by Jennifer Miller
During this past year, I took on the challenge of teaching a remote section of first grade for Loveland Schools. To date, this has been the most difficult work situation that I have faced as a teacher during my twenty-three-year career. I started the school year with 38 first graders. Just that hurdle alone made this an imposing task from the start. I remember thinking to myself, “How will I ever be able to deliver meaningful instruction to that many six and seven-year-olds? How will I establish a relationship with each one of them? What if I let my students down?”
My remote teaching team and I immediately had to dig in and make this work for our students. I quickly figured out how to manage thirty-plus students on Zoom calls during the day and created a daily schedule. I did my best to find helpful answers to parent questions and concerns, even though I often didn’t have the answers because so much of what we were doing was new to us all. As the first few weeks turned into the first month of remote learning, I found my way and admitted to my parents that I may not have all the answers about all the new challenges of this unique school year, but what I do know about is the development of six and seven-year-olds. So I asked for their trust. And the rest, as they say, is history.
After many afternoons and nights of stress and reinventing my practices to meet the needs of the situation, I pulled up my bootstraps and really dug into the school year. I had a job to do and my students deserved and needed my very best. I became the technology and wifi expert at my home, I figured out routines such as bi-weekly supply pick-ups; monthly drive-ups at my home for treats, crafts, and encouragement; and I came up with a working schedule that would not overwhelm our district’s young remote learners – or their parents or caretakers, with whom I recognized the need to partner with more than ever. As the year progressed, I had many students transition back to in-person school and from late winter to the end of the school year, I had eighteen students.
I can say with confidence that my students had a wonderful and meaningful learning experience this school year. My parents, students and I worked hard to create a caring and respectful online learning environment. On any given day on any given zoom call, my students and I could be found laughing and learning and being silly. We knew the names of each other’s pets, siblings, and other family members. We even knew what everyone had for lunch. Simply put, we were a learning community and, by extension, a family.
I invited my families to drive by my home in Loveland every month of this past school year so that we could say “hi” in person. I usually had a small treat for them, and I collected a lot of notes, cards, and flowers through the windows of their cars. Those drive-thrus proved to be one of the highlights of our school year together. A few even left me in tears afterward as I realized how awesome we all had made a difficult situation. To be honest, it was a great relief and extra rewarding to find that we could still have such a strong, supportive, and caring learning community in the midst of a pandemic while doing remote school from home. We celebrated birthdays, holidays, and milestones together such as the 50th and 100th days of school. During the Spring we celebrated being reunited with family members and friends as vaccines became available. And on a daily basis, we celebrated each other’s reading, writing, and goals scored over the weekend at soccer. And of course, lost teeth and new haircuts.
As I look back on our school year, I can safely say that we all had a wonderful school experience. Somewhere in between bad wifi connections and reminding them to “unmute,” all of our wrinkles and rough spots were smoothed over. My hope for my remote students is that when they look back on being a kid many years from now, that some of our memories will be there for them and spark joy. Maybe they will remember our renditions of the Gingerbread Man through reader’s theater. Or maybe the puppet shows put on with their siblings as they retold a story via video. Or maybe it was the simple joy of buddy-reading with a friend in a Zoom breakout room. I know for me, when I look back on this school year, I will remember the faces that greeted me each day with a smile during this pandemic and the trust they had in me all along.
To My Stay at Homies: Thank you for believing in me. Thank you for believing in yourselves. Thank you for always having a smile on your face even when you didn’t want to be on a Zoom Call. Thank you for letting me into your home each day. Thank you for sharing your funny stories and jokes with me. Thank you for finding humor in something each and every day. Thank you for laughing at how silly Frog and Toad were with me. Thank you for always asking how I was doing. Thank you for being my anchor during a tough and sometimes sad time. Thank you for being you.
I love all of you and I can’t wait for more hugs and to see you at LPS in August.