Missing “My Kids”

by Suzanne Cindea, 3rd Grade Teacher, Gainesville City School System and GCSS Teacher of the Year

Morning meetings, hugs from students, comprehension discussions, small group instruction, read alouds, lunch bunch, math talks, recess, and science experiments are just a few of the normal occurrences daily in my third grade classroom. This is also the beginning of the list of things I haven’t gotten to experience with my third graders in over two weeks due to the COVID-19 crisis.

However, my new list includes–encouraging words, written response discussions, Zoom class meetings, sharing projects, and virtual story time. All things that have been added in the virtual learning pattern that currently exists. While many things have changed in the last two weeks with the adoption of virtual learning, it is evident that there are still wonderful things happening in education. Teachers’ classrooms may temporarily be our kitchen or living rooms, but learning is still taking place and we are still connecting with our students.

Now, do I miss the experience of being at school with my students? Absolutely! What I have consistently reminded myself during these last two weeks that has helped me stay grounded is that my students still need my support and for me to be the best educator I can. I’ve had to really consider what being engaging looks like in this new realm. Being an impactful teacher for my students means showing up for them and being their support system, no matter what. How wonderful it is that these things can be done even when I’m not in my classroom. During this time, we start our Zoom meetings just like I’d start my day at school by giving my students a chance to talk about their day, as well as connect with their classmates that they haven’t had the chance to see. Seeing their smiling faces on my computer screen has become the highlight of my day. These meetings have been such a great opportunity for me to connect and offer encouragement to them. I’ve really challenged my students to think outside the box during our time apart and it has really thrilled me to see their creativity shine. Students have shared artwork they’ve been working on and stories they’ve written during their time at home and I often remind them that the beauty of this learning style is the chance for them to be their own teacher; to find that subject they’re super interested in and dig deeper. One student showed us his Lego creations and I encouraged him to write a script and create a movie with his Lego creations using FlipGrid or Youtube. While there are definitely obstacles, there have been shining moments and experiences that have come from this challenge and I can’t wait to see how this shapes their educational future. I feel implementing these new elements at this unprecedented time has helped create a supportive online community and continues to keep everyone connected in the middle of this “social distancing” time.

Our school media specialist was inspired by a video of celebrities singing parts of a song, so our school came together and recorded ourselves singing lines of Billy Withers’ song “Lean on Me” and created a video we then shared with our students and on our social media pages. It was such a treat to see that even in the midst of our separation, we can all come together and show our students and families our love and support. Even though we may be separated, we are still a community and can support one another.

Virtual education has also given teachers, parents and students the chance to really look online to experience new things such as taking virtual tours of museums, listening to authors read their own stories, watching tutorials by illustrators as they draw characters from stories, and even learning about science experiments they can do at home. This is opening my eyes to resources and experiences that I will implement once we are back in the classroom and can use in the future. Our grade level was supposed to go on a field trip to the Georgia Aquarium tomorrow, and while it is disappointing that we will not be able to go in person, it is exciting to know that I can send my students a link that will take them on a virtual tour of the aquarium. I plan on creating an assignment that my students can work on while navigating the Aquarium’s online resources including webcams, educational videos and animal facts. I can’t wait to see the exciting things my students are able to learn from this “virtual field trip”. It really has been exciting to think outside the box when it comes to the lessons I’m creating for my students.

I do know one thing for certain in the midst of this time of uncertainty: when we are able to go back to school, I will hug my students a little tighter and not take for granted the little things like hearing my name a hundred times a day. Times like these constantly remind me to not take the little things for granted and remind me of my purpose in life–to be a teacher and be there for my students. No matter what is going on in the world, I strive to encourage my students and support them, despite the application we use. While I have had to change my normal routine, there are many things about my job that have not changed– how much I care for my students and my desire for them to succeed. In fact, that will never change, no matter the circumstance. A great deal may be uncertain right now, but what is certain is that I believe in my students and I want them to remember that now and always.