From early fears, feelings of excitement, nervousness and more, emotions ran the gamut for teachers in the early days of the United States’ response to spread of the new coronavirus.
Locally, some elementary teachers had thoughts of their own. Eventually, they all hunkered down and began to just do the work in front of them, a quintet of instructors said recently.
Now in the midst of remote teaching and having nearly a couple months of it under their belts, they are able to come up for air and take a look back on the past several weeks of teaching outside of the classroom.
In the beginning, the prospect of teaching students remotely almost seemed like a foreign concept for Kassandra Brandt, Seguin Christian Academy second-grade teacher.
“Preparing work remotely, it’s like being given some kind of machine and saying, ‘Hey, you need to build this in the next 10 minutes,’” Brandt said. “It’s a completely different platform. To prepare for it you have to do it so much differently than if you’re in the classroom.”
With nearly a decade of teaching under her belt in public and private schools, Brandt took a break from teaching to have her third of four children, a daughter. She homeschooled her children for about five years before she was enticed back into the classroom at Seguin Christian Academy.
“I missed the classroom so much,” Brandt said. “I knew I did, but I didn’t realize how much I missed until we were back there.”
She was a few weeks into her return when, the new coronavirus that leads to COVID-19 reached the U.S. and Texas, where schools were closed to help prevent the spread of the respiratory disease.
Teachers then were asked to try to continue educating students in their classes but doing so while none of them actually sat in a classroom. School districts and administrators quickly transitioned teachers into using technology to help with the lessons.
The tech can be helpful, but it’s a far cry from seeing their students every day, those five educators said. It took away something.
“Being a reading teacher, I always want them to have a book in their hands,” said Megan Lopez, Navarro Intermediate School fifth grade language arts teacher. “Technology doesn’t always do that; it’s not the same.”
She trying to understand how she would reach the students, how much to ask of them and how many of them were going to have the means to reach out to her through technology, Lopez said.
She sees about 75 students a day, broken up into three classes of 25 each. All 75 of them meet with her for 20 minutes in the morning for a class, Lopez said.
In the beginning she worried that many would be unable to meet virtually or have access to the things needed to get the work done.
“Amazingly, my first day of class, I had nearly every single student logged on for a session,” Lopez said. “That very first day of class, I had in the 70s. I was only short a couple kids. I was amazed at that.”
Getting through the first several weeks of the new normal for this school year weren’t all easy, the teachers said. The work has been tough for teachers, students and parents, many said.
Just as other parents were at home helping their children learn, the teachers had double duties because many of them are parents themselves.
Finding a balance between home, work and homework sometimes proved challenging, said Stephanie Kauitzsch, a second-grade teacher at Koennecke Elementary School, and the mother of two children ages 10 months and 3 years old.
“I must be available to care for my own children throughout the day, while also being available for 21 students and their parents, to answer questions, address concerns and offer online troubleshooting support,” she said, adding that her 3-year-old son is in a preschool program. “When I first heard that his preschool would be closed, I worried about being able to be an appropriate extension of that learning for him and to try to avoid regression. What I have found is that children learn through play, and learning opportunities are plentiful in the midst.
“I have seen him blossom and develop skills that are age appropriate and beyond, by simply engaging in structured and unstructured play.”
Parents have to learn to not be too hard on themselves, but also give their students learning at home a little leeway, said Eloise Wood, who is in her second year teaching third grade at Lifegate Christian School. Wood previously taught public school for 25 years before retiring, and then came back to education at Lifegate.
She’s seen ups and downs before, but nothing has compared to the circumstances befalling educators. It all can be eyeopening for everyone involved, Wood said.
She cautioned parents against becoming frustrated with their children’s progress.
“It’s so important to be good adults. You have to learn to work with the kids,” Wood said. “I tell them just remember we’re all learning this together. … We have a lot of learning to do.”
No one knows what the pandemic might bring or the future of education. If the virus can’t be contained, who knows what the next school year could shape up to be? Could distance learning be important next year, or the way the 2020-21 school year starts or progresses?
The teachers interviewed said they hope not. In fact, Wood said if that’s the case, she likely would retire again.
She didn’t wholeheartedly mean it, but the joke showed the amount of passion the women have for the education they are able to impart on their students. They love their jobs and the interaction they get to share with the students.
Each teacher said only one thing would make the current situation better. That one thing?
“If we weren’t in the shutdown,” said Jennifer Hunter, an early childhood special education teacher at Marion ISD’s Krueger Campus. “The little kids, it’s like they’re in your face, they’re hugging on you. They just want you next to them to reach them and everything they learn is so new and so thrilling for them.
“For us to just go to no contact now, there’s no way we can do a one-on-one lesson with them and it’s just hard.”