What do desk wiping, a reduction in Fitbit steps and the eye of Joe Burrow say about this year in Middle School? While teaching Middle School is always an adventure, in a pandemic year things are certainly a little more unconventional. Despite the challenges facing faculty, they rise to the occasion daily with grace and calm, and students and families appreciate them for it. So, what is it really like being a teacher in 2020/2021?
“I’m grateful to be here,” says eighth grade teacher Kristina St. George. “Even with all of the things that are hard, it’s much easier to be here.” Walk into St. George’s classroom and initially everything looks normal. The desks are all in rows facing the front in anticipation of another school day. Look closer and you see a bottle of sanitizer, paper towels and taped lines on the carpet outlining the teacher’s workspace. With a reluctant smile, St. George shares that this is the first time the desks in her room have actually been in straight rows because she typically likes to cluster desks into group workspaces. Adjusting the space is just one of the changes St. George and her students have had to make.
This year, teachers spray student desks with sanitizer between each class meeting, which is roughly three or four times a day. That commitment to stopping the spread can be time consuming, but teachers have embraced it as a new part of their school day. Teachers are also working within a designated “teacher zone” in their classroom rather than circulating among students. For teachers like St. George, who traditionally spend a class period walking among desks and discussing the day’s topic, this is a definite detour from their normal operations.
In speaking with teachers, you soon discover that in addition to gratitude for the opportunity to be on campus there is also a common longing for a normal school year. Teachers miss easy interactions with students and lively group discussions and projects. Eighth grade teacher Becky Milligan says group projects have been a challenge. St. George points out that students can no longer share materials or move around, making it difficult to effectively do group work. However, in true Knight fashion, Episcopal teachers are finding ways to continue providing engaging learning experiences for students.
“This has challenged us to think more creatively,” says St. George. In geography, St. George has used the new QUEST Center in Foster Hall to take students to the Amazon rainforest. Students filmed themselves discussing what they’ve learned about this jungle landscape in the center’s Digital Media Lab. To address a common concern with daily face covering requirements, Milligan created the “Masked Emotions” lesson. “It’s hard to read facial expressions,” she says. Earlier this year, as students were learning classroom technology and getting to know each other, Milligan asked them to take snapshots of themselves wearing a mask. Students were asked to express different emotions while wearing the face covering and then share them with others. Such a simple assignment reveals true creativity and the genuine desire teachers have to get to know their students.
Another way in which teachers are getting to know their students is through fun, non-academic activities. St. George and her team of Student Council members have worked hard this year to create excitement for the Middle School student body. St. George says the goal is “to make school a little more fun and still COVID safe.” One such activity was “Name that Celebrity.” Student Council members provided a cropped celebrity image to Middle School Division Head Mark Engstrom to include in the weekly announcements. Students were then asked to identify a celebrity based solely on the image. When a familiar eye and eyebrow appeared many LSU fans readily recognized former QB Joe Burrow. The eye of the tiger wasn’t the only fun activity. Engstrom also challenged students to a “Name that Logo” contest. In addition, Student Council members filmed themselves quizzing their teachers on how much the teachers know about popular social media contributors. These little activities can have a big impact for students. “They get into this kind of stuff,” says St. George. She says it breaks up the day a little bit, and students seem to truly enjoy it.
Teachers and students are doing a tremendous job of finding joy in school life. “I think I’ve grown,” says St. George. “I like a clear plan of action. I’ve learned, ok, well maybe my plan isn’t going to work out because of unforeseen circumstances due to the pandemic.” While the days can be mentally exhausting and first-day-of-school-tiring every day, St. George and her counterparts are thankful to be at Episcopal. “The school has done a really good job of keeping teachers safe,” she says. She points to the efforts to move larger classes into larger spaces to ensure adequate social distancing. She says teachers also appreciate that the administrative team has set up breaks for teachers throughout the day. St. George says teachers are also supporting each other along the way. “We’re finding humor in everyday life,” she says. “We’re finding something that was good each day.”
One day soon, Middle School will return to the more traditional Middle School struggles of preparing for a big test, trying out for the lead part in a play and deciding who to ask to the first dance. Until then, teachers are providing a lesson from which we can all learn – perseverance, determination, love for what you do and who you serve and the ability to find the positive.
We are thankful for our Episcopal teachers. Please join us in sharing your appreciation in the comments section below.
Prayer for Teachers
O Lord, who came into the world to bear witness to the truth and who said that the good and faithful teacher should be greatly accounted of in your kingdom: Send, we pray, your blessing upon all who are engaged in the work of education. Give them clearness of vision and freshness of thought, and enable them to train the hearts and minds of the children so that they may fill their appointed places in the work of this life, and be ready for service in the life to come. Amen.
From Church Publishing’s, School Chapel: Services and Prayers