Since Maine’s stay home orders have gone into effect, it has become evident teachers are among those hardest working and most essential. With directions coming down for Alternative Organizational Structure (AOS) 98 schools to continue remote learning, some teachers are finding it hard to end the year separated from their students.
Boothbay Region Elementary School fourth grade teacher Kathy Hartley will retire this year after 21 years. Kindergarten teacher Jordan Plummer is in her second year teaching at BRES.
“I am so sad that this is how my career has ended, so I have had some tearful days. To not be able to see the students, to not have closure is heartbreaking,” said Hartley.
Before orders for schools to close, Plummer said she could not imagine not seeing her students for months on end. “After Christmas break I am ready to go back and see my kiddos, so going this long without seeing them is certainly eye-opening.”
Both teachers said the hardest thing about not being able to teach in a classroom is a lack of face time, but there are some areas where remote learning has been positive, particularly the opportunities technology gives everyone to connect. Plummer has created a private Facebook group where students participate in a live morning meeting and where Plummer reads a story in the afternoon. Hartley said she is happy to have fellow fourth grade teacher Jennifer Lassen to work with and help everyone stay connected. “She does so much of the setting up of all the Google-Classroom, Google-Meets, ‛Google this’ and ‛Google that,’ and never makes me feel bad that I am a fossil with a different set of skills to offer.”
Through Facebook, Plummer is able to push crafts, activities, stories and other materials out to students and their families. She can also FaceTime with at least two students a day. “Some students call me every day, just to get that feeling of normalcy to start their day. I am always telling parents that I need it just as much as they do.”
Hartley said many of her favorite memories of teaching came from her early years when testing and technology were not receiving as much emphasis and when teaching integrated all subjects in a more inquiry-based manner. Hartley believes the value of the classroom is becoming more apparent.
“I think this is giving especially the students a time to realize how fortunate they are to have a school to go to. They miss us and their friends and actually learning with a real person. I think coming back is the perfect time for BRES to shake things up, look at different ways to construct the day, get rid of routines that were not working, be radical. It can be a time of renewal.”
Plummer said while the pandemic is changing the way she teaches now, she is not certain how it will change things when students and teachers finally reunite. A strong believer in limiting technology use and screen time, she said being separated has been exceptionally difficult. With parents being the middleman for teachers and their young students, Plummer said she is especially wary about passing too many activities and assignments along or scheduling too many periods of online meetings. “I have an ongoing battle in my head of ‘This is too much screen time, but I want them to see me, but are my videos preventing them from getting outside enough?’”
Hartley also said people need to consider the added stress to parents becoming teachers in addition to everything else going on at home or work. “I think many parents are extremely overwhelmed. Providing too much work is problematic in some the grades, and certainly is causing frustration amid the students and families.”
As for how the teachers themselves are taking social distancing, Plummer said she is hanging in there trying her best to comfort her students. “I could say the same about my colleagues. We miss each other. We get excited for IEP meetings to see colleagues we may not be talking to every day. We’re sending emails and texts to just check in.”
When schools reopen, Hartley and Plummer said BRES will have to change somewhat, to catch students up, reconnect students with their school community and rediscover the benefits of the classroom. Plummer said some of those changes will be with curriculum and Hartley said some will be changing how teaching is done.
Said Hartley, “Since I will not be there to be involved, it is difficult to say … but I truly hope that the staff will use this as a time to totally get creative. I think more than ever bringing mindfulness and breath work to all grades will be essential.”
Plummer said the biggest silver lining is the gratitude shown among teachers, students and the entire community and the thankfulness everyone has for school. The self-described type A” personality has learned to embrace the unknown and go with the flow.
Said Plummer, “I’m not always sure what tomorrow will hold, but that is out of everyone’s control right now. We can control the love we give to each other, the support we offer and the kind gestures that are holding us all together. I honestly do not know what the new normal will look like at BRES, but I know we will still be a loving, caring and kind family … I will not stop giving my students hugs and high fives, that’s for sure. I will, however, be grateful for every single day I have at school with my students.”
Asked what wisdom she has for colleagues in their first years of teaching in these unprecedented times, Hartley said if most of the emphasis is on the social and emotional needs of students, the academics will follow.
“Go slow to go fast. Pair up with a fossil teacher, for moderation in technology is essential and outlier ways of paper and pencil and cursive and everything else is equally as important. For those of us ending our careers, we just have to know we have done our best and this too shall pass. Things always have a way of being positive … I just want my fourth graders, and all the students I have ever had to know I thank them for allowing me to be a small part of their lives. I thank BRES for being a supportive, caring community to work in. I truly have been blessed.”