By Jeannie Rice
When I was asked to write this essay, I was honored, and a little intimidated. The temptation is to paint a rosy picture at all times. But the truth is, my children aren’t the least bit impressed by being “homeschooled” by the Morgan County Teacher of the Year.
When we first heard that we were closing school and enforcing social distancing, I will admit that I grieved for the loss of some seriously cool lesson plans. District leaders and teachers across the county scrapped our Professional Learning Day plans as we worked nonstop to plan for “school at home.” Our goal was to create plans that would work for students with and without technology, and to only provide previously taught material. We didn’t want to overwhelm parents and students with new material. It was very important, our administration stressed, that we remain equitable to a county with spotty internet services, parents who are juggling multiple children while working from home, and the need to stay socially distanced from our students themselves.
My husband and I are both teachers. We have a grown daughter, and our sons are at the high school. We went from an empty house to having four people working from home. Trying to balance the emotions and time constraints of becoming distance teachers overnight was tempered as we watched our own sons deal with isolation. We have a senior and a freshman. (If you saw “Beauty and the Beast” or the MCHS Marching Band, you’ve seen our boys). We contacted students and we contacted coworkers. Our two boys worked on their assignments, I think. It was a blur.
By our second week, we started to find a rhythm, but it was clunky. We had a “picnic lunch” zoom for students who could participate. Our sons started texting their friends here and there. At any given time, you could walk into a room in our house and accidently find yourself in the middle of someone’s Zoom classroom. I could hear laughter in another room and know that my extrovert was getting his needs met through a Zoom.
I still worry about my senior – I can’t quite face the possibility of what this means for him. I know I am in denial about this, but I have faith that the high school will find a way to make this as good as it can be.
I feel like it is important to remember that we are not homeschooling – We are distance learning at home. That said, different teachers have different strengths. Mine is creating a classroom community, and reading student body language and facial expression to gauge understanding. That’s a hard thing to do on a Zoom! I miss the community we’ve built. I miss watching my students interact and build from each others’ strengths. I miss communication with my colleagues where we pop our heads in the hallway and give a quick update on a child or a “This class just rocked out their fractions test!” just loud enough for them to all hear. My colleagues and I are communicating constantly, but we can only move at the speed of a group text. It’s hard to read body language and intent in a group text.
But you know what?
Morgan County, ALL of us are in this together! All of us are struggling on the bad days. And hopefully, we’re all finding some silver linings. We are spending more time together. We are taking walks together. We purposely schedule work time and away-from-work time. The beauty behind this awful beast is that we can actually slow all of the things we worry about – the over scheduled lives of our children, the competitive nature of grades, the social pressures to have the best or to be the best.
I have a note to our academic community. Please don’t worry that your child will fall behind. Every child in the state of Georgia is experiencing this, as are children around the country, and the world. Our children will have memories of the worldwide pandemic. What are the messages and the memories we want to create? We have the ability to control the spread of this by being responsible to and for each other. One Morgan is a real community. We slow this spread and protect our vulnerable population by staying home as much as possible. Mr. Rogers said, “When I was a boy and would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’ One Morgan, WE are the helpers.
Jeannie Rice teaches 5th grade at Morgan County Elementary and was the 2020 Morgan County Teacher of the Year.