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Teaching during the coronavirus requires us to think differently about our priorities. A K-12 teacher from Hawaii shares her thoughts.

I had been following the news closely and sensed a significant change was coming. Coronavirus was on the mind. My student teacher, a Chinese national, had given lessons on the coronavirus. She had also engaged the class in thoughtful discussions about subsequent hate crimes inflicted upon Asians around the world following the outbreak. 

Preparing for spring break

In the weeks leading up to our spring break, my students had enjoyed visiting the lower grades giving presentations on “The Five Steps of Proper Handwashing.” They cleverly changed the lyrics of happy birthday to “We don’t want COVID-19, we don’t COVID-19, We don’t want COVID-19, so we’re washing our hands!” They loved encouraging first graders to sing along.

As I bid farewell to my students the Friday before spring break, I wasn’t sure what to say to them as they walked out the door, possibly for the last time as my students. 

“Have a nice break.”

“Stay safe and remember to wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.”

“See you in a week, maybe?”

Since then, spring break has been extended by four weeks with changes by the minute. This is truly an unprecedented situation. If you asked me six months ago to imagine a time where I would be mandated to stay home for weeks, away from my students, I would have said you’re nuts. And yet, here we are.

Finding a new normal

For me, everything has changed. Always in a rush, I have suddenly found myself at home indefinitely with my family. My daughters’ regimented schedule of afterschool activities ceased to exist, with piano lessons, swimming practice, and tutoring on hold. My parents’ upcoming visit from the mainland has been postponed. My daughter’s seventh birthday party that she was desperately looking forward to has been canceled.  

And my students, what has changed for them? I know they are no longer able to greet me every morning at the door of the classroom with a handshake or a hug. I know they will not anxiously enter the room to find out their weekly job. They will not be taking attendance, lunch count, or reading daily reminders to their classmates. Nor will they be sitting in our community circle, listening to each other’s ideas. No longer will they secretly be passing notes to each other during lessons. Horsing around at recess with each other has also come to an end.   

Maintaining a supportive classroom community

Despite all the massive changes, I realized that in some ways, things for me are the same. I still wake up every morning thinking about my students — anxious to see their faces now via Padlet or Zoom meetings. I agonize about how I will be able to meet each child where he or she is emotionally and academically. 

Judging from the responses on our classroom chat board, some things have stayed the same for students, too. They still look forward to seeing each other just in a different way now. They are anxious to share ideas as they had during our community circles. They crave togetherness. Just like me, they miss our community. 

To preserve some sense of normalcy for myself and my students, maintaining a supportive classroom community is my priority. The obstacles are different. In addition to individual learning differences, I have to determine which students have access to technology and at what times? If they do have a device, how many children in the household are sharing it? How have their parents’ lives changed? Have they lost their jobs? Are they juggling working from home and taking care of their children at the same time? Are they in the hospitals on the frontline of fighting the coronavirus? Are they sick?  

Teaching during the coronavirus

At this time, I have chosen not to inundate my students and families with academic requirements. As I try teaching during the coronavirus, I am finding joy in daily online check-ins. I love learning about how my students are feeling about the changes — big and small — to their daily lives through daily online journal prompts. I eagerly await student responses via Google Classroom, Padlet, and Flipgrid. I welcome texts and phone calls during my “office hours.” I am here to support not only my students but their families.

I am not stressing about academics too much yet. I haven’t figured out how I am going to virtually teach lessons, give assessments, and eventually determine grades. I am not even sure, however, if I will. For now, more than ever, I need to put my classroom community first. I still don’t know exactly how I will replicate what we do every day in this new way of learning or even if I can, but I am as committed as ever to working with my students, families, and colleagues to figure it out. Just like before, when all teachers, students, and families know that we are in this together, we can do anything.

Lory Peroff

Lory Walker Peroff is a fourth grade teacher at Waikiki Elementary School and a Hope Street Group National Teacher Fellow alumna who believes writing is not only enjoyable but essential. She lives in Honolulu with her husband, two energetic and curious daughters, five chickens, two ducks, and one peahen.