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The Year Teaching Changed

By Emma Walker

You all are probably unaware of who I am so let me lead to a simple introduction. My name is Emma and I am a pre-kindergarten Intervention Specialist. Typically when people hear that they say, “Oh- that must be hard?!” I’ll start by saying it is hard. Nothing about my job is easy and that’s why it is even more difficult in the 2020-2021 school year. I work in an integrated classroom, which means we have eight students on Individualized Education Plans (IEPs) and 12 students who are not on IEPs. I am the intervention specialist and I work with a general education teacher and an aide. This set up works seamlessly in the classroom. Being thrown the curveball of 2020 we knew it was going to take a lot of planning and trial and error.

To give you more detail to what my current situation looks like, in March of 2020 we decided to go virtual. At first my district did supplemental packets. We sent home boxes with Lakeshore Learning materials that included construction paper, glue, scissors, markers, crayons, Play-Doh, and a couple other materials that they could use at home. Teachers were to supplement this with online games, videos, and projects they could complete at home. At this point in time we were completely clueless as to when and how this was going to end. Everyone mostly assumed we would end the school year and return the next year to a traditional school year.

I work in a large, low-income district that services 40,000 kids a year. So when our CEO makes a decision to be virtual, hybrid, or return, he has to account for every single one of those 40,000 children that may be on the west side, downtown or eastside of Cleveland. Come August, our CEO decided that we would be virtual for the first quarter. Teachers were required to spend three whole weeks training, learning new websites, teaching techniques, and effectively setting up their “virtual classroom,” which has been all the rage this year.

We started our school year off with a ton of different expectations and to say it was stressful is an understatement. There seems to be a lot of assumptions when it comes to teaching little kids. Many think, “Oh, that must be easy” or, “It can’t be that hard to teach little kids on the internet,” but it is. Teachers, like myself, are taking extra time to create engaging lessons. There is extra communication with the parents to ensure success. There is extra time spent daily fixing technical issues and calling IT if need be. Some may not think about it but up until this point, teachers have put countless hours into a school year full of lessons that they tweak and perfect for the coming year. Up until this point most teachers do not have a years’ worth of online resources. Everyone was re-inventing the wheel at the same time. On top of all of the ins and outs to teaching online, everyone is feeling the stress of the pandemic. As we are all experiencing the stress of the pandemic and searching for the finish line of all this, nothing seemed to be getting much better.

For myself, as the end of the first quarter neared, we found out we are staying virtual until the end of the holiday break. As holiday break grew close, they then announced we would not go back until after January 22nd. It is all a waiting game that does not seem to have an ending point which is extremely frustrating for parents. For most people once you get a new job you learn that job and it basically stays the same unless you get a promotion over the years. Teaching in 2020-2021 means you can be virtual one day and then find out by the end of the week you are going back to in-person teaching. For a teacher that means preparing and uploading all virtual documents online today and start preparing lesson plans and materials for in-person teaching by the end of the week. Oh, and while you’re at it, be sure to teach for eight hours a day and do all the extra stuff on your own time.

Wow, that was a lot. I am exhausted just from writing all of that. I hope by sharing this personal narrative that you can relate. If you do not relate, maybe you can check on your teacher friends or people you may know just to see how they are doing. It has been a year for us all and it makes a difference to be kind.