I was last a classroom teacher in 1998. I was 28, months away from giving birth to our first of three now-grown children. Each classroom in our school had five clunky desktop computers, we pressed hard with ballpoint pens on layers of carbon copy report cards, and emailing parents would have been considered science fiction. My students were enchanting and wondrous, in love with poetry, books, laughter and life.
Amy Ludwig VanDerwater, an author of books for children and teachers, teaches fourth grade at Parkdale Elementary in East Aurora.
The year is 2020. I am 50, and working as a visiting author is no longer possible. We teachers now wear face masks to work, spray down the copier with cleaner after each use, and should not lend a pencil to a child, much less pat a shoulder or offer a congratulatory high five. It is Covid Time, and classes have gone virtual once again.
Before Thanksgiving, half of my classes went remote. The first half already had been learning through screens each day, and knowing that those-with-experience can teach those new-to-an-experience, I asked my current remote students to share learning tips with their newly remote colleagues.
These wise, generous souls stepped right up.
F: Always have a backpack with you so that you don’t lose your schoolwork. And do not throw anything away because you might need it.
J: Do not leave everything for the last second. Check your Google Classroom daily. Do not go ahead in your schoolwork unless your teacher asks you to.
E: Keep everything in one place, not in different rooms. Organize different subject papers (math, science, ELA) in different folders. Make a list of classwork to do, and check things off when you finish assignments.
N: Set timers during class if you are asked to do work for a certain amount of time. Then you will know when to return. Use a phone timer or another type of timer for this.
S: Choose a special place for scissors, glue sticks and notebooks. Keep binders for each subject so that you can find the papers you need. Schedule times with a parent to go over your work and to gain confidence. Get outside when you are able to do so, and do work outside when possible.
A: Make a family calendar with different Google Meet times for different siblings as well as specials times and family chores. If there are many students in your house, wear headphones so that you will not be distracted.
M: When in a Google Meet, keep your cursor hovering over the mute/talk button so that you can navigate easily. Find a quiet area to work. If your brothers might be charging through the house swinging lightsabers, you will want a quiet place.
G: Always have a couple of sharpened pencils ready so that you will not have to run around trying to find pencils. Check your daily schedule to see what you need for each class.
O: Stay on schedule. If you can sleep in, don’t. That’s classwork time, and you can do your work then. If you have a desk, set up a drawer for each subject, and have a folder for each subject so that you can find everything you need.
My idea to ask these students to share their tips with fellow students was a whim, quick thought, a hope. Well, they stepped up. They stepped up for their friends, shouldering their fourth-grade responsibilities with power and grace, speaking with authority about something I could never have imagined at their age.
My students are enchanting and wondrous, in love with poetry, books, laughter and life. How grateful I am to be a teacher once more.