A lot of teachers are also authors. In an effort to spotlight their two hats, I feature teacher-authors on both my writing and education blogs. Guests can write about any topic they’d like as long as it revolves around those skills.
Today, I’d like to introduce Anne Clare, a teacher as well as a historical fiction author. Anne Clare is a native of Minnesota’s cornfields and dairy country. She graduated with a BS in Education in 2005 and set out to teach in the gorgeous green Pacific Northwest, where she and her husband lived. She also serves as a church musician, singing in and occasionally directing choirs, playing piano, organ, and coronet (the last only occasionally, when she forgets how bad she is at it.) After the birth of her second child, she became a stay-at-home mom, and after the birth of the third she became reconciled to the fact that her house would never be clean again, which allowed her to find time to pursue her passion for history and writing while the little people napped. Although she’s back to teaching, she continues to write historical fiction and to blog about WWII history, writing, and other odds and ends at thenaptimeauthor.wordpress.com.
I reviewed her amazing book, Where Shall I Flee, (click for my review and a purchase link) about the battle in Italy during WWII from the perspective of a female nurse. Today, I’m excited to share her story of teaching through the pandemic. With not only apocryphal but statistical stories about the damage done by the pandemic to student learning, I was eager to read about this through the eyes of a teacher in the trenches. I think you’ll enjoy this:
Coping with COVID in the Classroom
I’ve always found that teaching is a profession that requires some flexibility. Since March of 2020, “flexibility” doesn’t seem like quite a strong enough word for the mental gymnastics required in maintaining any kind of workable learning environment. All of the teachers I know have their own stories of Covid craziness. Here are a few of mine.
The First Round
As soon as we heard that our state was going into full lockdown, my school’s faculty started looking for online options. I teach in a small “church school” with just over a hundred students. Small size has its own challenges, but when it came to pivoting to a new teaching plan, it allowed us to adapt quite quickly. Over Spring Break we set up Google Classroom pages, learned how to do Zoom, and created packets of papers for students’ families to pick up and drop off outside the school weekly. By the time break was over, we were ready.
Technical difficulties, struggling students, and the stress of a total change of lifestyle made online learning challenging.
Then there were difficulties with the physical space. My husband worked from home in our bedroom while my eldest daughter did her 4th grade work in her room, my son worked on first grade in his, and my youngest wrapped up her Kindergarten year at our kitchen table, occasionally weeping over the ipad when she couldn’t find the correct sheet. Meanwhile, I tried to record lessons in such a way as to keep my students accountable, tried to keep up with online correcting, and tried to be there to assist my children as needed.
While my faculty and I adapted to provide the best learning situation for our students that we could, I didn’t complain when we decided to end the school year early. It made sense—the loss of sports and extra curriculars meant that we finished our curriculum ahead of schedule anyway. Perhaps, after summer, things would return to normal.
The Long Haul
As I approached the 2020-2021 school year, I hoped (as I’m sure many did) that maybe things could go back to normal. They didn’t.
All of the public schools and most of the private ones in our county decided to remain almost entirely online. Looking at our size and the desires of our parents, my school decided to try a different approach.
We divided our student body into two groups so that desks could be adequately spaced. We taught a full gamut of shortened classes to each group, one in the morning and one in the afternoon, cleaning and disinfecting in between.
While it wasn’t an ideal situation, it was such a joy to see my students in person. I’d never fully appreciated the power of being able to explain things face to face until I lost it. For instance, the first time I gave out a vocabulary assignment to my 7th and 8th graders, a student failed. I suspected that she didn’t quite know how to do it, BUT now I was able to stand next to her, to explain and the demonstrate the steps she could take to improve. For the rest of the quarter, she had straight A’s.
My personal life…well, it was still kind of a zoo. My kids did the morning session, then I brought them home, fed them and started them on their homework before dashing back for round two. (Mercifully, I was not teaching a full time schedule, so I had a little more leeway for transportation than some of our other faculty members.) My husband was in the house, but still “at work.” There was more screen time for the kids than I’d prefer, but we made it through!
Moving Toward Normalcy
For the 2021-2022 school year, we decided to come back full time. It has been such a joy to see my students every day, and to have more time to dig into learning. I’ve missed that classroom community—it’s so good to get some of it back!
Full-time hasn’t been without its bumps. This January, after a week of bad weather right after Christmas break that shut everyone down, we tried to come back to school only to discover that we were missing 25% of our student body due to illness. Several students were sick themselves, others had to quarantine due to sick family members. Half of our 7th and 8th graders were out, and with quarantining lasting for at least a week, they’d be missing huge chunks of learning.
The faculty discussed it and decided that the best choice was to go online for a week. With a long weekend in there, we’d have 10 days apart, and, hopefully, most of the illnesses would have run their course by the time we returned.
When I told my children, they cried.
They weren’t the only ones who were unhappy. Parents, students, all of the teachers—none of us wanted to say goodbye again.
Going back to Zoom classes—classes where students were theoretically present, but in reality were often checked out or distracted—was disheartening. We put our heads down, plugged through, and prayed that we could just get back to in person.
So far, so good. At this point, my school has been back in person for more than a month. The weather is getting warmer, and there seems to be more hope for normalcy on the horizon. (I’m trying not to get too hopeful though, in case it’s just a mirage!)
Teaching in a Covid-world classroom has certainly been challenging—and I’m well aware that my experience has not been as challenging as some! However, I’ve seen blessings in it too. I’ve been impressed with the adaptability and commitment I’ve seen in fellow teachers and families. I’ve learned some new technology and teaching strategies. And I’ve been reminded just what a gift it is to see my students’ faces each day.
How to contact Anne
Where Shall I Flee? https://www.amazon.com/Where-Shall-Flee-Anne-Clare/dp/B09KNGJ2YB/
Whom Shall I Fear? https://www.amazon.com/Whom-Shall-Fear-Anne-Clare-ebook/dp/B07SW443Z3/
If you’re a teacher-author and would like to contribute to this column, reach out to me at [email protected]. I’d love to host you.
Note: If you follow my education blog, Ask a Tech Teacher, you may have read this post over there.
Jacqui Murray is the author of the popular prehistoric fiction saga, Man vs. Nature which explores seminal events in man’s evolution one trilogy at a time. She is also the author of the Rowe-Delamagente thrillers and Building a Midshipman, the story of her daughter’s journey from high school to United States Naval Academy. Her non-fiction includes over a hundred books on integrating tech into education, reviews as an Amazon Vine Voice, and a freelance journalist on tech ed topics. Look for her next prehistoric fiction, Natural Selection, Spring 2022.