Where to Begin

Karen stood in the back of her classroom in March and pondered what types of materials to take home in order to virtually teach. “Teachers in general have a very strong sense of place in their classrooms. Any teacher will tell you, you spend a lot of time and energy getting your classroom exactly how you want it before the kids arrive.” she continued, “everything has purpose. I stood there for probably twenty to twenty five minutes, kind of frozen. Trying to reflect. What do I need from here that I can bring to my home?” 

As someone who taught with a “hands on” approach, choosing the right materials was rightfully challenging. “ It’s my job to provide these kids with learning opportunities and put something in front of them that they can tinker with and explore, and understand.” After shifting her lesson plans, finding temporary homes for the class pets, and adjusting to what would soon be the new normal, Karen began life as a virtual teacher. 

Everyone’s a First Year Teacher

It’s been years since Karen had “First Year Teacher” nightmares. As the reality of the pandemic became more apparent, Karen found herself having these worries again. Luckily, her school provided emergency training on how to utilize tools and resources to effectively teach these young kids. “There are so many amazing tools out there and you want to experiment and learn about them. I’ve tried a whole bunch of different experiments with a-synchronous learning.”

She also utilized her time on screen for her students to not only continue learning, but to be together with each other and express any worries or concerns about the uncertainty the world was facing. “Nothing should be mandatory for anybody right now. We’re in a disaster. So, let the kids take what they want and leave what they just can’t handle. That speaks to me.” Going live with her students reminded Karen that everyone was continuously learning, including her, and that it was completely acceptable to take the time to digest this.

A Pandemic. Protests. Virtual Teaching.

Karen lives and teaches in Philadelphia, PA – a city that experienced protests over racial injustice and systemic racism. In June, Karen was teaching as unrest broke out in the streets below her. “We want to know everything that is happening with this movement. We want to be positive and cheer people on and represent the good fight, and try to be aware and alert at the same time.” she proceeded to explain how things shifted quickly. “That news helicopter is following the march, and then the sirens are going. You’ve got the helicopter. You’ve got the sirens, and then for several days, the city was literally burning. The smoke was coming.” 

There was an uncertainty of safety that Karen was trying to manage, wondering whether or not her family and her had to leave the city. Still, Karen stayed dedicated to the students and continued to teach them, taking time to allow herself to breathe by holding up a “technical problems” sticky note. 

Overall: A Dedicated Inspiration

Karen serves as an example of how to gracefully handle uncertainty; how to unlearn and relearn what was once so natural to us. Her dedication to the students she teaches extends beyond the virtual classroom, and is felt from both families and friends of these students. 

To learn more about Karen’s experience, listen to her episode of The Morning Cast (Ep. 7), and reach out to your incredible teacher friends. Thank them for their tireless efforts.

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