Four teachers in the Joliet Elementary Council of Local 604 were interviewed about their experience teaching from home over the last few months. Read their stories below.
The Teachers (from left to right)
Mariangela Carreon, 2nd Grade Teacher at Eisenhower Elementary
Claudia Hernandez, 4th Grade Bilingual Teacher at Cunningham Elementary
Jillian Herbert, 3rd Grade Teacher at Taft Elementary
Catherine Wagner, PreK Teacher at Marycrest Early Childhood Center
What were your initial feelings entering into the e-learning process?
CW: My first thought was, “how am I supposed to do e-learning with preschoolers?! It’s hard enough to hold their attention in person.” Luckily, I planned ahead and grabbed a couple of my visual props from the classroom to use virtually.
JH: Everything happened so fast! As more information was released about the virus, I knew it was very unlikely we’d be going back to school at all. I missed my students deeply and worried they wouldn’t understand everything going on in the world – I wanted them to feel safe. I was disappointed, too, because the end of the year is full of fun activities and a special time to see all our students achieved.
MC: Making the switch to e-learning has truly changed my life as an educator and a parent. My initial feelings were like those of many others: nervous, uncertain, disconnected. But, as we heard the news that we would be home for a bit longer, I created a plan for the remainder of the school-year-from-home.
CH: At the beginning, I was worried about the unknown, sad that I would not be seeing my students, and wondering if I would be able to balance life with my own children and my students.
What has it been like for you teaching from home?
CH: Bumpy at first. After finding online resources for my students and some teaching tools around the house, it went much more smoothly. It was all about creating an environment of routines and responsibility both for my students and my own children. Consistency is key!
CW: It was challenging, but I soon realized it is all about connections with our youngest learners. You attempt to teach, but when it comes down to it, if I made someone's day a little brighter and they made me smile we all come out ahead.
MC: I was overwhelmed by the amount of work I was doing from home and am thankful for my colleagues and administration, who have been supportive though this journey. At my first Google Hangout with my students, I felt like I had no control over our interactions. After reevaluating our situation and setting guidelines, I was able to interact efficiently with them and make sure their voices were heard.
JH: It is sad, exhausting, there are happy times, frustration, and above all else, it is HARD. I’m grateful to have reliable internet at home to make things easier, but I don't have all of the resources that are inside my classroom. I also have my own young children in preK and first grade. It’s difficult to guide their e-learning (and be mom!) while providing my students with what they need.
How have you had to adapt your teaching in order to reach students and families?
CW: My days seemed fragmented between office hours, teaching time online, webinars, and answering parents’ questions as I tried to find a better way to do this. I now know a lot more and am better prepared if this extends to the fall.
JH: At first, I shared too many resources to families and students to provide them with everything I could to support their child at home. I soon realized this overwhelmed parents and quickly adjusted to be more intentional about which resources and assignments I chose for my students to complete.
MC: While I have found that every meeting size has its place in e-learning, my students and parents prefer small groups for actual lessons. For activities, I had parents share that they were feeling slightly overwhelmed with the amount of work. Allowing my students to complete an e-learning activity in the subject they were working on in the small group, and pushing meeting times to later in the day when parents were home from work really boosted participation and took some pressure off families.
CH: Not all my parents were utilizing my usual form of communication – the Remind app – and it was hard to see who was reading my messages. Reaching out personally allowed me to reassure parents that I am here to work with them through this process and provide the resources necessary for each family.
Might there be an experience you had with students that you felt was a success or win?
CW: One student told me she took her three deep breaths this morning (we do deep breathing and mediate most days in my class). A child would tell another child they missed them and loved them. One student would interrupt and ask, “when can I come back to school? Those moments have helped me through this process.
MC: My students left school not knowing much or any multiplication, and I feel like it is safe to say that most of my students have many skills in this area now! This has brought me to tears a few times. I have never been so proud!
CH: A few of my students reached out because they were having a difficult time subtracting fractions. For each one, I gave one-on-one lessons on Google Meets. I loved that they were taking responsibility for their learning.
JH: Any time I have been able to interact with my students face-to-face, even if it is through a computer, has been a win. Interacting with students is what us teachers live for and what we are really missing right now.
Most importantly, what has your personal life been like? Do you have children, a partner still working and the balancing act you have had to undertake?
JH: My husband is an essential worker, so I am home alone to teach remotely, assist my own children with their e-learning, and provide them with the attention and care they deserve. It has been very hard to find a healthy work and personal life balance during this time.
MC: My husband is an essential worker and we have three young children. Balancing e-learning with my children and with my students was difficult to say the least.
CH: I am married and have three children – it was definitely a balancing act! The most important thing was to create a routine that works for us.
CW: I’ve had it easier than many as my children are grown and out of the house. Being at work grounds me, so I have had to find new ways to ground myself. I have found strength in my students and their families. I look forward to returning to a new sense of normalcy when this time exploring e-learning will become a distant memory that has helped us grow.