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New Teacher Diaries

It pays to plan for the unexpected

Pandemic shows first-year teacher the value of flexibility
New York Teacher

When I first began my journey to become a teacher, no one would have been able to predict the transition to remote learning due to the coronavirus. But as a member of the New York City Teaching Collaborative, I gained insight early in my career that flexibility is a key component to being an effective educator. Planning can only take you so far. Much like a quarterback, sometimes audibles — when you change your game plan at the last minute in response to shifting circumstances — end up being our biggest successes.

One of my proudest accomplishments as a first-year teacher was being able to offer a lesson in the spirit of kindness and giving with my students. When all New York City schools went remote (again) before Thanksgiving, we were unsure just how long it would last. My mentor at my middle school drove to the home of each of her students to drop off baked goods and books to encourage them to read more.

I decided to follow her example by checking in on my 8th-grade students just before the December holidays. In addition to a small gift, I brought each student a book to encourage them to read independently. I informed parents beforehand, but students were still surprised to see me. Seeing them left the biggest smile on my face, and families were beyond appreciative — I received feedback that it was comparable to Christmas morning for some students. One student sent me an email to show me the final product of the small engineering gift I gave him. Another responded that I was the only teacher to check in around the holidays.

Now that we are back in the school building, I’m trying to ensure that I’m still teaching the whole student and meeting their physical and social needs. Due to COVID-19 precautions, teachers are traveling to classrooms and students remain in a single room all day. Being close to my students’ ages, I understand the frustrations they feel being cooped up in a classroom for the majority of the school day. Since our school’s gym teacher is remote, there is nothing in place to ensure students move around and are active.

Anyone who works with adolescents knows that they need opportunities outside the classroom to socialize with one another. So I see to it that students get to go out to the yard (if the weather permits) or use the gym.

Students wearing masks are typically quieter than a mouse. You can hear a pin drop in the room. When given time to socialize outside or in the gymnasium, I see a different, more energetic side of my students. They’re not afraid to use their voices when interacting with one another. Getting to know my students outside the classroom setting has become one of the ways I form bonds with them.

This year, I’ve been both a gift-giving Santa and a teacher who wants his students to have time to socialize away from the screen. Ultimately, students may forget what we say, but they will never forget how we made them feel.

Mr. Rapport is the pseudonym for a first-year middle school teacher in Queens.

Related Topics: Pedagogy, New Teachers