Justice Page teacher: ‘The kids are asking more and more: “When are we going back?”’

The Southwest Journal is documenting the coronavirus pandemic by recording the personal stories of Minneapolis residents and workers whose daily lives are in a state of flux. As the outbreak evolves, we will be checking in with the participants regularly. Read all of the stories here.

All interviews are edited for length and clarity.

Tracey Schultz, science teacher, Justice Page Middle School

The kids are asking more and more: “When are we going back? When are we going back?” 

I don’t know. I don’t know when the dial is going to move and exactly what that’s going to mean for kids. It’s really hard to say to kids that you don’t know. And it’s really hard personally not to know.

One great thing about our current circumstances is we couldn’t do conferences in the traditional way. Parents could log onto Google Meet from wherever they were for their 20-minute conference. I think that just worked so much better for families. What I hope going forward is that we can continue to use something like Google Meet as a way to conference with families and then maybe branch out from idea of, “We just have a fall conference.” It’d be great if we could think about conferences a little more fluidly and kind of on an as-needed basis.

For very few kids is distance learning a great match, but for every one of my homeroom kids, there are successes, so getting to talk about that together and having the parents hear that is important. Families are concerned about screen time, and they should be. We’re really concerned about that, too. The district has told us, “This is how we’re teaching right now.” It just kind of leaves us in a spot where we’re all saying, “Gosh, we’re really concerned about the screen time.”

I think the parents really appreciate the structure and interactions with teachers that their students are getting. No one wants this to be, “OK, 11-, 12-year-olds, here’s all this work, go off and do it by yourself.” I think that’s how it felt in the spring far too often, and so parents are really grateful that their kids are getting so much more support and so much more instruction. But, of course, with that comes a whole bunch more screen time, which we’re all concerned with, so it’s like this kind of infinity loop that we’re stuck in.

A lot of us teachers and students struggle to get going at the start of the day. Once we’re rolling, once we’re up and running, there’re a lot of really positive interactions. But it’s hard to get in the game some days. That’s not how it would usually feel this time of year.

Google Meet at the start of the school year had some big-time limitations as far as features. But Google did roll out … kind of their version of groups. So now using Google Meet, I can take my large group Meet and divide them into any number of small groups. What’s nice is the kids get a little button on their screen that tells them, “You’ve been asked to join this group.” Based on some great recommendations from colleagues, I have made learning teams, so each kid is in a group of four or five. I would do this in a live classroom, but of course it’s so much more challenging now.

We’re starting to see some of those social pieces that have been lacking. At conferences, one of the most touching moments was when one of my homeroom students said, “I made a friend,” grinning ear to ear. Of course the first thing that comes out of my mouth is, “How did you do it?” I’m asking as a teacher, but I’m also asking as a social being. She said, “Well, I have almost every class with this person.” I think they ended up in a group a couple of times and ended up exchanging numbers and connected enough times that they felt like, “We have a friendship going.”

It’s hard to keep teacher morale up. We’re trying really hard to keep our morale up for the time when we’re with kids. But when we’re not live on the screen with the kids, I think I can speak for a large number of my colleagues who are struggling with how this is going right now.

I have very limited information about decisions at the district level. I think everyone’s eager for more. The more communication, the better. If there are things happening in our buildings to better set us up to go back, that would be exciting to hear about. I think we’re all really eager and really hopeful for some communication about how things will work, what the timeline is and what kind of resources are available to staff and students so we can be safe.


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