A Toronto-area teacher shares what it's been like to teach students, online and in person, during COVID-19
Standing in front of the class, Daniella is getting ready for teaching another lesson of the day. Her kindergarteners doing their best to stay seated at their pandemic-approved, carefully spaced out desks. One student raises a hand and calls her name.
“I want my dog to get the COVID vaccine,” they tell her. “Do you think he can?”
As a kindergarten teacher, Daniella is used to funny questions from students, but the queries have taken on a new meaning during the pandemic.
Since COVID-19 brought schools to an abrupt halt and forced classes to transition to “Zoom school” in the spring, teachers have joined the ranks of COVID-19 heroes.
Dealing with technology troubles and distracted students, teachers have attempted to create a “new normal,” even while sharing different opinions about teaching during a pandemic.
Videos of kindergarten teachers in particular using exaggerated facial expressions and voices to keep their four-year-old students engaged over video went viral on TikTok. People marvelled at how these educators manage to keep such high energy and engagement with their young pupils, who usually have trouble paying attention even in a normal school environment.
NOW spoke to a Toronto-area kindergarten teacher from an elementary school in the Toronto Catholic District School Board. She says she’s tried a few different teaching styles since mid-March, and says each comes with its own challenges.
Her name has been changed out of a request for privacy for herself and her students.
“I had to get used to technology really quickly, a lot quicker than I had been,” Daniella says about her first adjustment to online teaching when the pandemic hit in March.
“I was trying to draw on as many resources as I could, whether through online resources, or resources that we had on hand, communicating with parents via email,” she explains. “And I was doing pre-recorded lessons and just using a variety of different tools to be able to meet the students’ needs.”
As a kindergarten teacher, she’s had to think specifically about parents’ needs as well. Their involvement is necessary to help kids access an online recording of a lesson.
“Some parents were working from home, some parents were still working outside of the home. So I was trying to do things that would be helpful for them in order to have a balance, because we know how busy things are for them too,” she says.
Daniella says they decided to make learning entirely asynchronous for the kindergarten classrooms at her school, though some of the older grades did have synchronous class sessions.
But now she’s experiencing the other end of the COVID-19 teaching spectrum – her students have been coming to class in-person since the beginning of the 2020-21 school year.
“We did lessons about why it’s important to wear a mask and they seem to be really understanding,” Daniella says of her students. “I think parents have had that experience of explaining things to them beforehand, too.”
Currently, a regular day for Daniella starts with a group lesson using as much Smart Board technology as she can, followed by read-aloud and individual desk activities.
“We try to incorporate as much outdoor time as we can, and do as many activities as we can outside,” she says. They’ll have outdoor learning and storytime before lunch, again at their individual desks. That’s followed by individual crafts and then math and literacy lessons.
Their end-of-day activities, which used to be play time between classmates, now involve playing with materials provided to each child to avoid sharing and contamination.
She says she’s proud of her kids for doing the best they can. While they’ve sometimes struggled with less kid-friendly COVID protocols, such as when she has to remind them to stay at their desks, she knows it’s been a big learning curve for everyone – including herself.
“Health and safety comes first, that would be the number one thing, so that’s definitely an added layer,” she says about constantly needing to sanitize and be aware of scheduling with other classes to ensure cohorts stay separate.
While Daniella says it’s sad sometimes to think about her students looking back on their first year of school and remembering masks and physical distancing, she says she reminds herself that it’s temporary.
“Everybody is trying to make the best of the situation, and to be happy and enjoy making friendships,” she says. “It’s just kind of a new normal for right now.”
Dealing with so many unknowns can be difficult, but she’s learning how to manage them.
“Whenever there’s uncertainty, teachers always really want to be prepared and do the best that they can given the situation,” she says. “We just have to realize that things are just going to be changing this year, and we can play it week by week or day by day.”