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We offered the members of EdSource’s Teachers Advisory Group to describe a unique moment in the past year that captures something important or to write something they’d like people to know about how the year has been so far.
Click on their names below to read their comments. To hear more teacher voices, check out this video from our teachers advisory group last March as they talked about their hopes for the coming school year.
Science of reading coach and California policy manager for Teach Plus
In the past year, I and many educators alike learned how to work through what felt like insurmountable fear, as we walked through the doors of our school sites and greeted hundreds of kids and parents during the first few days of school.
During the first few weeks, procedures for students with Covid-19 were still unclear. Who escorts the sick child to isolation? Where is the isolation room? Who supervises the child while in the isolation room? What path do we take to interact with the fewest people due to the virus’ high transmissibility? Who is responsible for contact tracing? How much information do we tell the parents of the other students in the classroom?
Out of all this uncertainty, I learned that in the moment, fear takes a back seat and fellow feeling, care and humaneness take the lead. I held the little hands of several kindergarten students who were scared during the first few weeks of school. I held the hands of sick children who were afraid and peaked as I escorted them from class and into isolation.
I experienced how fear and humanity can exist entwined together.
Fifth grade teacher at Chollas-Mead Elementary School in San Diego
One thing I’d love for the public to know is that my students are now thriving and engaged. I mean, they want to learn like I’ve never seen. I’ve never seen children so energetic about reading, about holding a physical book in their hands or putting pencil to paper and turning the corners of a cursive “f,” completing a five-paragraph essay. I’ve never seen children so engaged with why a remainder exists or how to use the remainder after dividing.
In the littlest things to the biggest, as a teacher, I want people who can’t see what I do to know that, although your kids have been through a ton, they know the magic of school again and there’s a renewal.
It gives me great hope, and I’d like people to know it’s visible to their child’s teacher.
Third grade teacher in the Mandarin immersion program at Broadway Elementary in Venice
I had so much hope for the return to in-person learning and how we might improve instruction with everything we experienced in distance learning. I have tried to follow the district directives, meet parent expectations, attend to student needs, maintain health and safety standards, all while re-imagining my classroom.
But honestly, it’s been a challenge. I’m frustrated with the feeling I haven’t done enough and resigned to the fact that I can’t give much more. But I’m trying, and I’ve not given up hope.
What I need is time for planning and reflection with colleagues, and additional staffing, starting with counselors, nurses and substitutes, to support overstretched teachers and administrators. I need wraparound resources to help meet students’ needs beyond academics.
I’m looking to district, state, and federal leadership to make this possible. Let’s not lose the opportunity to re-imagine learning for our students.
Fourth grade teacher at the Hawthorne School District
After 20 years in this profession, everything I ever knew about teaching has had to be reinvented to meet challenges that students have brought to the classroom after months of distance learning.
Compared with past years, I have seen a substantial increase in students not meeting grade-level standards in language arts and math. To help those students, I create individualized learning plans and groups to target specific skills for students two grade levels behind. Even though the students are in fourth grade, some students are still learning how to read, write and spell.
Creating activities, planning ahead, disinfecting plexiglass, desks and chairs every morning and afternoon take extra time. I arrive to work an hour early and usually leave three hours after dismissal. Some days all my lesson planning goes out the window. I respond to students who need to be referred to the nurse’s office, requiring documentation. Or I attend to students’ social-emotional needs, which requires me to stop my lessons and just listen to what they are feeling or experiencing. If a student is in quarantine, the student falls farther behind; I have to find ways to make up for lost lessons.
Every day I think today is a new day, and it will be better. That is the mentality I have to keep myself going.
Special education coordinator for Alliance Tennenbaum Technology High School in Los Angeles
As a resource teacher, I work with students who have learning disabilities, and in August, I welcomed back a student who had missed a year of classes due to distance learning. She left high school as a freshman and returned to campus as a junior. Even so, her attendance was spotty due to mental health issues she was struggling with. Her teachers and I worked together to make sure her (IEP) accommodations would support her, in addition to those who struggled with unfinished learning from last year.
As the semester was drawing to a close, while I helped her tackle her algebra exam, I felt her acute struggle while trying to recall her multiplication tables to solve a basic linear equation. At that moment, I felt I had lost all capacity to get her back to where she was pre-lockdown. I didn’t even know where to start.
English teacher at Palo Alto High School
One classroom routine I’ve used for years is to start off each week with personal updates. We ease into the week by hearing about recent or upcoming events in students’ lives – for example, extracurricular events in sports, publications, or performing arts, or personal news such as birthdays, visits with relatives or weekend activities.
This year, most of my classes have seemed more reluctant to speak than was typical pre-Covid. I even joked with one group of students, “You know your cameras are all on, right?” My attempt at humor, suggesting in-person dynamics should be better than Zoom, fell flat.
But, another group of students, an hour later, provided the highlight of my year so far. I can’t even remember how a student update led us to the topic of singing, but I half-jokingly suggested we could start the week with some karaoke. There were enough responses of “yeah!” and “sure!” and “let’s do it!” that I ended up finding a karaoke video on YouTube and, for a minute, I had about 20 sophomores singing the Backstreet Boys song “I Want it That Way” – actually singing. For fun. In English class.
I’ve held on to that moment and continue to seek opportunities to simply connect with students in any way that works for them.
11th and 12th grade digital art, AP physics, electronics and product development teacher at Lennox Academy
For me, this school year has been about greater communication with my students and about flexibility. Almost everyone around me wants to dig into how it was before the pandemic with antiquated grading policies, a rigid approach to student learning and no effort to understand each student’s perspective. I have had some amazing conversations with all of my students this year because I think I created an environment where students feel that they have a say in how they learn.
Of course, the approaches and the framework for active learning that I have adopted do not work with all students, but for the maybe 10% that need an extra push to motivate them, the flexible learning environment I have created allows me to sit down with those students and talk meaningfully. The transition back into the classroom was challenging for everyone and, as educators, we cannot go back to how it was.
Now is the time to look at practices that promote self-regulation, meaningful learning and more open communication with our students.
Special education English teacher at Canoga Park High School in Los Angeles
I teach special education in a low-income Los Angeles Unified high school. The past 18 months have been a series of challenges, but I have been impressed with the way our students and teachers got on Zoom and made it work and then embraced returning to school in August. It helped that our students all had laptops already and we have masks and weekly Covid testing.
At times, it did seem like we were in Alice in Wonderland, but these students display all the resilience and grit we could ask for. Perhaps this is atypical? I have come to the conclusion that if there are problems in our schools, it’s because those problems come from the outside society at large, and we – students, teachers, admin and staff – are helping remedy them.
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