Photo Credit: Amy Weisberg. Mrs. Weisberg prepared her classroom as if the children were going to be there.
I unlocked the door, set my school bag and purse on my desk, and prepared to meet my new class of Transitional Kindergarten and Kindergarten (TK/K)students. The excitement of my 41st first day of school was similar to the past 40 years, yet not at all the same.
Instead of greeting my new students on the playground, gently prying them away from their parents and encouraging them to enter the classroom, I walked over to my computer and monitor, logged onto Zoom and saw little boxes filled with the faces of my new students. Most were smiling, some were a little apprehensive and shy, but the turnout was good and we were ready to begin this unusual school year together.
During our Meet & Greet, I had encouraged the childrenâ€™s parents to be close by in case a technical difficulty arose, but also to give the children as much independence as possible. I reminded the children of the Zoom Rules, no eating during class, sit up at a table, act like you are in school, raise your hand if you want to be called on. We practiced muting and unmuting their computers when taking turns sharing. We started the day with our â€ścircle timeâ€ť activities: the traditional calendar activity of noting the day and date, adding a straw to the count of how many days we have been at school. This was the first day actually â€śinâ€ť class, but the children and their parents had already attended two days of online orientation provided by LAUSD. The children seemed well prepared to begin online after learning the computer functions during the orientation and at least were familiar with the microphone and video icons. I did my best to let the children feel like they were in the room with me and some were saying, â€śI really want to be in that room!â€ť
It is heartbreaking. This is not the way the first day of school should be for my young students, but teachers are flexible, and children are resilient, so we moved forward with this strange new day.
The first day was filled with learning the good morning song, morning routines, and giving each child the opportunity to speak and be listened to. Conjuring up Mr. Rogers, I tried to keep things energetic and lively, yet at a pace that could be easily digested by my young students. I read stories, holding the book up to my computerâ€™s camera and was glad Iâ€™d had the opportunity to practice this with my granddaughter all summer while trying to maintain a long-distance connection.
My classroom looks like a television set, with the backstage area carefully out of sight. The children can see the calendar, our class stuffed animals, and some books. I stand up and walk around while I am teaching, doing my best to mimic the real classroom. Finding the balance between using screen sharing, which allows the children to see books and videos fill their screen, and replicating the actual classroom experience, is a delicate dance.
Day two had a great student turn out with 18 out of the 21 students on my roster showing up for class. I read stories and introduced our Word of the Day: EAT. I introduced my co-teacher, Ms. Waters (the District assigned substitute teachers to split classes, I have TK/K), whom I was lucky enough to have assigned to co-teach with me during distance learning.
We have been friends for quite a while, and she is my go-to substitute teacher and knows my routines and teaching style. Ms. Waters modeled â€śMy favorite food isâ€¦â€ť and then called on me. After I answered with my favorite food, she called on all of the children one at a time. This provided practice for muting/unmuting, listening, and taking turns. We were able to hear each child speak and get to know them a little bit. The students got their writing journal out (I had provided a tub of their books and materials which parents picked up from school) and drew a picture of themselves with their favorite food. Normally, I would write their dictation sentence, but now I am depending on the parents to do that. The children took turns showing us their picture and restating their sentence, â€śMy favorite food is...â€ť Then it was time for our snack break. I told all the children to mute themselves, turn off their video, use the bathroom and have a quick snack. â€śMeet me back here at 10:15â€ť, I said. When I peeked at my monitor, I saw all the little black boxes with their names showing and I knew they were on their break.
We came back to class at 10:15 and I explained their independent work which would be completed after Zoom class. They completed an Interest Inventory form to bring with them for our individual Meet & Greet appointments the week of August 24, which will gave us a chance to get to know each student a little better and for them to get to know us too. The children are also completing an â€śAll Aboutâ€ť poster to be shared with the group. We had another chance to share, this time sharing our favorite color followed by a scavenger hunt to run to find something that was our favorite color and run back (getting the wiggles out is important during Zoom class!). We shared the object we brought back, and the children had fun watching each other and seeing all of the different objects. It was time to say goodbye and the waving went on for a while.
We are all longing for connection and in this time of distance, sharing time together, even at a distance and seeing each other in little boxes, the comfort of knowing we are in this adventure together is real. The children will learn, they will make connections, and if we get to be together in our classroom later in the school year, the bonds we form now will be all the sweeter.
A huge thank you goes out to the parents, who are helping their children wrestle with technology glitches, new Chromebook computers, log on and off on time, and support their academic success. Your dedication to your children and their learning is a welcome partnership. Together we will provide routines, stability and support for our students.
Amy Weisberg, M.Ed.â€” Named LAUSD and LA County Teacher of the Year, 2018-2019, she teaches Kindergarten/Transitional K at Topanga Elementary Charter School. With 40 years of teaching experience, she consults with teachers and parents and provides support for students. For more information:Â CompleteTeach.com;