A chat with a 1st grade teacher who is not teaching this year

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As I wrote a few weeks ago, I’ve been doing some independent interviews with teachers for a separate project I’m scoping out; last week I spoke with a first grade teacher from a private school who will be on maternity leave soon, so she’s sitting the year out. I hope this might be helpful, especially with regards to how parents and teachers can give each other grace. Let me know if this is too crushing to continue to cover and I am more than happy to pursue other topics like the perfect way to make S’mores in the microwave.

What did you learn from the switch to e-learning in the spring?

Especially with the little kids, teachers can put out the content and record the videos and get on Zoom, but it’s as effective as the time the parents have at home. The kids can’t sit on Zoom a whole lot and stay in engaged. I stuck mainly to pre-recorded videos in the spring; I thought that would be better for the parents’ flexibility.

The parents were inclined to watch the videos with the kid, which helped them use the verbiage I used during any given lesson: they could apply that themselves. Common Core is not what we learned when we were growing up and if you’re not hearing how the teacher is wording it — how the teacher’s been trained to word it — it can be complicated and difficult.

What did your school have going for it and what did you wish had gone differently in the spring?

Our principal told us in January to prepare for a closedown. At that point she was saying, “It’s very unlikely, and we really hope we don't close, but given that other countries are dealing with this, I just want this on your radar.” I think our biggest downfall was that we should have gotten on the same page at the same point. Instead of “Prepare for this on your own,” maybe it should have been “Prepare for this — and I’ve signed you up for Google Classrooms training.”

How do you feel about re-opening?

There are pros and cons. In first grade, one thing I thought of right away is if the teachers are wearing masks and the children are wearing masks (which they should be), so much of what they're learning when they’re in the early years is facial expressions and reading people’s faces in terms of reading, pronunciation, articulation. They need to be able to see your mouth and see how you sound a word out and how you read. Then, you’ve got the social aspect: they’re trying to read your facial expression with just your eyes. In that respect, maybe virtual is better, because the kids can see the teacher fully. Although I guess the teacher can use a face shield… But on top of that, we give high fives. The kids are little, they cry. They get upset about peer conflict and teachers will have to adjust how they handle that. It will be an altered personal relationship no matter what. If I had the option, I would keep my kids home this fall and evaluate as the school year went on. But it’s easy for me to say when I don’t have children yet.

I also keep thinking how long it will take to get the kids re-oriented to a classroom again. My kids have forgotten how to have a conversation. 

I’ve heard from other parents that their kids are interrupting again, and losing basic conversation skills. The kids have been through a lot and they’re processing it in their own way. I kept trying to tell my kids in the spring that this is a very unusual situation that I hope doesn’t happen again in your lifetime. 

I do think kids are really resilient. I firmly believe that regardless if parents choose to go virtual or choose to send their kids in, everybody's going to be OK at the end of this.

Even if a parent was able to truly homeschool, I'm sure their kids regressed in other ways socially. The teachers are going to have to adjust their expectations and figure out how to get them caught up, but that’s something they naturally do anyways. 

How can parents support their kids’ teachers this year?

I would reach out to your teacher and ask what resources would help them in the classroom. It’s going to be a really different year in terms of classroom setup: they need different things that they haven’t before. A lot of teachers — public and private — that comes out of their own money. It can be hard as a teacher to decide, “How much money am I going to put into my job this year?”  

Even if parents send their child back, the children are all going to be entering at different levels depending on what the parents could put in. I don’t mean that sound bad. In the spring, some parents were able to put more time into it than others. Teachers understand that.

But if your teacher comes to you and says, “I’d really like you to read with your child for 20 minute every night,” or, “Can you please go over this with them,” being open to those extra assignments as the year goes on will probably help get the children back on a level playing field. Or a parent can reach out and ask, “How is my child progressing in terms of everybody else? Are you noticing a difference in the cohort? What can I do to bridge the gap?” But we know that there are also plenty of kids  whose parents don’t have those resources or any kind of time or the desire to do that. 

We don’t know what we’re doing either. It may be hard when a parent is quick to rebuttal and it’s out of your hands. The start of school, give it a couple weeks before sending complaints, and let the teacher navigate. And keep in mind that the teachers often the messenger from the administration. Your kid’s teacher may not agree with everything the school is dishing out.

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