How These 4 Teachers of the Year Navigated Spring 2020

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The sudden and unprecedented closing of our nation’s schools due to the coronavirus pandemic was something that few educators could have prepared for. On extremely short notice, teachers were forced to rethink their classrooms and quickly adapt their teaching styles to 100 percent remote instruction. 

Although delivering a top-notch education was — and still is — a challenge for teachers, some of them have managed to find ways to make the best of the bad situation. There have been many tales of teachers going above and beyond for their students, from offering virtual support to students in need to helping high schoolers carve out a career path for an uncertain future. 

If one thing has become clear over the past few months, it’s that teachers are the heroes we need during a time of crisis. Here are some examples of teachers who are brilliantly navigating our new normal and helping students get through these difficult times.

Reaching Students Where They Are

Leila Kubesch, a foreign language teacher and a National Teacher of the Year 2020 finalist, navigated this past spring by reaching her students where they are: Snapchat. The 7th grade teacher knew that giving students options was key to making online learning work, so she had her students set her up with Snapchat (their preferred method of communication). Kubesch uses the social messaging app to send students reminders and let them know when assignments are posted on Google Classroom. 

The Ohio educator also helped students make the most of online learning by creating videos for complex content, which she could modify to suit the learning style of her students. As a foreign language teacher, Kubesch relied heavily on these videos to teach the correct pronunciation of words and to explain their meanings.

Showing Empathy to High School Seniors

Let’s be clear — all students have been negatively affected by COVID-19 in some way. But high school seniors have arguably been most impacted from the pandemic. Their world changed in the blink of an eye: prom was cancelled, graduation ceremonies became virtual, and lost summer jobs had to be quickly replaced by remote internships.

No one understands what they’re going through better than Chris Dier. The Louisiana Teacher of the Year and National Teacher of the Year Finalist had a similar high school experience when his world was turned upside down by Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Back in March, the Chalmette High School teacher penned an inspiring letter to high school seniors.  

“You were robbed,” he wrote in a letter posted to his personal blog, “and it’s unfair.”

Dier said that he remembers leaving his school on a Friday afternoon, only to never return to that school due to the devastation of Katrina. This empathetic and heartfelt letter was exactly what many high school seniors needed to hear as they mourned their missed milestones.

Providing Students with Options 

Michigan Teacher of the Year Owen Bondono isn’t going to pretend that teaching during a pandemic is easy. In an interview with Chalkbeat, the Oak Park School District teacher says that spring 2020 was essentially “emergency virtual learning” and that few educators were prepared for it. 

Their district quickly decided that synchronous learning was setting the bar far too high for students, so Bondono and his colleagues made sure to provide their students with plenty of options. For starters, students were given assignments that they could work on whenever it was most convenient for them. Bondono and his colleagues also offered virtual office hours where students could chat with them one-on-one to ask questions or simply hang out.

Giving Yourself Grace and Care 

As a whole, teachers are accustomed to putting their students’ needs above their own needs. This is true even during a pandemic — or rather, especially during a pandemic.

Colorado Teacher of the Year Hilary Wimmer knows that teachers are struggling, which is why she urges them not to neglect their own well-being. In an interview with the Colorado Department of Education, the Business teacher at Mountain Range High School reminded teachers that they are in the midst of a crisis and that delivering their typical education isn’t possible.

“One thing for teachers to remember, give yourself the same care and grace that you give your students,” she said.

Another way to keep calm and carry on, according to Wimmer, is by asking yourself how you can make the world a better place. Focus on what you can do in the here and now. Here’s an example of how Wimmer helped others: Wimmer spent her spring break sewing face masks to send to people in homeless shelters.

Teachers Rising to the Challenge of COVID-19

While teachers are not legally considered “essential workers,” their importance during this pandemic has been made abundantly clear to all. Even now, as teachers go back to in-person schooling for the fall semester, they’re doing everything they can to deliver a quality education and put their students at ease.

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