COVID and the Classroom: Emotional struggles and resilience

In recent weeks, the Farmington Public Schools (FPS) Board of Education voted to have elementary students return to face-to-face instruction in a hybrid model on November 9, and to keep secondary students learning virtually until January 25.

Two FPS teachers spoke with Farmington Voice about how their students are handling remote learning and what might help as they move through the school year.

Editor’s noteEmily Karlichek’s conversations with Farmington area educators continues with a look at the social and emotional side of remote learning. We have agreed to withhold identifying information at the teachers’ requests. Read part one: COVID AND THE CLASSROOM: TEACHERS ON REMOTE, IN-PERSON LEARNING and part two: COVID AND THE CLASSROOM: REMOTE LEARNING EVOLVES

Both educators said while students face tough challenges, they’ve also displayed resilience.

“I feel like my students are doing okay emotionally. Just okay. Not wonderful, not horrible – luckily the younger kids are quite resilient,” an FPS first grade teacher said. “I do find that they aren’t as motivated or as smiley as they would normally be in the classroom, and that they are also getting frustrated a lot quicker… the drive to work as hard and their joy of learning is different than when we are face to face.”

‘More resilient than they get credit for’

A math teacher at Farmington High School sees the emotional weight on families, but also that their students seem to have found a good groove.

“I think kids are more resilient than they get credit for. I teach high school, and at that level, it is more difficult to build relationships with students or to get a read on how kids are doing, but I maintain a positive attitude and a consistent routine and that seems to help.”

The teacher added that during more casual chats, students seem “incredibly healthy, both mentally and emotionally. I don’t know if parents are aware of how much time we teachers do try to take to connect with kids and check in on them. Teachers are being very sensitive to their students’ well being.”

The first grade teacher has found students getting frustrated a lot faster, and not coping well. “In the classroom it is easier to catch the early signs of frustration, but online if they don’t have their video or microphone on, I’m in the dark as to how they are doing.”

Managing daily schedules

The math teacher also has the perspective of an FPS elementary parent and recognizes that virtual learning means asking much more than usual of younger students.

“Putting them in their bedrooms by themselves with a Chromebook and expecting to have them go through their school work with little oversight is a huge responsibility for them. They have to know where to check what their daily assignments are, they have to complete them correctly, submit them to the teacher on time, manage their daily schedule and make sure they are reporting to their live meets on time. When you are in a classroom, it’s so much easier to redirect students when they get off task by giving them a gentle nudge.”

Even though high school students are more mature, the math teacher said, what they have to manage is multiplied by six, as they work through different courses and with teachers each having their own methods.

The first grade teacher helps students deal with emotions via “read alouds” and has been honest with her kids about the difficulties of teaching in this new environment, so they “know and feel they aren’t alone.” School social workers at the elementary level have been holding small group Google Meets for targeted support.

“I try to just instill a sense of normalcy with the daily routine and how I structure my classes,” the math teacher said. “I want them to know that I am here to support them while also letting them know that I have expectations of them and I know they can rise to the challenge.”

Model grit, perseverance

The teachers also offered these words of advice:

“Students feed off of the feelings in the household just like they do the feelings of the classroom. Even if you hate remote learning, don’t let your student know that. Let them know you believe in them and that this is a new adventure to learn. If students come to class with a negative mindset, it has set them up for a negative day. Another thing is to allow students to do the work on their own, even if it is wrong. That helps students learn and learn it is okay to make mistakes. Just continue to encourage them to do their best.”

“Some things I think can help everyone are establishing a consistent daily routine and using a schedule, timers and alarms to move through the day, ending at a reasonable time. A quiet place to work with their own device and headphones gives students the chance to focus.”

“Model ‘deep’ work and perseverance. This is hard, but if you model grit, then your children will know they need to use grit to be successful. It’s so easy for kids to give up, especially if they encounter tech issues, but by pushing them to problem solve and work through the challenges, they will be better prepared for success later in life – they will learn how to persevere on their own.”

“Avoid criticizing the educational community in front of your kids. You may not like all of your kids’ teachers, or the decisions that the district is making, but when you openly criticize them, your kids learn to do the same. Remote learning takes a positive attitude and effort from all parties, and criticism can destroy that positivity. Teachers are working incredibly hard right now to make the best out of the situation and we listen when parents have issues. We genuinely want all of our students to be successful and we are open to suggestions on how to do that better – a child’s education should always have equal participation from their parents and their teachers.”

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