Remote teaching is not for the fainthearted. It is hard. It is exhausting. It is lonely. It is adorable. It is hysterical. It is rewarding. It is life changing.
As one of the lucky ones, I can teach from school so that I may be as active and entertaining as possible in my classroom. Only 25% of our staff is allowed on campus at a time. This makes our school feel like a ghost town; it is quiet, lonely, and really eerie. As I commute every morning with my 80’s music pumping me up, I send a prayer request, “Let today be a glitch-free day.” If all my 19 students can get online via their school laptop, not have any blurry moments, not get bumped off the internet, and can see me just fine, then I will take that as a WIN! If they learn something new from me, laugh with me, and move with me, then I will take that as a BONUS!
Not all days are glitch free–Frozen Dr. Goliff
Every day, my Kindergarten class starts the day with a Yay moment. While on a Microsoft TEAMS video call, we can all see other while child gets to share something important. Everything is important! The new bey blade toy, the new kitten, the teacher’s earrings, a drawing, the snowman they hope to build, and on and on. I never rush this part. This is the time for each child to shine and learn about each other. The faces may be tiny on a screen, but the stories are huge. It is our chance to make this crazy way of learning a safe place.
After we are done sharing our important news, I ask the kids to pin me. This allows the kids to have me as their main presenter and big on the screen. I leave the kids so that I can see each face on my screen. The kids all know they are muted until it is their turn to talk. Some of the children are in day care settings with LOTS of background noise, others have baby brothers and sisters, and a few are the only child in their household. We respect the mute button so that all can hear me, their teacher. The kids all know how to raise their hand or wave wildly to catch my attention, because I do not want any child to feel they can’t ask a question or share their thinking. With our classroom communication tools under our belt, we are ready to learn!
We move on to phonics and math. Each skill lesson starts with a request for a tool: playdough, math counters, notebook and pencil, or crayons. We will use these tools to stay engaged as we learn our sound of the day, number skill, or science fact. I have made online games we can play together to practice our skills. These games are made available for the kids on Canvas, a platform for sharing lessons and activities with the kids.
Dr. Goliff gets a sticker for each child’s correct answer.
Once a month, we have a goodie bag pick up, where the families come to school to pick up a goodie bag full of projects, math books, supplies, and treats. Everything is organized by color (each color represents a week), so I can ask the kids to grab their yellow folder and take out the snowman paper for a shapes lesson. Without these supplies, teaching and learning would be so much more challenging.
We started the year with no tools. By the third week of school, we had 8 weeks planned out and supplies ready to be picked up. The students NEEDED their materials to make learning stick. I have loads of related songs, so each lesson can have 2-3 related movement breaks as part of the lesson. Kindergartners need movement to stay engaged. Without music and movement, I would lose all attention.
Read alouds are another crucial part of our day. Our stories are related to our emotions, social justice, and science. We use theater skills to make our read alouds come to life. The kids meet their PE, Music, and Library teachers in a 30-minute video chat. Here, they will work out, sing, and read stories with their teachers, just as they would in regular school. Their teachers have videos to help keep the kids engaged, and we use the honor system to trust that each child participates. After specials, they come back to me.
I have found that 45 minutes on, 15 minutes off keeps the kids engaged and allows them to have restroom and water breaks without interrupting the class. This also allows for eyeball breaks—time away from the computer to give the brain and eyes a short break. I am on my feet from 8:22 until the last child signs off at 11:55. I get to dance and jump during brain breaks. I get to act out the stories. I get to wiggle during phonics and slide during math. I get to wear a crown and get call “queen’ for a day when we practice the /kw/ sound. On Wednesdays we have an online ‘lunch picnic’ together, without any muting. The ruckus is priceless. The kids love sharing their food. They have learned that if they take turns, they can listen to each other’s silly, TERRIBLE jokes!
After lunch is precious, and it is even more important that our technology works. I meet with groups of kids, no more than 4, for intentional phonics or math lessons and assessments. If a child does not have a meeting with me, he is expected to go to Canvas and play the activities I have assigned for that day. This allows for more practice and exposure to all of our skills. Most of the time the kids make it back for our meeting. There are a few, the ones who need it the most, who can’t get back to me for various reasons. This is when my heart breaks a little. I worry about the kids who don’t come. I worry that they have enough food or are warm enough. I worry that they or a family member has COVID and are scared. I do not worry about if they are falling behind, because right now, my focus is on emotional heath, survival, and being flexible.
I am thrilled to say that despite all the unknowns and changes this year, my students are progressing, healthy, having fun at school, and love learning. I love hot chocolate days with clinking mugs, when my face freezes while my internet goes wonky, when a child shares that she played in the snow on the “mountains close to the ground,” the hand a child drew with my nail polish, and when the kids compliment me by saying, “Dr. Goliff, you are so silly.” Yes, this is when I have to laugh, because if I don’t, I may start to cry.
I really appreciate all that teachers do to engage their students and give them a feeling of normalcy in these difficult times.