Yesterday marked six weeks to the day that Governor DeWine and Dr. Acton gave the order for all K-12 schools to be shut down for a three-week “extended spring break.” The past several weeks, most predicted we would not be back in our school buildings for the rest of the school year, but the official announcement on Monday was still hard for me. Really hard. Maybe we were naive to think we really weren’t saying goodbye to our students for the last time in person when we spent the day together on March 13th. Since that day, the range of feelings, thoughts, and emotions regarding my job and the students I love has ranged from grief to joy and everything in between.
I, while being a first grade teacher at Worthington Estates, also fill the role of a mom to a 2nd and 3rd grader at Bluffsview Elementary, and a wife to a Southwestern City Schools elementary PE teacher, and caring for our recently adopted dog. Working through these roles and their complexities of being at home together, teaching remotely, and helping my two children navigate their remote learning the last six weeks has been a journey like none other. I am grateful for the leaders that have been put into place in our school district to help our staff remain focused on what is most important during this time, which Dr. Bowers stated so well in an email to our staff: “I hope when this is all over our students and parents say, they tried that remote learning thing and did o.k. but man it was cool how clear it was that they cared about my child and about us as a family.” Each new school year, Dr. Bowers works with his team to communicate expectations of all Worthington staff, and I wanted to take a few minutes to reflect on those from the perspective of a first grade teacher.
The first expectation is to “be kind to kids.” I am so very thankful that this has been continually reminded of staff during this closure, as I do believe that making sure my students know that I am thinking about them and care about them is more important than anything else. More about that in a bit.
Next is to “be present.” I know I share the sentiment with my colleagues that this one feels a bit like a punch in the gut. I would so love to be in the actual presence of my students, and I feel as though the carpet was ripped out from under me. But, we are trying to be present in different ways. I have seen so many examples of this, which teachers across the district have shared via Twitter or in meetings I have attended. To me, being present with first graders right now means that if they are sharing something with me on Zoom, that I am showing full listening to them, with my eyes looking at my webcam and not at something else or my cell phone, and giving feedback about what they are sharing or about their work in a way that is specific and meaningful.
The third expectation is to “serve the customer.” While we do not work in the restaurant industry, we believe that we as teachers and staff are given the responsibility to make sure the families we “serve” and work with “walk away” each day feeling as though their needs were met and they were taken care of. Over this extended closure period, the feedback that I have received from my classroom families has been positive, and I am continually trying to do my best by checking in with families to make sure there isn’t more I can be doing to make this experience a better one for them.
Next is “communicate, communicate, communicate.” I think the hardest part about this has been how much and what to share with families. Since this shared experience is new for everyone, I know I can speak for all teachers in saying that we have tried to tread carefully with the amount of resources as well as the format our resources are being presented in, as to not overwhelm the adults as well as the students. I am so thankful for the technology we have today to be able to video chat with a student on his or her birthday and get a message to a parent quickly so he or she can be able to access a resource that is proving hard to navigate without support. Each week, I can tell that the staff in Worthington, and my own teaching team, are trying to alter communication to make it more fine-tuned and centralized.
“Believe in growth” is the 5th expectation. This one is where I feel my passion for teaching and learning is able to find its way out, even in the current teaching situation. While the growth we as teachers are helping to coordinate during this time is not usual or typical of what we would see in a classroom, I have been so appreciative of the adults in students’ homes who are with our youngest students during the day. These parents and caregivers have supported teachers and their passion for being with students and learning together when our 6 and 7-year-olds cannot access on their own. While doing this learning through computers and Zoom meetings, of course, is not ideal for most students and teachers, I do believe that helping a first grader to log onto zoom for a share time and 15-minute lesson on double-digit addition will benefit them during this very different time in their educational path.
Finally, the 6th expectation is to “be kind to kids.” It is so important, it gets to be on the list twice. Birthday sticker house deliveries, wearing a superhero mask during a zoom meeting, dancing and singing a class song together, hanging a message in the windows of the school, coordinating a 3rd grade concert Zoom sing-along, listening to a child talk about Minecraft for 10 minutes, continually attempting to reach out when you haven’t heard from a student or family in a week, and having a Zoom “lunch bunch” are some of the hundreds of examples of kindness towards kids and families that I have witnessed or been a part of over the past several weeks.
Twenty-two or so years from now when I am approaching retirement, I hope I can focus on the fact that during the COVID-19 pandemic stage of teaching, I have been grateful to have had the opportunity to have served my students and families, learned new skills, and been a part of the Worthington City School district, whose leadership has been focused first on kindness and care, because #ItsWorthIt.
-Tracy Keyes, Worthington Estates First Grade Teacher