Blog Post by PTAC MEMBER Anthony Grisillo
I had to spend seven hours in my school library packing up my Spring Book Fair this year. Usually this is a team effort, but this year it was a solitary task. A total of five classes visited the Fair along with several parents and families during their parent-teacher conferences. I go all in with my Book Fair. I decorate my library with the help of students, creating an exciting feeling that was only experienced by less than 25% of my school. School was closed just as the Fair began. Cleaning up this particular Fair was one of the most depressing moments I have experienced as a teacher in my 22 years of teaching. I know it is just a Book Fair, but it felt like much more than that.
I couldn't help thinking of all my students at home, social distancing with their families, many kids disappointed that they missed their time at the Fair. I had a box of books that had been ordered by students which had arrived just before our building was shut down. I decided to hand deliver these books to the kids myself, calling each family first to make sure they would be home. My plan was the drop and dash like a magical book fairy leaving treats in the night. It didn't work out that way.
At each house I found people eager to talk, to interact. There was no quick drop off. Everyone was hungry for time with an outsider to their isolation. I found myself sharing survival tips with each delivery. Never sure how to end the conversation other than having more deliveries to make, each visit reminded me of phone calls with a girlfriend in high school -- neither one of us wanting to hang up. At one stop I heard, "Mr. G! It's Mr. G! He's actually here!" from the neighbor's yard as another student saw me. She was hanging out with a third student virtually on a phone.
Students need us.
Smack dab in the middle of Maslow's hierarchy of needs is a sense of belonging and love. Our students and their families get these feelings from their school community. Our schools, which are now the shuttered buildings we cannot visit, bring smiles to many people. But these feelings are not the physical space. Rather, they are part of the culture the faculty and staff nurtures in those buildings, something that no automated teaching resource can replicate.
In this time of isolation, teachers need to be the reminder of a sense of belonging because we are all in this together. Our students and families need to know we miss and love them. This is our passion. This is why we chose this profession. And at this time of distancing, we need to help people feel connected by bringing that culture to our students and families by any means available to us.
Virtual facetime with our students has become invaluable. Seeing their excitement when they interact with us via Meet, Zoom, or Skype is a highlight to their experiences. It does not replace the in-person interactions from our physical classroom, but it does start to provide an ability to maintain our school’s culture. New skills are learned, replacing the “Anthony, can you please take your seat?” with the “Anthony, can you please mute your microphone?”. These moments also give our students’ families a glimpse into how much we care about their children. They can see the enthusiasm that we bring to our craft. It offers a glimpse into the art of teaching that families rarely get to see during a normal school year.
I wish I could go around and just say hello to all of my students at their houses. It would be awesome to surprise each of them with a live appearance by someone other than their immediate family. Our students need to see that we miss them and that we are thinking about them. We need to be a reminder of the third level of Maslow. We need to be that connection to what was normal and that glimmer of promise that this too shall pass and we will still be there for them in the end because we never left.
Pennsylvania Teachers Advisory Committee