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Episode 48: Let the Learning Begin – Teachers Talk about Being Back

The 2020-21 school year is about to begin and it will be the first time back in our buildings in almost six months for students, teachers and some District staff.

On this episode of the Supercast, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey visits several classrooms and talks to teachers who say they are ready to let the learning begin, even though the learning may look and feel a little different this year.


Audio Transcription

Superintendent Godfrey:
Hello, and welcome to the Supercast. I'm your host, Superintendent Anthony Godfrey. The 2020-21 school year is about to begin and it will be the first time back in our buildings in almost six months for students, teachers, and some District staff. How is everyone preparing as we face the changes brought on due to the pandemic? I headed out to some schools and talk to teachers who say they are ready to let the learning begin again, even though that learning may look and feel a little different this year. We're here at Heartland Elementary School in a first grade classroom with Susan Call, as she prepares for the school year. Susan, thanks for talking with me.

Susan:
Happy to.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Your class looks very well organized, very neat. And you have a desk between desks so that students are at least one desk apart. Now that you've been in your classroom a little bit, you've looked around, you've set things up. How are you feeling about the start of the year?

Susan:
More comfortable than I was. I'm still a little bit nervous because first graders are unpredictable and they'll do their thing, but we're really good at learning and training. And we're just going to learn to keep in our own space and take care of our own supplies

Superintendent Godfrey:
And taking care of your own supplies and keeping in your own space is kind of something that we try to help first graders do in the first place, but we have all pictured the lower grades and the younger kids in this pandemic. And we're trying to keep social distancing in place. We've all thought of you as we've looked through these plans. What are some of the things that you've done to prepare? What are some of the routines you're thinking of for students?

Susan:
We're thinking of hand-washing and you can't rush 20 seconds. So we're figuring out how to send two to the boys bathroom, a girl to the bathroom and one at the sink. We're thinking of how to get to lunch and just every little thing. I had one little first grader come already because of some health issues. And the first thing he did was want to touch everything and that's how we learn or tactile. So just that discussion of we can't touch things and maybe have to put their hands behind their back. I don't know. We'll figure out as we go, how to teach them.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And like you said, I think there's a lot, we'll be figuring out as we go. I think a lot of the stress has been anticipation because we don't know exactly how things are going to feel once we actually have students here. That's what I've asked. I've talked with people, that's what they felt like, what you described. I come in the classroom, I feel differently now that I'm here. And then, once the kids come, I think that will be another stage, right? Are there some of the routines that you normally do that you aren't going to be able to do in order to keep kids at a distance?

Susan:
We have. We try to teach to share in first grade and we're not sharing this year. I've got books, they can read a book and put it back. But this year we read a book and we put it in the timeout place so that our neighbor's not reading the same book. We usually love to lay on the rug while we read books and it won't be that. We'll do more time at our desks than normal and we've spaced out at the floor. So even traffic patterns, small groups will be smaller groups.

Superintendent Godfrey:
I never thought about the sharing aspect of things. We may have a generation of kids that grows up not wanting to share. As I was sitting in a meeting, we were socially distanced in our meeting, but we kind of talked about the fact that now our personal space has grown personal space. May never shrink down to what it was before, but first graders, what kind of personal space do they normally have?

Susan:
They love each other. They hug each other, they hold hands on the way to recess, you know, and they share everything. So, it's that kindness that kids already have in them, you know, they don't want to see their friends sad. They want to help them. And sharing, we'll just have to teach a new way to show how we care.

Superintendent Godfrey:
How do you feel as you think about the school year coming? How would you describe the way you're feeling anticipating that?

Susan:
When I think too much about it, it kind of is a little bit overwhelming because we're adding routines and adding to our day and yet still trying to get all our learning in. But I sat down yesterday and on Skyward looked at their little kindergarten pictures and they are adorable, so that made me excited. And then I have a little girl in my class that I taught her big brother seven years ago. And when they got pregnant with this little girl, it was a miracle and they were so excited. So I get her this year and I thought, that's a happy thing to me. I know her mom. And so I'm really excited about that. So as I looked at their little pictures and read their names and see when their birthdays are, they there are people again, and I'm so excited. I'm really excited to really teach in-person and not to look at this little pictures on a screen.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Yeah. That makes a lot of sense. I can totally understand that once they feel, not just these generic students who are going to be in my class, but real kids that need you.

Susan:
Yes and I need them. So, I feel like a better teacher when I can look in their eyes and we can do it again because they didn't get it or whatever we need to do. So, I'm way more excited than when I was going through the "Oh now, what are we going to do?" When I started looking at them, I'm excited.

Superintendent Godfrey:
And you make a great point. There's no feedback like being right there, watching the child and you can sense if they get it, they don't get it, they're frustrated, and you can act on that as a teacher. And that's such a key element  of a great teacher. And you obviously are a great teacher, just knowing how to connect to the needs of the child right in front of you.

Susan:
Well, we laughed this spring when we were teaching online because you couldn't say, "Okay, sit right here and stop that". You know they were talking, they were showing you their toys. One went and got her pet bird and I sat it on her shoulder, and then we couldn't learn anything because we had to talk about birds. So you know, that kind of stuff, and there's funny parts of it, makes it a whole new ball game.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Do you think that's going to be challenging for students who have been used to learning in that way, in their own space, to now come, especially young students who haven't been training on how to be in school all day for very long. In fact, for first grade, they never have been in all day. Is it going to be particularly challenging when they've been gone for so long?

Susan:
I think definitely, they haven't had to be in one spot probably at home. Some of them, that I did already talk to, said they haven't gone anywhere. So his mom said, "Well, we took him to the store so he could see other people." And so, I think we're going to have the kids who've been starting to see other people and the kids who haven't because they've just been being very careful, as they should be with them. So there might be different areas of comfort and there may be, "I can't touch you", which we don't want him to. I don't know what all we're going to get, but, we deal with personalities every year anyway. So this is just another layer of it.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Spoken like a true first grade teacher that's just ready to take on whatever comes her way. Thank you for taking the time Susan and those students are lucky to be in your class this year.

Susan:
I am lucky to have them. So thank you.

Superintendent Godfrey:
All right. We're here with Amelia Paasi in her sixth grade classroom at Heartland elementary on the cusp of a new school year, to talk with her just about how she's feeling and how she's preparing. Thanks for joining us on the Supercast today.

Amelia:
Thank you.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Tell me a little bit about how you are feeling about the coming school year. It's coming next week. What are your thoughts?

Amelia:
Honestly, initially my thoughts are that I'm just a little exhausted with everything because I know there's so much more I need to do and there's not enough time in the day. However, I am grateful we got that extra week from the school board to plan and prepare. I might've had tears of joy for that. So, there's a little bit of exhaustion, but also anxiousness. That's just natural. I'm anxious for the kids. I'm anxious to see them. Some of it's positive. I don't want to get COVID. So, I want to follow those policies and procedures and implement them from day one so that my students are safe and secure and then healthy.

Superintendent Godfrey:
So, there's a lot to think about. And there's always a lot to think about before the school year starts, but this year there's just layer upon layer of other things to be worried about. And you've described that well. We're all feeling that I think, the exhaustion and the anxiety, but also anticipation. Now, I understand that you've worked with some students because you're over a student government group. Tell us a little bit about that and then how it felt to have some students back.

Amelia:
Yeah. Mr. Alger, my principal, reached out to me over the summer about coming up with our student ambassador, student government group to make videos to welcome faculty and students back into the building and just do some how-to videos on how to wash our hands, how to follow the new policies and procedures in our building. And it was so amazing to see the kids and have them come in. They all wear their mask. I didn't have to get on them to have their mask. They were ready, they were prepared. So that helped with my initial anxiety that they were already prepared. Their parents had prepared them. They were ready to come back and to see them, it was just hard not to give them hugs and not be able to.

Superintendent Godfrey:
We will definitely have a pent up desire for hugs that will need to be addressed in the future. All of us are there. Some routines that you're going to have to cut out, maybe some cherished activities or some things that you normally do or procedures you normally have in place that are going to have to be put on hold while all of this is underway.

Amelia:
So, thankfully I work on a team where we work really well together and the things that we might've done last year, instead of saying we can't do them, we're just trying to reinvent a new way of doing them. So instead of having the kids filling out papers after papers, we've made Google docs so they can have their Chromebook and have minimal touch so I'm not handing out papers and coming up into their bubbles. We've worked really hard on having a different mindset as far as thinking we can't do these things anymore. We just have to do them in a different environment or different media.

Superintendent Godfrey:
What are you most excited about as the school year comes?

Amelia:
Honestly, the most exciting thing will be seeing the kids, even though they're behind a mask, even though I can't, give them those hugs, I still am excited to see the kids. They are why I get up every day.

Superintendent Godfrey:
What are some unanswered questions for you that might not be able to be answered until we actually have students back in the building?

Amelia:
So many question that I currently have. How  it's going to look for the students and how I can ease their anxieties. That's something my team and I have been talking about a lot today. How we can make it appear like we, our anxieties are gone so that they are excited and anxious to be here in a positive way. And so, all the questions that we can think of, or just the how-tos and how to make it feasible for the kids to have the best experience for them to feel safe and welcomed back here at school

Superintendent Godfrey:
You've hit on another thing that makes teachers great. That is constantly being aware of how their students are doing. Are they making friends? Are they comfortable? Are they happy? Are they learning? Did they get that? Have I celebrated that learning? And it's just those questions and that constant wondering about how people are doing that really drains you by the end of the day, but is exhilarating too, to be able to do that.

Amelia:
It's important to remember that at the end of the day, everyone that got into education, it was all about the students. And so we have to put our own insecurities and feelings of anxiousness or whatever we're feeling aside and know that the reason why I'm doing face-to-face is not for me, it's for the kids. And sometimes that's hard with all the unknowns for ourselves, but imagine being 12, coming back to school or five, and it's your first year or a senior in high school. I can't fathom what it's like as a student today.

Superintendent Godfrey:
It's great having the chance to talk with you. I wish you the best of the school year and those kids are lucky.

Amelia:
Thank you so much. I really appreciate it.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Stay with us. We're going to take a quick break. And when we come back, a first year teacher talks about beginning her classroom career during the pandemic,

Sandra Reisgraf:
Are you looking for a job right now, looking to work in a fun and supportive environment with great pay and a rewarding career? Jordan School District is hiring. We're currently filling full and part time positions. You can work and make a difference in young lives and education as a classroom assistant or a substitute teacher, apply to work in one of our school cafeterias where lunch staff serves up big smiles with great food every day. We're also looking to hire custodians and bus drivers in Jordan School District. We like to say, "People come for the job and enjoy the adventure". Apply today at workatjordan.org.

Now, I'm with Haydee Carranza, in her fourth grade classroom. Haydee is a first year teacher. Thanks for taking time to talk with us. You picked quite a year to start this noble profession.

Haydee:
Yeah, it just happened. It wasn't the plan, but no one was expecting it. No one was planning for it, but here I am. I'm just trying to work hard, just like everyone else.

Superintendent Godfrey:
What are your thoughts as you approach your first school year as a teacher?

Haydee:
I just want to do what's best for the students. I know that their education is important and COVID or no COVID, their future is our future and their education needs to continue. So I I'm here to do the best that I can with what we are given and hope for the best.

Superintendent Godfrey:
How are you feeling about just starting out?

Haydee:
It is a new area. I've been teaching in the same school as a parent educator for 18 years and so it became my home. This is a new district, it's a new classroom, new area, new students. So, I'm the new kid on the block, just trying to get to know all the teachers and all the new procedures, the new classrooms, everything's done differently. I've already learned that every school does things a little differently. You know, because we're trying to do the best for our local communities and just trying to learn it on top of it this pandemic, it has just added more to the changes. But I have a great team. I have a great principal, great school. So, I feel confident that with everyone's support ,I'm going to get through it. It is a little scary or nerve-wracking with everything that's happening, but I am hopeful that we'll get through it.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Well, I know Heartland Elementary and I know you do have great teachers around and a great principal to support you. And that's really what we try to be about is providing support. Have you always wanted to be a teacher?

Haydee:
Yeah, I've always known I wanted to be a teacher. I remember playing in our basement. We didn't have a lot growing up. We lived by Liberty Park. It was a low income area. All four of us kids slept in the same bedroom. It was really small, but our basement was our classroom. We would play school a lot. I would be the teacher. I would try and model whatever my teacher would do. And, in fact, my mom says that my brother learned how to read before kindergarten because I taught him.  And then, in junior high I volunteered at different schools and their after-school programs, tutoring students. And when I got into high school, I did a little more tutoring. But as my homework load got bigger, you know, I couldn't do it as much. As soon as I graduated from high school because of my volunteer work, They hired me as a para-educator with the ESL students. And after school I would volunteer and I worked with the cultural assembly at one of the high schools. And I taught Mexican folk dancing for a few years when I was 18. I also did some GED classes in math in Spanish for a few years. And then I've been to a few elementary schools also in the Granite School District where I taught on Mexican folk dances. I've always enjoyed working with kids. I've always known that's what I wanted to do to make a difference. And I feel like teaching is a way to make a difference.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Fourth grade is a big leap for kids. It's where they really accelerate their learning. I'm excited that they get to do that with you. You were a student for 12 years and now, for 18 years you've been a classroom assistant. So, you've really had 30 years of observing teachers before you teach yourself.

Haydee:
Yes. I've learned from a lot of teachers, a lot of strategies. And I've even learned from the parents in my community. I've learned the importance of communicating with them so that I can learn what it is that each of my students need. I think one of the most important things is that communication and building that team effort. And if you look around my classroom, that's kind of my theme. I want my students to know that we're all in this together. When we work as a team, we're helping each other as a classroom, but working as a team also helps the individual. That's what I'm trying to teach them. In addition to their academic, I think working together, building community is also important to be successful in life.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Well, I can tell you're going to be a great teacher and that these fourth graders are going to have a great year with you. So thanks for taking the time and best of luck as you launch into this career.

Haydee:
Thank you.

Superintendent Godfrey:
Thanks to all of our teachers for adapting during the pandemic for their hard work and preparing for the new school year and for their love for the students we serve.

Please listen to a bonus episode of the Supercast this week. As we sit down with principals and counselors to find out how they are doing, as we prepare to open schools during a pandemic. Thanks to all of you for listening. And remember, education is the most important thing today. We'll see you.

 

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