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Pandemic-era teaching no longer ‘an impossible task’

Lessons of the Pandemic

Editor’s note: Despite the many obstacles of the COVID-19 pandemic, teachers have seen positives shine through in the form of lessons — and gifts — they’ve experienced as a result of being forced to try new things. This school year, School News Network is sharing those experiences from teachers throughout Kent ISD. We’d love to hear yours, too. Please email your thoughts to SNN@kentisd.org for possible inclusion in a future issue.  

SNN: As an educator, what have you found to be some lessons or gifts of the pandemic? Were there any unexpected positives that came from these difficult circumstances?

Emilee Pfeifer

Emilee Pfeifer, Cedar Springs sixth-grade teacher at Red Hawk Elementary School:

The pandemic has taught me that teaching is more about building relationships and finding joy in the simple moments than I ever realized. My students and I have been through very hard times and this has built such an amazing bond that we will never forget. 

In regards to teaching practices, I learned how to move my classroom outside so that students could spread out and take their masks off. This helped to engage and motivate several of my students in a way I didn’t fully appreciate before. Because we needed to space students out, I realized how much students excel when given adequate space so that they are not crammed in a small area right next to others. 

The pandemic forced me to lean more on technology than ever before for instructional purposes. Students learned more about technology, as well, and how to creatively problem-solve when having tech issues. They also helped me to creatively problem-solve how to do certain activities and still follow covid protocols for activities I did not want to stop doing just because I couldn’t do them the way I had in years past. 

‘I realized how much students excel when given adequate space so that they are not crammed in a small area right next to others.’

— Emilee Pfeifer, Red Hawk Elementary sixth-grade teacher

I have learned to reprioritize several things in my personal and professional life. Because I have my own school-age children, I was able to empathize with families that were struggling. I am able to connect with parents and students who struggled with things such as quarantines, online instruction and the mental health impact the pandemic has caused. 

The pandemic also helped teachers in my building collaborate more so that we could share the workload and spend our time working smarter and not harder. By sharing the workload, I was able to pour more into my students’ needs, as well as my family and their needs. 

Jill Carnes

Jill Carnes, Rockford first-grade teacher at Parkside Elementary School:

The ongoing pandemic has forced us to reevaluate how we deliver our content and the things that we are asking our youngest learners to do. In the beginning, it felt like we were being asked to jump over many hurdles (or, maybe more accurately, climb over large mountains!) as we navigated this new way of learning. What once felt like an impossible task has actually allowed us to now bring students into our classrooms for live instruction when they are forced to quarantine. It may not be the ideal way to learn, but it certainly allows us a flexibility we never had before with long-term absences.  

The idea of logging on with 20+ first-graders might terrify some, but it was an opportunity for us to see into our students’ worlds. Each morning during our class meeting, we tried to make it a time that students could bring something special and share with the class. We got to know our students on a much more personal level.  Students were engaged from day one because they loved being able to be the ones to share about themselves. 

‘The idea of logging on with 20+ first-graders might terrify some, but it was an opportunity for us to see into our students’ worlds.’

— Jill Carnes, Parkside Elementary first-grade teacher

Another positive to have come out of the pandemic is the collaboration amongst teachers. During online learning, our entire district’s first-grade team would meet virtually weekly to plan upcoming lessons, create student work in an online platform and just discuss what was and wasn’t working. I got to know the other wonderful professionals in our district much better and appreciate the conversations we continue to have.  

This pandemic has forced changes in education that we never knew to be possible. So much credit is owed to the teachers, parents and students who have worked so hard to make sure that we all are successful.

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Beth Heinen Bell
Beth Heinen Bell is a reporter and copy editor, covering Rockford, Lowell, Grandville and Cedar Springs. She is an award-winning journalist who got her start as the education reporter for the Grand Haven Tribune. A Calvin University graduate, she later returned to her alma mater to help manage its national writing festival and edit and write for enrollment communications. Beth has also written for The Grand Rapids Press, Fox 17 and several West Michigan businesses and nonprofits. She is fascinated by the nuances of language, loves to travel and has strong feelings about the Oxford comma. Read Beth's full bio

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