How a Teacher Helped Students During the Year of COVID

African American school kid girl distance learning by video conference chat with remote teacher, online tutor teaching digital class, web lesson on computer at home. Virtual education.

There are a lot of articles and blogs emphasizing what was lost by our students in this past COVID-19 year. Certainly there were losses but some teachers became creative with their students in order to keep them moving forward in their learning. At Lakeside there were many strategies utilized to keep our students engaged during this difficult and unique time.

Will Johnson is one of those teachers who used literature in creative ways to continue to motivate his students to excel even during a pandemic. He has written about that experience in a recent article in the Hechinger Report. Here are some excerpts from his article:

Back in February, on a cold Friday night in the middle of our pandemic winter, one of my ninth grade students emailed me a cry for help. The message contained phrases — “can’t take this anymore,” “a lot of pain,” “mental breakdown” — that signaled a serious crisis.

Teachers have protocols to follow in situations like this. We document the signs of crisis. We alert counselors and administrators. After receiving my student’s email, I followed these protocols and waited to hear back, hoping that my student was OK.

I didn’t sleep much that night. While I waited for an update on my student’s situation, I ran through worst-case scenarios in my mind. How desperately lonely must that teenager be to reach out to a teacher whom they’ve never interacted with other than via a Zoom screen? (I’m not including identifying details about my student, including their gender, in order to protect their privacy.) When the student wrote, “I just need someone to talk to,” I understood what that meant.

Coronavirus and life. Boy schoolboy student in a medical mask stays home at distance learning due to quarantine because of COVID-19.

I’ve struggled with depression since I was a teenager. Back then, I had no idea what depression was. I just thought I was a person who was often very unhappy. Looking back, though, it’s easy to see that throughout high school I suffered serious bouts of depression that caused me to alternately isolate myself, lash out at the people around me and experience feelings of self-loathing and worthlessness. For much of this past year, I battled those same symptoms again. Many of my students battled them too.

He then goes on to discuss how he utilized literature to help students with their symptoms and how that made such an incredible difference in their lives. He also makes the point that we should not re-engage students with the typical testing systems that have characterized education in our country. He suggests ideas for new innovation as a teacher.

Will Johnson represents someone with great ideas that many of our teachers have discovered during COVID-19 to benefit their students, schools and communities as we return to school in the fall.  

Gerry Vassar


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