Teaching, Learning and ‘Finding Zen’ During COVID -19 – Legislative post by UEA Policy Ambassador Kristine Martin

Legislative report submitted by UEA Policy Ambassador Kristine Martin, math teacher at Grand Middle School in Grand School District

Friday the 13th of March 2020 teachers were notified by our district in Moab that we were going to change from an in-classroom curriculum to an online platform. Which platform, what resources, how to meet with students were some of the unknowns. The schools made broad strokes for expectations but finding the resources and learning how to use and deliver the resources were up to each content team. Teachers GO! Our district provided what they could in ways of guidance, but we frontline workers had to implement and work a plan within the transition week.

During one of those four days the students arrived to pick up their Chromebooks and get agendas for each class, for the unknown time this would be occurring, and say goodbye in-person. There were tears and shock, with parents and students trusting us and teachers jumping into the unknown.

It was turning a switch from being an experienced teacher who knew what to do in a classroom, to having to reinvent EVERYTHING in a matter of days. What platform would we choose, what online resources could we learn, deliver and choose to support our curriculum? How would we monitor, communicate and hold students accountable? It was more than overwhelming, but we persevered.

Students became very adept at communicating through email and Google Classroom, all hours of the day and night. I had to turn off my phone at 10 p.m. so it wouldn’t wake me up!

Then when it was over, (but not over) we came back in August to make plans how to safely teach our kiddos. Precautions included student pods (to limit exposure), sanitizing classroom and hands before and after each class, a no hands-on for materials (papers, art supplies, manipulatives) unless they could be given to each student independently throughout the day or sanitized after each class. Teaching a blended class (online learners while still having students in class) was included in this change. Once again teachers changed their delivery to meet the current situation.

Through all of this what I have noticed most is not that teachers are burnt out (they are), but that teachers are truly innovative. Students are adaptive, keeping their masks on all day, social distancing and actively participating in keeping our school safe. They are engaged, pleased to be with others and facing this world-wide pandemic with aplomb. This is their new normal and students have approached it not with bitterness about what was, but with gratitude for what they can do. As a 2021 UEA Policy Ambassador, I have contacted my representatives to thank them for what they are doing for us, letting them know my perspective on matters that are important to a small district. I admit that I am a little out of my element without a face-to-face contact, trusting our UEA team to guide and help me navigate as a Policy Ambassador.

This week, during the February 4 UEA Capital Insights briefing with the UEA Legislative TeamSen. Katheen Riebe spoke to us and said the legislature has changed the verbiage from “academic loss” due to COVID-19 to “education interrupted.” This says to me the legislature is focusing on the future of education and acknowledging that during COVID -19 we were not able to provide the quality education we all wanted. Families and schools adapted to what could be done to persevere, knowing that we all would prefer to return to what was. As we evolve through this pandemic, we have been forced to find new ways to teach and students to learn. This innovation has given us the opportunity to reevaluate from “this is what we have always done” to a position of “value added.” Will this activity, assignment, procedure address the needs of my students? How will I deliver my content to address the state standards while keeping my students and myself safe? How will I communicate with parents?

Students are coming and going in our blended online/in-person classrooms (home sick, traveling, concerns about COVID exposures). Families and teachers have made headway for students and teachers to stay in touch while the student is not present. Daily we adapt to changes and go with the flow. Teachers are there to teach. We get joy from the kiddo who says, “I got it” or “I don’t get it.” It says they are engaged and participating in their future. My kiddos know when they are out of balance and will ask for a moment of Zen (which is a bell I ring and give them something to think about, like what you hear during the bell sound in a darkened classroom) then they share. It takes 2-3 minutes, and they are relaxed and ready to learn.

We all need to find our moments of Zen, to appreciate the good that is going on, to acknowledge the work being done on our behalf by others while still holding our leaders accountable. I am going to make the most of my stint as a Policy Ambassador, enjoying the challenging and complicated work that others are doing on our behalf in education.