By Ashlee Schneider
On March 6th of 2020, I remember zipping out of my classroom as soon as the last student left the room. Spring break was officially here, and I was ready for some much-needed time off to relax and recharge for the final quarter of the school year. However, the end of this Spring Break brought emotions that I had never felt before and never want to experience again. When I got the news that I would not be returning to finish out the school year with my class, I was heartbroken. We had many fun events and activities that we would not be able to complete. There was going to be no closure to the school year, and I was not going to be given the opportunity to say “goodbye” to them before they moved onto the next grade. On top of all this, I worried about them academically, socially, and just their overall well-being for weeks.
For the remaining six weeks, I posted videos of reading, math, science, and social studies lessons. I drove all over the city to make porch deliveries to brighten their day. I met with my class two times per week via Zoom so we could just talk and see each other. The expectation was for the students to complete an hour of work each week. I had some kids that met this expectation every day, some that completed a little work, and some I never heard from or saw again. I also partnered with the State Department of Education, PBS, and other educators across the state to create a six-episode TV series to help support the families learning at home and provide them with some fun educational opportunities.
During the summer, I worked on our district taskforce to help plan for various learning scenarios for the school year. Our committee focused on the curriculum needs of the district, while others focused on logistical things for building preparedness, Human Resource concerns, and other daily activities. It was really difficult to prepare for the unknown, but the staff members, administration, board representatives, and community members spent hours researching and discussing what would be best for our students and district.
The beginning of a school year usually brings me joy and excitement, but the 2020-2021 school year brought more worry and stress than I had ever experienced before. I spent all of August getting training on the various programs we would be using for instruction and learning expectations that would be in place for COVID. We began the school year in September and in the hybrid model. This meant that half of my students would be in school on Monday and Tuesday, while the other half would be learning from home. Everyone would be learning at home on Wednesday and then the groups would switch for school and home learning. At the beginning of the year, I was really excited about the hybrid model because I was going to be able to physically have my students at school and provide them with real instruction from me and at their appropriate needs. However, a few weeks into the year and I was no longer feeling the same. I felt like I was doing the job of two teachers. The amount of time it would take to prepare for home learning and school learning consumed my life. I had parents email me with questions or technology concerns, but I couldn’t respond because I was busy teaching at school. I would have to grade assignments, make videos, and post lessons in my evenings and weekends. It was really difficult to get routines established because they were at school for two days and then I didn’t see them for six more days. I relied heavily on them getting the work done at home, but if they did not then they had a hard time following along and keeping up with what we were doing at school.
Finally, by the end of October we were back to full-time in person learning and things were becoming so much better for the students, parents, and myself. That was very short lived though and by Thanksgiving the district had decided to move to full remote learning until we returned from Christmas break. Again, I was devastated to no longer be physically with my students at one of my favorite times of year.
There were some positives that came with the change to remote learning. We were required to do live teaching sessions during this time, and I was able to meet with groups based on ability levels and continue to help them progress at their needs. However, during this time I had more students fall behind academically, and I faced more challenges with behavior when we returned to hybrid in January. By the middle of February, we were able to return to full-time in person learning and get ourselves back to routine and consistent expectations.
To say the last year has been a challenge would be an understatement. I’ve questioned myself as an educator many times, cried more times than I remember, worried endlessly about my students, and felt frustrated to not be in control of my career. Thankfully, I was blessed with an amazing group of 2nd graders, supportive parents, and my friends, family, and co-workers have been my rock through these challenging times. The kids have amazed me with their ability to adapt to the changes and continue to learn in any environment. I’ve decided to take on a new role next school year as an “Intervention Specialist” to help support more students who have had learning loss and a harder time catching up on their skills because of the Pandemic and the impact that it had on education.
It is important to understand that everyone’s situation and experiences are different. My hope from this experience is that we will understand the importance of education and collaboration of all stakeholders in these decision-making processes and to do what is truly best for the students academically, emotionally, and their overall well-being. This would make the tears and sacrifices well worth it in the end.