By Kawena Martinez
The 2019-20 school year will definitely be a year to go down in history. Fourth quarter in particular would reveal how we, as educational professionals, rise in the time of crisis. We recognized our challenges, leveraged our strengths and continued to put students' academic learning and well-being top priority.
Grappling with the realization that the pandemic is not close to being over in our nation and the racial and inequitable issues emerging simultaneously around the world, how do we prepare ourselves for these shifts in education? What will history write about how educators rose to the occasion to educate the nation’s youth?
From business as usual via virtual login and picking up where they left off prior to spring break, to focusing on how their students and families are doing and the challenges of very little contact/communication due to a lack of resources, distance learning was handled by teachers in many different ways. Despite differences in the delivery of distance learning and instruction, there was a common thread shared amongst the collective: Educators do what is necessary to meet the needs of their students.
The following are some examples at ‘Ewa Elementary.
Ms. Matsumoto, Fifth-Grade Teacher
When distance learning went into effect, Ms. Matsumoto started making phone calls to her students and families to connect and let them know they are thought of and missed. Despite her discomfort with teaching virtually, she did her best to learn and navigate this new platform of learning. She made it a point to connect with families to make sure their student is represented in the “classroom” during full class meetings. She was able to safely tap into the strengths of her students to help connect fellow classmates. Knowing the importance of connection, she also hosted weekly read alouds, having multiple students and family members in attendance to share the experience.
Mrs. Brown, Educational Assistant
As educators have faced the onset of the pandemic, one of the first priorities is checking in with their students and families and engaging their students not only in academic material but providing a fun medium, such as art. Mrs. Brown, an educational assistant servicing various grade levels ranging from K-5, has a knack for having a green thumb and a love for art. During distance learning, she was able to bring her outside talents to her students via virtual classrooms. By collaborating and coordinating art activities with her grade-level teachers, her art prompts gave students flexibility to express themselves individually; an important outlet for students to use when emotions are difficult to explain in words.
Ms. Abcede, Support Staff (pseudonym)
When the throws of distance learning hit and teachers were focused on their students, ensuring care, thought and planning were given to returning and ending the school year business. Educators with children were faced with schooling and caring for not only their classroom students but their own as well. How comforting it must feel when a member of your team calls to check on YOU! Not about how you are managing work, but to sincerely ask you all those questions that you ask to your students such as, “How are you?” “How’s your family doing?” or “Let me know if you need anything.”
Whether or not you have a Ms. Matsumoto to teach you to be resilient and embrace change no matter how intimidating it may seem, a Mrs. Brown to encourage you to express yourself creatively, or a Ms. Abcede to help you recognize that caring for yourself is as important as caring for others, I hope you notice these qualities in you and around you.
Each of these examples, along with the collective community of educators, gives me confidence that although we are in rapidly changing times, students’ academic learning and well-being will always be at the forefront of their teaching.
I don’t know what history will write about how educators rose to the occasion to continue to care for and teach their students. All I know is that they did. Mahalo to the educators who motivate, inspire and do the work that needs to get done. You are my hero!
Kawena Martinez is a mom of two beautiful girls, wife to an amazing husband and a proud school counselor to the rising youth in Hawaii. She spent 10 years with ‘Ewa Beach Elementary and is now the school counselor at Kamalani Academy, a public charter school in Wahiawā. Kawena always looks forward to new challenges and embraces, revels and anticipates moments that fill her heart.