A student with difficulties ends up being an inspriation during the coronavirus crisis.
|It’s week three of distance learning amid the Coronavirus crisis. As I look through my Google Classroom, I am once again amazed that one of the students who has completed all five daily assignments is Joel.
I teach a high school 12:1:1 class in an Urban area. I’ve taught for 22 years in a variety of situations. You’d think I would have teaching figured out by now, but anyone who is a teacher knows that as soon as you think you’ve seen it all, a student, group of students or entire class will prove you wrong.
Usually, It takes about 6 weeks for a class to settle in. This year at the 6 week mark, I had students getting into fights, throwing raw eggs on the floor during cooking activities and calling myself and others unsavory names during lessons.
One of the students who struggled greatly from September until mid- January was Joel. He was the one who threw a raw egg on the floor during an otherwise peaceful cooking activity one day in November. He also threatened to have me beaten up many times, exploded soda all over the room on more than one occasion, threw his school issued computer on the ground once and tried to turn other students against me.
The egg on the floor was a new one for me. I cleaned it up that day by pouring salt on it and scooping it up; attempting to clear away the chaos that had transpired. I knew that although the floor had been cleaned, a goopy mess of a problem remained.
As November melted into December, I felt frustrated by Joel and a few of the other students who were causing issues in the class. I wanted to be doing fun Science projects with them and having rich discussions about books and movies. Instead, I was explaining for the upteenth time, why calling someone a __________ was not kind, appropriate or helpful during lessons. I was having constant conferences with kids about how to improve the classroom community.
Then, one day in mid- January, when I had barely noticed that things had improved dramatically since the raw egg days, Joel turned to me and said,
“Miss, I’m so sorry.”
“For what?” I asked
“For all of the things I did in the beginning of the year, I just wasn’t ready to be back in school.”
We discussed life’s ups and downs and how amazing it is to be able to learn from your mistakes in order to grow as a person. I thought back on the two months since the egg on the floor, and was thankful that I hadn’t given up on trying to build a relationship with Joel and his family and find ways to support his mental health.
Fast forward another two months. The class has done amazing things. They’ve written reports and created books, engaged in the scientific process, had discussions about intense topics such as racism and learned to mostly accept and treat others in a more positive way. Then the Coronavirus crisis hit and without getting to say goodbye, we were left to communicate with each other across the space between our houses and apartments.
I’ve tried to approach distance learning using the same best practices I do in the classroom; creating a structure for learning as well as ways for students and families to continue to feel connected and supported. It’s not the same as being in the classroom together as a school family, but for now it will have to do.
Of my 12 students, 9 have access to technology. I work with the other three students through packets that I send to them in the mail and phone communication. Of the 9 students with technology access, 3 of them do every assignment every day. Joel is one of them. I have never been so proud of a student and I praise him up and down through google classroom, text messages and video conference on how responsible and independent he has been during our time away from the classroom.
Being away from the classroom has once again cemented for me that it is where I belong, even on the difficult, messy days. I hope to have many more years in the classroom and I know there will be new Joels to work with. I will forever be thankful for this Joel. He taught me that students can change and grow and that difficult times in a school year can be gotten through when you don’t give up on cultivating strong relationships and a positive classroom community.