If you ask a local teacher what he or she thinks about the school year being interrupted by the coronavirus, you’ll get a variety of answers — but they all come from the same place in their hearts.
Teachers all over Bulloch County were saddened by the news that schools were closing, many shedding tears when they realized that they wouldn’t see their students again in person this academic year. But being the resilient creatures that they are, these teachers, along with their students, have been making the best of a bad situation.
Anastasia Brown, who teaches high school English and performing arts at STEAM Academy, says her school is like a family, and she misses not only her students, but her co-workers as well.
“We support each other throughout the year, and that has not changed,” she said. “We still talk, we have group chats and phone calls. We send each other memes we know we’d like. If I’m unsure of an online lesson, I know my co-workers will give me the feedback I need. We are also very understanding of how it feels to be away from our students. I myself find it extremely difficult.”
Brown says students at STEAM have continued their learning through Schoology, which is a social networking service and virtual learning environment for K-12 school. She has been posting videos of herself to clarify daily lessons in her English classes, and dance videos for her performance class.
Before students began distance learning, Brown says she reached out to her students using Zoom.
“At that time, we did not know if we would be going back to school for fourth term. We talked about what everyone was doing. Lots of video games, etc. Some students were really worried and missed their friends and our school. I told them that we and the world are in uncharted waters, and we’ll get through this,” she said.
Since beginning distance learning, Brown meets with students several times a week via Zoom, and they discuss not only academics, but also what’s going on in their lives.
“We talk about the class, but we also just talk. It’s important to have some form of normalcy. All of us talking about our week or a movie we saw, or an activity we did, is just as important as the play we are studying in class,” she said.
Brown says she and her students are no longer limited by time, as there are no class periods.
“If we are having a great class discussion, now we can talk as long as we want. I spoke to a group of students yesterday and instead of only discussing the play we were currently reading, we had time to discuss more of their works and other playwrights, just more in depth than we might have previously had time for,” she said.
But even so, being out of school is difficult for them all, Brown said.
“Our school is like home for many of our students. It is their happy place. Their friends and teachers who care about them are there. And they miss them,” she said. “I’ve had a few e-mails from students letting me know they were thinking of me and missed being in class. Teachers can be like an extra set of parents, and being away from them can be difficult. It goes both ways — our students are like our children and it is painful not seeing them.”
Angela Summerford teaches third, fourth and fifth grade ELA and math at Bryan County Elementary School, and has taught her students online via Google Classroom. Each of the students at BCES received a Chromebook so that everyone had a device to work on.
“We have Google Meets to meet and check on our students to encourage them,” she said. “Several of our teams have made signs and posters, collages as well as videos to encourage the learning.”
Like Brown, Summerford says she misses her colleagues.
“I miss my teacher friends tremendously. We, at BCES, are a close-knit family and rely on one another and enjoy spending time together. We’ve had team meetings via Zoom and we do a lot of group texts to talk and support one another,” she said.
Summerford says her students are coping pretty well, despite missing interaction with their peers and teachers.
“I have three children of my own and they are missing their friends very much. It’s definitely been a struggle teaching online and making sure my own three do all of their work,” she said, adding that she is holding up fairly well. “I’m a social person so I like to get out. I love my job and my work family, so I miss them very much.”
Summerford believes that this time away from the classroom will affect each child differently.
“Students who are on grade level or above will be OK, but I think the ones who were already struggling will get further behind. I know teachers, though, and I know they will work doubly hard next year to do everything they can to catch everyone up. It’s in our blood. I think in the end, we will all be OK though,” she said.
The best thing parents can do right now, she adds, is to read with and to their children.
“Reading daily is the bridge to gaining and maintaining literacy skills,” she said.
Eddie Frazier, who teaches drama to ninth through 12th grade students at Statesboro High School, says he’s been e-mailing various enrichment activities to his students, and meeting with them via Zoom for virtual lessons.
“And I’ve been working with some of my acting students to produce a virtual Vaudeville. Vaudeville is our annual variety show. This is its 21st year,” he said.
Frazier has been reaching out to his students as well to offer encouragement via e-mails and phone calls.
“I’ve sent out cards to them, letting them know they are missed. I’ve definitely let them know that they are missed,” he said.
Frazier also misses his teaching colleagues, and has talked with many of them over the phone. The Fine Arts Department meets weekly via Zoom as well.
Students are doing well, Frazier says, adding that his students have said they miss school.
“They do miss seeing their friends every day; however, they let me know that they are Facetiming and Snapchatting with all their friends. So, thank goodness for technology. But I can tell they miss their routine,” he said.
Frazier is hopeful that students continued their studies throughout the remainder of the school year, and that they are using the time to do some of the enrichment projects so they “will be able to master the material that we would’ve been doing in class.”
All three teachers say they are doing well, but are just ready for things to get back to normal.
“I’m keeping up with grades and getting in contact with students and having meetings,” Frazier said. “Personally, I must admit it’s lonely. As the drama teacher, I spend a lot of time at school with my kids, and now I’m at something of a loss. But I have great administrators who call and text to see how I’m doing, and I talk with my friends from work. And of course, I call my family, so I’m doing OK. All in all, I’d rather be at work though.”
Brown says her husband has been a strong support for her.
“He knows how much my students mean to me and is very understanding and supportive. Professionally, I know I need to be strong, not just for myself, but for my students. We don’t always know what our students are going through, but it’s important that those students know they can count on us,” she said. “I never think of teaching as a job. To me, it’s breathing. My students are my life.”