A Look Inside the “Classroom”: Navigating Teaching During a Pandemic

Jess Smith, 3rd Grade Teacher and Lenovo Innovator

Some people know what they want to do with their lives. Some know at the age of three and others spend their lives just looking for their fit. When I think of how I got started in education, I remember it felt like a fight against destiny. In college, when I knew I wanted to pursue a career in education, I refused because I didn’t want to be the cliché – I wanted something more than a lame teaching paycheck and a thankless career.

So, I majored in communications, followed by nursing, and then decided to quit school and work at a bank. All that to come back to the realization I have always known in my heart, “I am a teacher.” I knew this was my calling and that this job is so much more than the tiny paycheck and the missed praise. I knew I could make it something more.

After my big “aha” moment, I quickly finished my elementary education degree and have not looked back. I am amazed at the day-to-day difference. Seriously, this is not a desk job where every day is the same old, same old. These kids come in with real life problems and then conquer real life and content learning. I am always blown away by their resilience to keep learning. There are even days, where I walk away having learned just as much from them as they did from me, if not more.

A New Reality

The spring of last school year and the beginning of this school year is unlike any other I will probably ever face in my career. In the spring, it was heartbreaking to never have been able to say goodbye to my 3rd graders. It was also unnerving, because remote learning was not at all on our radar to be prepared for. In the matter of a weekend, we had to totally flip our classrooms into a virtual world that a lot of our staff had never even fathomed entering.

Thankfully, I am a little bit tech savvy, but even then, it was and still has been hard. Not to mention the 500-square-foot apartment I share with my husband, who also happens to be a teacher. So much of teaching and being in a classroom is that in-person interaction with our kids – but how were we going to get that through a screen?

Teachers all over the globe rose to the occasion and went over and above. We completely flipped our classrooms, taught from the couch or closets or offices, and did things that were unimaginable in fostering education a few months before all this happened. Thankfully my new Lenovo ThinkPad X1 Yoga has made the experience a little easier with the touchscreen functionality, battery life and portability.

Looking Ahead

As we begin this year, it’s been tough. My school is doing a hybrid approach to going back into school. Monday is our all remote day, and I have Group A for two days and Group B for the other two days. So, while I am teaching my in-class group, I have to manage and prepare online work for the group that is working from home that day. We normally wear many hats as educators, but this year is a little bit more. Not only are we teachers, but technology integrators, cleaners, mask enforcers, nurses, therapists, and then whatever other role the day requires us to fulfill.

We normally wear many hats as educators, but this year is a little bit more. Not only are we teachers, but technology integrators, cleaners, mask enforcers, nurses, therapists, and then whatever other role the day requires us to fulfill.

These roles require different experiences and training, especially when it comes to technology. The kids in our classroom are growing up in an entirely different world than me. 20 years ago, I was in their seats as a 10 year old and technology was when we went to the computer lab full of heavy desktops or the teacher rolled in the bulky television strapped to a cart. With all of these changes, I have had to learn brand new interfaces and programs so that I can show my students how to use it. These kids have access to smart phones, text messaging, Google, their own personal laptops, and all answers at the click of the button.

These are all good things as technology is creating an amazing place for us to still be educators and have some sort “normalcy” while teaching remotely. We can see their faces at home, they are able to digitally create and turn in assignments, research, socially interact, and be students all from their laptops.

Technology has so much to offer my students and by continuing to integrating it, teachers can equip their students for a world that is constantly changing and evolving. Technology allows them to become problem solvers and inventors and dreamers.

That’s the thing about this COVID situation, you never know what is going to change. We, as a school, could be required to quarantine on Monday for the next 14 days and be required to teach and “keep everything normal” in a day’s notice. I am planning for these weeks ahead on a sink hole that could just give out at moment. It has been a lot to juggle and manage, but I know, just like the in the spring, I will figure this out and make this a great year for these kids.

A great year is what these students deserve. All of the rights of passage that normal kids get during their childhood — whether it’s graduation, field trips, concerts, projects, sports, the first day of kindergarten, sitting around a lunch table, or an unmasked smile in the hall — these kids are missing out. Hopefully this 6-feet-apart distance is not our new normal, but for now, it is.

The one thing I see as a positive in all of this is, I believe these new experiments of teaching at home, online, or with smaller groups in our classroom will totally revolutionize education as we know it. I do not believe we will be going back to where we were this time last year. Kids are growing up and learning in a tech world, and I feel so lucky to be learning how to manage and educate kids in this world that I was not trained in. Teaching is so much more than the ABC’s and 123’s. It’s about preparing these kids how to be kind, responsible humans that can take on this ever-changing world. That’s why I became a teacher.

Follow me on Instagram (@teachertalesofmisssmith) to join me on my adventure as a teacher this school year.

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