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After two days of remote learning, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve cried. My breaking point came when I found myself lying on my bed, lights off, trying to picture myself back in my classroom. No teacher ever imagined teaching young students this way and yet Covid19 has forced us to go against everything we know unexpectedly, in order to create a meaningful, remote experience for our students.
Amidst my worry and uncertainty, I keep reminding myself that this is a unique opportunity to creatively teach the curriculum and explore new platforms. Will it be the same as I taught before? Most certainly not. Can I still make creative and dynamic lessons that are aligned with my specific units? Perhaps. Will I help further my students learning in some way? Absolutely.
And I’m lucky: unlike many schools around the world, I’m teaching in a community where students have access to food, clothing, support, and online learning, even when they aren’t in the classroom. Our school and our families aren’t facing hardships on the same level many others are, which is one reason why we're able to completely adjust our curriculum to meet these new challenges.
And now, here I am two days into teaching seven-year-olds remotely and I have already gleaned some very valuable insight. I have been pushed to think creatively and asked to work harder and more dynamically than ever before in my career. I am doing my best to stay true to my calling as a teacher: to reach our youngest learners. It hasn’t been easy, but I have found significant handholds already. Below are a few ways I’ve found I’m able to coach, connect, and create with our elementary-aged students during this unique time:
Be flexible. It’s important to adjust your expectations of what your students will achieve. Yesterday, a student started playing with her cat in the middle of my lesson! Don’t worry about reaching certain benchmarks and instead focus on what you can do presently to help engage your students. Educators and parents alike should understand that there will not (and should not!) be eight full hours of homeschooling. There will be a lot of outside stimuli that will be a distraction, so let go of the little things and go with the flow.
Bring consistency to your students. Just like in person, routines and rules offer a structure for successful learning. Maintain as many of the same expectations that you held in your classroom when conducting online learning: be on time, be respectful, be responsible. This may feel nearly impossible for young students, especially those who are using online learning tools for the first time ever, but encourage it and stay committed to it-- you’ll see eventually how helpful it is.
Make it DYNAMIC! Interactivity and engagement are key— young students will be much more compelled to complete their work at home if they are inspired by it and can share the experience with others.
Be okay with imperfection. Everything goes out of the window with remote learning. You will absolutely make mistakes but the more you laugh about them and provide self-compassion, to yourself and to students and their families. This is perhaps the most important and hardest lesson I’ve learned over these past two weeks. I’ve seen parents who have taken out their fears and frustrations on our faculty; I’ve seen students cry because they don’t know what’s going to happen. I’ve also seen our community come together in meaningful and monumental ways, lending a helping hand to someone in need or sending a kind email to a teacher or a parent who is doing their very best.
Eventually, remote learning will come to an end and we will resume our normal schedules and routines. Remember to reach out to your fellow teachers and administrators if you need support. Be kind to yourself, allow for mistakes to happen, and know families are grateful for any learning opportunities you can provide at home. Good luck-- we’re all in this together!
Yael Cushman has worked in elementary education for over 13 years. Originally from Marin, CA, she now teaches first grade in Palo Alto, prioritizing project-based learning and holistic curriculum. In her spare time, she loves running and hiking outdoors, as well as befriending any and all adorable dogs.