In August Rachel Stanley welcomed a crew of highly energetic second graders to her classroom at Vestavia Hills Elementary Liberty Park, and for three-quarters of the school year they filled their days with laughter and fun alongside learning with themed dress up days when they read books like BFG or James and the Giant Peach. Little did they all know that their classroom would be a virtual one the last part of the year due to the COVID-19 crisis. “I feel really lucky that Vestavia has approached this in a way that we are supporting the whole child,” Rachel tells us about e-learning. “I check in on their learning, but it’s more to listen to them share about their bird feeder and how brave their dad is when he has to come home and shower before he comes inside.” We chatted with Rachel to get a glimpse of a teacher’s quarantine life.
What does “home school” really look like?
The state has identified second-grade standards, and we have solely focused on those and just doing one subject a day. Right now we are building what the know about two-digit addition to learn three digit addition, and we are learning about problems and solutions, habitats, and branches of government. Our goal in Vestavia is not to overwhelm our students. We want them to continue learning, but we understand that life is happening. My goal is for them to log into their computer at one point in the day and do one fully focused learning task.
What do video chat class meetings look like?
We have meetings as a class every Tuesday on Google video chat. It’s more about staying connected, to keep us all seeing each other’s faces. We started off our first meeting with video chat etiquette and discussed what listening looks like. I have met bunnies and cats and dogs. I think my students love being able to invite you into their home in a way we don’t get a chance to do at school. I think they are dying for any sort of connection, so those video chats are a lifeline. It reminds me each week why I do this, and I make myself available for one-on-ones for students who have needed a pick me up or extra help with a math problem.
How are you and other teachers innovating in this time?
We’re finding ways to do what you normally do in school when we are not together. Some of my coworkers have done crazy hat day on their Google meetings, and another did a scavenger hunt with her students. Teachers have been doing read alouds on their meetings. Every Friday my class shares appreciations when they are in school, so today we shared appreciations. A lot of them were for their parents or siblings for having fun with them or helping them or working in a hospital and being brave.
You have to be ready for anything. We did a show and tell one day and had a bunny who jumped on the computer and logged the student out. Sometimes the link you use doesn’t work or the platform you have chosen is down. As a teacher you want to plan for everything possible that could go wrong, but everybody has to be patient and flexible.
What’s it like for you working from home while also parenting?
The balance is difficult. Before I was at work and I could focus on work, and then I could leave and come home and focus on home. Now those boundaries are blurred. Sometimes my 2-year-old is screaming in the background and that’s life. It also reminds me what my kids’ families are going through. I can’t expect them to do something with their kids that I can’t do with my son.