Educator Experiences: “Incomplete”
Our featured educator and guest blogger this week is Stefanie Krimsky, a fourth grade teacher at the Hillsboro Charter Academy here in Loudoun County. Stefanie reached out to the museum in early June to arrange a virtual lesson for her class about the Civil War to be taught by our Executive Director, Dr. Joe Rizzo. This was a great opportunity for the museum to further our relationship with local schools while also expanding our options for virtual programming. We also had the privilege to experience this new method of teaching and learning in action, which we have been covering periodically in our Educator Experiences blog series. After our wonderful interaction with her class, I reached out to Stefanie and asked if she would share more of her story with us, to which she generously agreed. Featured below is her submission.
Images: Stefanie Krimsky's students watching Dr. Rizzo teach about local Civil War history. Image credit: Hillsboro Charter Academy
Since my school has a slightly different schedule from the rest of Loudoun County, I am writing this after the last official day for my students. I have some paperwork to complete, some final grading to submit, but my main duties as a teacher for the 2019-2020 school year are done. My own children, too, are mostly done with their school years. So, I’m taking advantage of this quieter time to reflect on the experience of teaching during Covid-19. The one word that I keep coming back to is “incomplete”. I have the feeling that I have forgotten something. But, what?
It goes without saying that creating a distance education from tools and lessons that were meant for hands-on learning was beyond challenging. When all this began, teachers and students lost several days of instruction while the world tried to figure out what was next. In Loudoun County, fourth graders’ school days transformed from entire days to 90 minutes of prepared instruction with half an hour of synchronous teaching time a week. Figuring out how to squeeze all our instruction into those constraints meant a focus on efficiency.
In some ways, the time challenge meant my instruction was stronger than it might have been. When you only have a small portion of the time you used to have, you do all you can to make that time count. You record and re-record videos until you are as clear as you can reasonably be. You scour the internet until you find a shareable resource that has it all. You add audio links to slides wherever you feel a clarification might be necessary and make worksheets interactive, so students get immediate feedback and quick access to the instruction. But, good instruction goes beyond making sure your students have all the information. This is especially the case when you’re teaching about the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Civil Rights movement. So, I made myself readily available for questions and brought in guest speakers who gave us vibrant descriptions of life in the past. Nevertheless, laggy internet and time constraints meant the rich classroom conversations that should have happened couldn’t. So, a big part of that nagging sense I’m left with is missed instructional experiences.
There’s more to it than that though, and part of it is the social piece. At the end of a regular year, the last day of school is never an easy day. I always feel a bit underprepared for it. Knowing that it will be full of excitement and restlessness, I never expect to get much instruction in and try to keep plans fairly loose. We reflect back on the year together. We have extra recess, we share stories, we play games, and we listen to music. Time being what it is, the hours and minutes pass, and the day always ends much faster than it seems it should with tears, laughs, and extra hugs.
In a COVID year, there are similarities. For our last language arts assignment, students shared the moments from our year that left the biggest impressions. Our final online meeting passed in a blur of sharing successful projects, discussing summer plans, and plenty of tears. Our music teacher led us in a silly songwriting collaboration, and we shared much needed laughs. But, we definitely didn’t get those hugs. And, too many of my students were absent for our online sessions or did not complete their work, which meant I didn’t hear from some of them, and they didn’t hear from each other. What are their plans for summer playdates or family vacations? What will they take away with them from this year? The questions I have are questions my students must have too.
That’s all part of it -- the crunched curriculum and missed social experiences. But, what’s missing from the end of 2019-2020 is more than just the sum of these parts.
After three sleepless nights, I think I found a way to describe the incomplete feeling I get from this school year. It’s like trying to paint a field of red poppies with only yellow and blue paints. You might be able to capture the sunlight, the clear blue sky, the green stems. If you work really hard, you might even be able to master the mechanical outlines of the flowers. But your painting would still be missing the essence of the flowers. That is how I feel about the end of this year. It was missing a necessary ingredient. We took advantage of great instructional opportunities, and we had memorable interactions. Many of the paint colors were there. But, the red was missing.
I wish I had all the answers for how to make this different. But, the teachers are still learning too. There are rumors circulating that Governor Northam will soon lay out requirements for the 2020-2021 school year. As soon as we get them, I know teachers all over the state will start their plans. My hope is for us to find a way to get our students more time, more interaction, and all the red paint we can find.
We want to hear your story!
Upcoming blogs will feature local educators and their experiences- please consider sharing yours with us by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line: Distance Education Blog Submission.
Not an educator or student? Consider submitting your COVID-19 and quarantine experiences to our digital COVID Community Archive. For more information about submission, read our previous blog HERE.