Melissa Kimble is a second grade teacher at Wilson Elementary in the Granite City Community Unified School District. She is a member of the Granite City Federation of Teachers, Local 743.
Rise & shine
Getting ready for work hasn’t changed much for me. I am one of those fortunate people who wake up like clockwork anywhere between 4:30 and 5:00 a.m. But forget “real clothes” – I get dressed in my new daily “costume” of black dance pants and a jacket.
Finding my workspace
My two children are honor students at Granite City High School, so they have rigorous schedules filled with Facebook Live lessons, Zoom meetings, and Google Classroom work. I regularly monitor them to make sure they complete their work on schedule and must admit, the stress of keeping them on top of things was stifling that first week. To give them their space and to save myself from those distractions, I feel compelled to leave the house as much as possible to work from home.
Luckily, we have a park right across the street from my house, so on nice days, I put on my walking shoes and start calling my 29 students. These calls are considered “social and emotional health days.” Ironically, it seems like some of my students’ parents need the support more than the students! They worry about how well they are facilitating their child’s learning, and it is my duty to lessen their apprehension about this huge responsibility they now face. I find myself repeating, “Just do the best you can” over and over. I also keep hearing, “I don’t know how you do it, especially with 28 other students!”
These conversations with parents highlight how overwhelming and frightening this pandemic is. One mother I speak with often is only working one of her two jobs to support her five children (she lost her second job because it is one of the “non-essential” businesses that are shut down). Her first job is working at a nursing home – one of the first facilities hit hard with the virus in our hometown. She has to strip down every night after work before walking into her home and is mentally and emotionally exhausted by the time she gets showered and can sit down with her family. I assure her that her child will be fine and that we’re all in this together. Realistically, we teachers have to keep doing our jobs knowing that some students are managing their schoolwork with limited support as their parents struggle with work challenges, caring for elderly family members, or just dealing with the crippling fear from this horrific situation.
Teaching is a team effort
Teaching remotely is very difficult! We have a packet of materials covering various subjects that students pick up every few weeks – they can pick lunches up at that time, too. For students whose parents don’t have reliable transportation, my cohorts and I deliver these materials ourselves. We also encourage use of our web-based reading and math series if they have a device and internet access. (If they don’t, we’re tasked with helping students obtain one.)
We use ClassDojo to communicate as a class. Though it took me some time to set up, it has proven invaluable for keeping in touch with parents, sending reminders and instructions to my students, and keeping students connected. The children look forward to seeing photos of their classmates and enjoy learning about what the other kids are zealously exploring.
I am one of those teachers who gives out my home phone number on “Meet the Teacher Night.” This allows me to have open communication with my students’ parents from day one. On several occasions, I have spoken to a child or coached them through a lesson from home. So as different as this new setup is, this part is nothing new!
We rely heavily on parents to make sure students complete their work, and so far, they are doing a phenomenal job. It’s great to hear the different plans that families devise to fit school into their family dynamic – whether the schoolwork is done all at once or divided up and inserted between play, exercise, meals and family time. Some parents are inspiring their kids to go above and beyond the school workload, like Evie, whose mom sent along photos of her working on her monthly KiwiCrate activity – a solar system project.
I had a student teacher this year – Reed – and you can tell that the students miss him because they all mention him by name during our meetings. Luckily, he will continue to teach our class about the butterfly’s life cycle via video and is recording weekly observations.
Challenges to staying on track
Keeping my students on the same path has been challenging. Writing is the subject I miss teaching the most, and I have encouraged parents to keep steering their children toward writing their “Patriots in the Park” essay, which is an annual tradition in my classroom. The experiences that we share together precipitates the motivation and excitement for writing in my classroom. I do have a few tricks up my sleeve and hope that my students will still be self-motivated to write. I’ve been monitoring my students closely and making sure, especially for those students who are very interested in writing (like Patrick, pictured below), that they keep it up and their interest doesn’t falter.
This month, we would be attending our yearly field trip to the St. Louis Zoo. This year, our class had decided to adopt the Red Panda. Instead, I have encouraged parents to assist their child in watching a virtual video and choosing an animal of their choice to research. Their writing assignment and illustration will be uploaded to their portfolio on ClassDojo.
The students are coping
Children are so resilient and are adjusting well, but they are affected by this on so many levels.
One of my students, Mia, hasn’t missed a beat despite having her days and nights confused. She is reading fluently, successfully practicing her math skills, and finishing her packets expeditiously. She’s been making singing and dancing videos, and I was thrilled to receive a call from her promising a special surprise on my front porch. I envisioned a chocolate bunny or brightly painted Easter egg – but to my amazement, it was toilet paper! She remembered I mentioned having trouble finding it at the grocery store during one of our conversations.
Another student, Haley, is spending most of her time with dad while mom works on the front lines as a neonatal nurse in St. Louis. Dad is a former student of mine and laughed as he told me he is “learning to teach.” He helped Haley complete a writing assignment that conveyed that how fearful Haley is about her mom getting sick from taking care of babies at work. Mom, of course, was heartbroken when she read the story.
This is something we would have covered during one of our “thoughts and feelings” lessons during class time. When trepidation fills the minds and hearts of my students, we address it. I teach my students the importance of conveying their feelings to their family and friends. When addressing tough situations or unsettling topics, my students and I put our hands on our hearts, close our eyes, take a deep breath, and send a “well wish” to someone in need, who just might be a friend sitting next to them. I have explained it as sending a positive, loving thought to someone who is hurting. I told her mom I’d do just that, and she passed it on to Haley to help deal with her fears.
I’m coping too
I have a very busy family life. In addition to my two kids, I help take care of my uncle who was paralyzed in the Vietnam War, so I spend a great deal of my time in the evenings at his house. One of my students actually just asked about him and sent him a “well wish” on one of our marathon calls. It brought a tear to my eye!
I’m staying connected to my colleagues through a Facebook Messenger group. We talk about curriculum and other school-related items, but we also serve as a support group for one another – just as we do during a regular school year. We planned and created a video to share with our students, organized a drive-by parade for our beloved secretary, celebrated the birth of a fellow teacher’s grandchild, and have prayed for one another’s family members along the way. I am also very lucky to teach with some of my very best friends. We talk on the phone and text constantly, as we normally do.
As far as “self-care,” I am trying to keep up with my daily exercise routine. I am trying to slow down and enjoy more time with my mother. My daughter introduced me to Tiger King – that’s another story! We watch a lot of movies together as a family and have made our own fun inventing new ways to work out, like flipping a tire and boxing. Watching my daughter and son choosing to spend time together and hearing them belly-laugh like they did when they were little is priceless! And while it’s difficult to find solace with so many people have been personally devastated by this pandemic, I have truly cherished the quality time that it has allowed me to spend with my family.
I miss my students terribly and am looking forward to seeing their precious, smiling faces on a daily basis. I have found that it is the small things that I’m anticipating the most: students like Zoey, who came to my desk at least once a day and said, “I am so glad that you are my teacher!” I would reply, “And I am so very glad that you are my student.” I can’t wait to see my students jumping up from their lockers as I round the corner in the morning. I can’t wait to hear a student say, ”bless you,” when a fellow student sneezes. I can’t wait to hear a child shout, “You are capable, proficient, and self-sufficient,” in response and support of a fellow classmate during a “thoughts and feelings” session. I can’t wait to get back to school! I am thankful for the opportunity to make a difference in the life of a child, because I know they have made a HUGE difference in mine.