Teaching Through a Pandemic: What This Has Taught Me
By Daphne McMenemy, STEM Educator from Oakville, Ontario
Monday, March 9th, 2020…the news was riddled with COVID19 stats about the global impact it was beginning to have. Different countries were being affected and leaders from all over the world were beginning to take measures to stop the spread and protect their people.
Tuesday, March 10th, 2020…conversations happening at school about keeping ourselves and our kids safe and clean all the while convinced, this won’t happen to us.
Wednesday, March 11th, 2020…the buzz begins. They’re not going to close schools! There’s no way! That doesn’t happen here. It happens in movies. Attendance numbers begin to decline.
Thursday, March 12th, 2020…unanswerable questions begin to fly… What do you think? What’s going to happen? Attendance numbers continue to decrease.
Thursday, March 12th, 2020 — 4:30 pm…I sat planning for our last day before Spring Break. I sat planning for the big return after our weeklong vacation. I sat preparing for the final leg of our school year — the biggest part of kindergarten.
It’s the time of the year where they can conquer the world. We work for seven months turning our youngest learners into a force to be reckoned with. We live for those three months after the break. Magic happens in kindergarten in those three months and they’re suddenly able to do anything and everything we’ve been working at for the previous seven.
At 4:30 on Thursday, March 12th, a parent walked through my classroom (which is home to our after-school program). I looked up, smiled, nodded and he said, “So. I guess they’re closing schools after the break!” Then came disbelief. Admitted confusion and a boatload of uncertainty.
Friday, March 13th, 2020…pack up the classroom. They say we’re gone for two weeks. But what if…So we spend the day cleaning, packing up all of our students’ belongings that have found a home on shelves, cubbies, and walls for seven months. As we dismissed our students at the end of the day, we smiled, waved goodbye, and shrugged as though we were all okay with the uncertainty happening at that moment. The day was a mix of emotions. Indifference for some, disbelief for others. For me? Anxiety.
The cynics sarcastically cheered our “extended Spring Break.” What the cynics didn’t understand was that most of us didn’t become educators because of our vacation schedule. I am a teacher because of my love of education, of my students, of their learning and mine. To hear, “Must be nice!” so often was infuriating. My response was louder every time that phrase was thrown at me,
“Do you think I want to be home? I want to be teaching!”
Adjusting to a New Normal
And so, it began. To say I spent my Spring Break an anxious mess is putting it lightly. There were too many unanswerable questions, too many what-ifs. There was too much uncertainty about everything to be able to process any of it with a clear head.
I spent a week trying to come to terms with what I knew deep down was to come.
I spent the following two weeks sitting at my computer for hours on end trying to get a handle on every possible virtual learning platform I could.
I found myself finding comfort in being prepared. I didn’t know what I was preparing myself for, but I couldn’t sit and do nothing. We didn’t know what was going to be asked of us. I didn’t know what distance learning was supposed to look like. If I started brainstorming what an online program could look like in kindergarten, maybe I could get ahead of the game. So that’s what I did.
Little by little, a new routine fell into place. I found excitement in all the learning I was doing about technology I hadn’t used before. I enjoyed the PD sessions my schoolboard was providing for various learning tools available to us and our students.
But something was still missing.
I had managed to wrap my head around what kindergarten learning looks like in a distance education model. I was slowly learning to balance my time in front of a computer and my time away from it. I was even meeting virtually each week with my kinders. Twenty-eight 4,5, and 6-year-olds navigating a video conferencing platform is no small feat.
I was proud of the program we were delivering. I was proud of the communication I was keeping with my families. I was proud of how far I’d come since the start of all of this.
But something was still missing. I was unfulfilled.
A ton of new learning, new experiences…it should have been enough. I love learning. I love teaching. But as I ended the call with my dwindling number of students each week, it became very clear. I love learning with them. I love teaching with them. I miss my classroom. I miss my students.
Lessons to be Learned
I am grateful for the opportunities this forced time at home has given me. I am grateful for the learning and personal discovery that has occurred as a result.
I’ve learned that the secure your own oxygen mask before helping others metaphor is 100 percent true. I always knew it was true in theory, but I hadn’t experienced it so fiercely before. If we don’t take care of ourselves, we cannot take care of others to the best of our abilities.
My “others” were my family, my friends, my students, my colleagues. I couldn’t face what needed to be accomplished because I was so worried about what was to come. It wasn’t until I started balancing that time between work and life where I was able to think clearly. I allowed myself a lunch hour. I exercised. I gave myself permission to shut the computer down at 3:30 every afternoon. I enjoyed the weekends. I learned the value of self-care.
I also learned that the reason I entered this profession 15 years ago hasn’t changed. I am student-first. I teach kids, not content. I live for discovery and exploration with my students by my side. I relish in the relationships and personal connections I have made with them.
So, what now? Well, when this is all over and I get to step foot in my classroom and be surrounded by my students…sure, I’ll continue to use the tools and platforms I’ve learned about to enhance my program. Programming, data, and curriculum will always be important and essential parts of education. But without relationships, without connections, I am simply a voice at the front the room.
When I am able to return to the classroom, I will no longer take for granted the importance of forging those relationships, making those connections, and being present. I will still be student-first. I will continue to teach kids, not content. When this is all over, I will continue to be proud of the fact that the education I deliver has always been built on relationships first.
Daphne McMenemy is an educator, author, and speaker. Her first book, Gracie, about a young girl whose learning is brought to life when her teacher introduces her to coding and a new way of thinking, is based on her personal experiences in the classroom. As an educator for the past 15 years, she has created opportunity for children in her classroom to explore learning in innovative ways. Using STEM to engage children as young as kindergarten age in discovering learning through coding, she develops numeracy, literacy and computational thinking skills through creative exploration. Her experience in the classroom has proven to support even the most hesitant learners in building confidence in their abilities and engaging in the learning process. Daphne is committed to building relationships, meeting students where they are, appreciating each individual, and finding the opportunity to engage and motivate students in creative, innovative ways. Her newest venture allows her an extensive creative outlet as the Editor and Social Media Director of Code Breaker Inc.
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