one on one with each child. After this child shared that she is doing “more better”, I decided that I needed to touch base individually with my kids. I have since called several other students, even some that I have seen frequently on Google Hangouts, and scheduled one-on-one Google Hangouts with others.
After a couple days of Google Hangouts, I realized that realistically these online meetings would be how we ended The Amazing Disappearing School Year. Instantly I started wishing I had told this one child how I saw his hard work all year, every day, and that I appreciated it. I wanted to tell another child that I believe in her and that I hope she goes to first grade with the confidence to go out on the limb and share what she thinks with others because her thoughts are valuable. I had something that I needed to say to each child, so I wrote them all a letter! On the letters I drew pictures to help make it look fun, and I put all of them in the mail. Also want to note that I didn’t write all the letters at one time. I only wrote two or three a time so that they all didn’t start to sound the same. This is one more way that I hope to stay visible to my kids.
Traditions with a Twist
Every teacher has not only their daily structure and routines but also their yearly traditions. They are those “very special episodes” that mark special events throughout the year. I love planning and watching my kids make their way through my Easter Egg Hunt, the alphabet countdown to the last day, or our classroom performance for our parents.
Not wanting to forgo all my yearly traditions, I am going to have to do them with a twist. I have already started making my class’ end-of-the-year movie, but now I am looking at new ways to share it with families. I typically buy beach buckets and bubbles at the Dollar Tree for each child, personalize the bucket, and then add a book or two for their end-of-the-year gift. Lastly, I am still going to order my class’ end-of-the-year books. (Thankfully, Scholastic Book Club has started shipping to teachers’ houses) Now I will have to repurpose the money I would typically spend on buckets and bubbles to buy big envelopes and postage so that I can have them mailed from the post office.
We must remember that the situation that we have found ourselves in means that every teacher’s comfort zone has been pushed to his/her limits. Every child’s comfort zone has been pushed to his/her limit, this also includes their families. I have sent out two “Mr. Smith is Checking In” Google Forms to my families. Sending out check-ins is a way to make sure that they know that I care about them and how they are doing as individuals and a family. What problems are they facing? Can they think of anything that needs to be improved? Do they have any ideas about what I can do to make things better for them?
I am sure that so many teachers out there are doing these five things and more during this time. I just wanted to share my ideas because is so important for teachers to stay “visible” for our students. It’s also just as important to make sure that while our school year may have disappeared, that we work hard to make sure that is the only thing COVID-19 takes from our students. It is up to us to ensure that hope doesn’t disappear and to guarantee that our students’ love of learning doesn’t disappear. It is up to us to make sure no matter how the world education changes that our students continue to be safe, healthy and know that their teachers’ love hasn’t disappeared.
Can you please give us an example of one of your Google Forms for checking in with your young students. I am an administrator of an accredited early childhood program currently working remotely, and am always seeking ways to help children and teachers stay connected- Google Forms seems to be an avenue we have not yet explored. Please let us know how you use that tool to maintain social/emotional connections. Also what are your ideas to help peer to peer connections?