At the beginning of every new school year I begin with classroom introductions as a part of getting to know our new school family. Each day I ask students new questions as a part of building community. The students enjoy the process and getting to know one another, more often than not finding connections that immediately bond them. Connecting with my students is a priority in the first weeks and months of school because I truly believe in the power of connection. However, this school year was different because of the pandemic. I found myself teaching virtually full time, my new moniker being DLT for digital learning teacher.
I would never have called myself computer literate back then, but today I can say that I am pretty savvy with technology, platforms, and knowing how to run a pretty smooth Google meet. It has taken me 4 months to learn how to effectively teach in the virtual world. I have had many moments of stress wondering if I can take another day in the virtual world, but I have also had many moments of joy. Those moments of joy and triumph over challenges is what I will share here with you today.
Teaching virtually is the hardest thing I have ever experienced in my 5 years of teaching. Just when I thought I was getting into the groove of teaching face to face, the pandemic came in and I had to learn a new way to teach, including a new way to connect with my students. The first weeks were difficult because cameras were always turned off and I had no way if I was talking to anyone behind the colored dot. Eventually, I asked to see some of the faces behind those dots as my students became comfortable with me. It took an entire quarter for many of my students to engage so I gave a lot of grace during this time. This was not teaching or learning for that matter, but I did the best I could in the situation that we were all forced to be in because of the pandemic. Morning meetings became our “get to know you” time and as days went along it became a show and tell and a joke of the day time as well. I started seeing more smiling faces coming into our virtual world. We were connecting and it was indeed powerful.
The next step for me was investing in my students and their families. I have several students who rarely complete tasks in my class, but there is one in particular who consistently comes late to class or just pops in when he feels like it. He never completes tasks or homework. He is a hard worker when he shows up, so I know he has potential. Usually a joke is my opening, followed by “So what do you do during your free time?” That is all it usually takes. Find their interests. I learned that my student played football and had practice everyday after school. Conversations with this student led to my finding out that homework was not being completed because of football practice and family dinner time which was a ritual. By the end of dinner and conversation, my student was so exhausted from the day, so work was not being completed. Mom was also taking classes online and did not have the time to help as much as she would like and dad worked the night shift as a county sheriff. My student was pretty much left to do his work alone. He was not capable of this yet. I continued getting to know my student and day received an invitation to a football game that he was playing in. I gladly attended. My student was so excited to see me and was even more excited to share with our class that I made it to his playoff game. I was making connections and the stronger I made them, the more invested my student was in completing his work. I am happy to report that his grades are coming up and his attendance has doubled since last quarter. Last week I had a picnic lunch with him, socially distanced of course. But everyone in the family had a hand in that lunch. Dad, who is a chef, cooked me a homemade lunch and mom set it up on school grounds for me and my student. My student brought the biggest smile he could carry. I was overjoyed. This Saturday I am attending the Super Bowl to cheer him on. Connections. They are powerful.