“I have learned that many people have their own approach to many things.” She spun around with her skirt flaring a bit. Her warm expression met the students’ gaze. “That includes for gathering information.” One of the students nodded. The young woman smiled and walked to the whiteboard. “Let’s demonstrate this.”
She wrote out several lines of information on the board. They were not connected or structured. “Here is your exercise. All of the information you need is on the board. Your job is to get into a group of three and connect that data yourselves in a way that answers the question: What are we working on next?”
One of the screens in front of her indicated they had a question. “How can I help you, Matty?”
“How are we going to group up, Ms. Mason?”
“You’ll pair up through the secondary room assortment. It’s an option built into the virtual conference room we’re using. It’s like having mini-rooms. You have five minutes to take down the notes on the board. While you’re doing that, I’ll get the rooms arranged.” She smiled and settled behind her computer. She set a timer because the situation often challenged her measurement of time in a way things never did before. She began mentally sorting the rooms, trying to remember who had been friends. Once she sorted things the way she expected to, she initiated but didn’t activate the first room. As the timer went off, she stood again and walked in front of the camera and whiteboard. “All set?”
Much like it would normally have been, she heard the class all start speaking at once. The patient teacher allowed them to yammer on about one thing or another for a few minutes before she clapped loudly. “Come, come. I’m going to separate the rooms. You’ll work out the problem and in twenty five minutes I’ll rejoin all of us to discuss the next plan.”
The groans almost made everything sound normal. She settled down, activated the rooms as she recalled the intention to do so. While they worked on their projects, she began creating a quick survey to assess how well they worked together. She then worked to grade their prior assignments.
It didn’t take long before that timer expired. She popped into each of the groups to check on them. By the time she had spent time in each of the smaller groups, she brought them back together for a moment before moving onto their next class. She updated the virtual classroom for each of them to leave their group’s name and guess. They closed the virtual classroom, Cynthia Mason pulled up her mask and took this moment to make her way to the cafeteria for lunch.
It was an hour earlier than her usual time, but with the current limitations, she didn’t want to complicate things. After paying for her meal through a quick touchless method, she took it back to her classroom. There she tied into another teacher who was also on a break and they discussed the changes at length. So much would stay the same, but other parts had changed.
Daily students would come into the school. Some students in some classes attend live. Some students would always attend virtually. Now, she had finished the first virtual class. This was going to take some getting used to. The friend she was speaking with felt the same. As the next class began, she smiled to see a few students actually enter the classroom. She encouraged them to sit at the color seats that fit their assigned group.
Despite the masks, she still enjoyed conversation with the students. They spoke at length about the new situation, the adjustments, and the school year going forward. As the class period came to an end, she shared the class’s online home with the students. “When you get home tonight, please log in and tell me what you remember from our class today.”
The group funneled out with the occasional, “Remember social distancing,” reminder as they go out the door. Once the room is quiet again, Ms. Mason returned to her desk to assess what she has left for the day. With only one more class period, she examined the roster and one or two students meandered in. She stopped them briefly while she whipped down three desks. Once she felt satisfied, they sat down and she began the camera again. As the bell started the class, she created the meeting room that automatically emailed all of the students assigned to the class.
“Please, take out your Chromebooks, and let’s connect with your new classmates.” She smiled and waited for the students to begin logging in. Once her board indicated the whole class was logged in, she began discussing the new year ahead. She was better about going over the instructions and information than at the start of the day. She felt confident about the adjustment to work going forward.
She sent her last class off with a greeting and encouragement for the remote learning period for the next day or two.
The next hour was spent wiping down doors, pencils, boxes, tables, and the like. Everything her students could have touched, breathed on, or encountered got sanitized. She reflected on the differences again. Cleaning was always a part of the day. It wasn’t stepped up by much this year, but she could look forward to knowing they were going to run an additional army of sanitizing janitors cleaning every part of every classroom every night for the remainder of the school year.
They would be healthier, better prepared, and resilient. She knew this class of students would be the most resilient students she ever taught because, like she and her peers, they will have adapted to unique challenges throughout the year. This year, no matter what faced them, it was going to be a good year.
Everyone worked diligently to make that happen. After her first day with her students, she knew they would be too.
She prepared the next morning’s online class, then closed her classroom door for the night.