Above and Beyond the Classroom - Teaching during a pandemic

by Tom Akers correspondent

Kindergarten teacher Amelia Vincent has one goal every year; “I want my students to come away with a love for learning. That has always been my goal as a teacher.”

Vincent, in her second year teaching at Cambridge Elementary School and eleventh overall has seen a lot of things but teaching in a pandemic is something completely different. “Everything is constantly changing, having my main lesson plans and a back up plan ready for whatever comes my way is a necessity, however, there is simply not enough time in the day. I make many schedules. Schedules for full remote, schedules for in person and schedules for those who stay remote while we are in person.”

Vincent, who graduated from Cambridge and then Western Illinois University with a degree in early childhood, still gets excited every day to see her students whether they are in person or on a computer screen. “My students are my other family. Hearing them shout Hi Mrs. Vincent and being able to interact and watch their daily progress always brings a smile to my face!”

The pandemic has had its impact on her though. A combination of worry about whether she and the school is doing enough keeping her room clean and her students sanitizing, along with the stress about whether her students are learning and building positive relationships with their peers and with her weighs heavily on the Kindergarten teacher’s mind. “Am I doing enough for my students?, What else can I do to keep them safe and learning?, Am I making school enjoyable?”

The concern doesn’t end at 3:30, she goes home tired only to begin her second bout of worrying, this time about her family. She worries about her husband, little girl, and friends and family. “What keeps me going during this pandemic is that quality time I am getting while at home with my family and of course it really makes you think about all you have and should be thankful for.”

Flexibility is one of the keys to her success in the classroom, she has had to adapt what was small group work to become individual work. It’s her goal to work one on one with each of her students every day. “The other students who I am not working with have had to learn more independence as well as how to follow a schedule.” Working with remote students, trying to keep them involved with the school events and activities has been challenging but she has managed to make her online videos both educational and fun.

“That this whole process has been less than easy,” is the one thing Amelia Vincent would like parents to know about the past nine months, “I give my all as a teacher and you can expect nothing less. I appreciate the teamwork I have received from parents and want everyone to remember we are in this together.”

Mrs. Vincent wishes good health and less worry for her students for the new year and a lot more happy!

Above and Beyond the Classroom: Veronica Taber 6th Grade

For Veronica Taber teaching during a pandemic almost meant leaving teaching for good. “As the weeks drew closer and closer, my fears began to spike. I worried about being responsible for the well-being of so many, I worried about bringing something home to my family, I worried about parents being angry with me for not doing enough. I worried about how I was going to do all the things I was being asked to do. I really worried about my mental health. I talked about the fact that I may not stay in the teaching field. I seriously thought about stepping away. I knew that I could not handle another school year that looked like last spring.”

Taber grew up in Rio, Illinois then attended college to receive her BA in Elementary Education. Taber has taught her entire career at Cambridge School District currently as the sixth grade social studies and language arts teacher. When the pandemic hit in the spring she, like thousands of other teachers struggled with the speed of change which came towards her. “In the spring, connecting with students was extremely difficult, and I felt as though I was failing them because of it. I had a good portion of kids who didn't have reliable access to the internet, some that just wouldn't join Zoom calls, and others who were very withdrawn during the meetings.”

Taber persevered through the spring, crediting it with making her a better teacher by forcing her to incorpore so much technology into her lessons. “I used to have the bare minimum, so learning how to utilize all of the technology and not overwhelm myself or the kids was tough. But I learned to keep it simple and consistent, and we all learn as we go! Learning to teach simultaneously in person and remote has been an adventure as well.” Mrs. Taber tackled these challenges right along with her students; “I am forever grateful for an awesome group of kids who are willing to learn right alongside me.”

She has also had to learn a balance to the personal side of teaching by learning to balance her teaching workload during the spring she found herself continuously plugged into her students answering questions via email late into the night. However, with the new school year she forced herself to create a boundary between work and home. “This fall I was extremely adamant about boundaries to prevent burnout, as well as to make sure my family had their mom and wife back.”

She also learned to overcome the fear and stress which had made her consider leaving teaching. “I realized that what I was truly fearful of was the unknown. Not knowing what to expect. Not knowing all of the details. But by focusing on what I can control helped me to stress less on what I had little control over.”

Upon her return this fall, Taber has managed to incorporate all of the things she worked on in the spring and over the summer to bring together both her in class students and her remote students. “One of my best moments had to be the day that I successfully pulled off a lesson that incorporated group work for a class that was part remote and part in person, while still maintaining social distancing and not sharing physical materials! Using Google, I was able to have remote kids and in person kids partner up through breakout rooms in Google Meet, utilizing the Jamboard feature, and be able to present to the entire class by casting their final product to my TV. It was phenomenal to watch!”

Taber is looking forward to the next semester wanting parents to know, “these past nine months have tested me to my core as an educator. Please know that your child's success is my motivation for being a teacher.”

Her wish for 2021? “That the year will be a little LESS eventful and a little LESS like a game of Jumanji!”