Teachers miss person-to-person time with students

Oak View Elementary kindergarten teacher Jamie Schaefer and her children sent a message to her students in a video produced by school counselor Laura Lemert.

When school closings were announced on March 13, parents and teachers quickly realized that home would become school for the immediate future. Social media erupted with funny posts that all contained a grain of truth about what was in store for parents:

“Many parents are just about to discover the teacher was not the problem,” a meme said.

All over the country, parents and teachers quickly took steps to retool for what the rest of the school year would look like. Parents were quickly thrown into homeschooling. while teachers were forced into rapid preparations for e-learning, sending books and materials home, learning new technology, and learning how to teach while on lockdown with their own families.

In addition to writing, I work part-time as a literacy instructional assistant for Northwest Allen County Schools. I work one-on-one with nine students, assisting them with reading. As I prepared to work remotely with my students, I wondered how other teachers were feeling about how the school year was ending, so I posted a question on my Facebook page. I asked my teacher friends, “What is the biggest regret you have about finishing the school year this way? What’s been your biggest challenge?” Within minutes, responses came pouring in from around the world.

A distant cousin, Flavie Lemert Barton, who teaches in England, was the first to respond. “I have taught my students since they were 11 years old. I have looked at them as they have grown and become fantastic people. But I didn’t get to say goodbye, or give them any of the letters I was planning to. I didn’t get to see their smiles when they received their grades after having worked so hard. They were one of my favorite groups ever and I had to just let them go without closure. It sounds silly, since I have been teaching for several years, but it makes me sad.”

Jamie Schaefer, a local kindergarten teacher from Oak View Elementary School in the Northwest Allen County School district, noted her regrets and challenges. “Regrets — Not getting to tell them a proper goodbye; not getting to enjoy the fun end of the year crafts, projects, special events (Bubble Day, Field Day); not giving them hugs as they walked out that last day, thinking that we’d see each other again in a few weeks; not being able to show and praise them for how far they’ve come. Challenges — meeting them each at their own level online, and working with my own kiddos on my lap.”

Jim Bryan grew up in Fort Wayne, and graduated from Snider High School. He is now the coordinator of the Middle Years Program for the International Baccalaureate at Dallas Independent School District in Dallas, Texas. He responded, “A few weeks ago, I wrote about this in a Facebook posting. I was thinking a lot about the Class of 2020 when they were in my 6th grade World Cultures class. Yes, there were some challenging students, but they were also one of the most intellectually curious groups I’ve ever taught, and they taught me how to be a better teacher. I thought about all of those cultural touchstones they will miss — music performances, spring sports, prom, graduation, and sharing those times with friends before they scatter. This was their time to be ‘top dogs’ in the school. I feel for them and for the parents — no senior mothers’ tea, no graduation ceremonies.”

“It could be worse. The Internet could go down,” another meme said.

Joy Geiger commutes from Allen County to her teaching position at Hicksville High School in Hicksville, Ohio, where she teaches German. “Professionally, the hardest part is not being able to read the emotions of my students and work with them personally,” she said. “In the classroom, I can tell who has a question but is afraid to ask, or I can draw out the quieter students. It is difficult to engage them via Zoom (an online meeting application), but it is absolutely better than nothing. Emotionally, I never got to say goodbye, especially to my seniors. It’s really hard to know that some of them I won’t see again, and I didn’t get the chance to hug them and tell them how proud I am.”

“If you see my kids locked outside today, mind your business. We are having a fire drill,” another meme said.

Teachers who are the parents of young children face special challenges when it comes to teaching from home. Ashly Wilson, a second-grade teacher at Oak View Elementary, is the mother of twin 3-year-old boys. “Biggest challenge: parenting and teaching at the same time,” she said. “During my morning class meeting, my son caught his foot in the power cord, and pulled my laptop off the table onto the floor.”

Jessica and Brian Sherck are married teachers, both teaching in the Northwest Allen School system. She concurred with Wilson, “Having two teachers doing remote learning at home while still trying to parent three small children is our biggest challenge.” How do they balance the needs of their own children with those of their students? “You help the best you can,” said Jessica. “Sometimes they have to wait until our school day is over to start their school day.”

Kindergarten teacher Jamie Schaefer related the story of a recent morning teaching session, “I had to try not to lose my cool this morning as I’m in my remote classroom meeting, and my daughter spilled her milk all over the kitchen. And, my coworkers got to watch me struggle with a tired baby during an on-line staff meeting.” With her husband working in an essential position, and not taking her children to their regular child care provider, Schaefer does her best to make things go smoothly. “Thankfully my oldest son is very independent, and hardly ever needs much from me.”

The common thread all the teachers voiced during this difficult time is evidenced in a meme from a teaching website, Bored Teachers: “Virtual teaching will never replace the love, the laughs, the learning, the smiles on students’ faces, the ‘aha’ moments that happen in the actual classroom. The quarantine isn’t a break for teachers and students ... it’s heartbreak.”

The writer is a freelance writer and a Northwest Allen County Schools literacy instructional assistant.

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