I went back to school in August 2019 after four and a half years out of the classroom.  I was new to Lawrence Catholic Academy (LCA).  I was hired to teach fifth and sixth grade math.  I have taught sixth grade before, but fifth grade was new to me.  I have always loved teaching math.  I was new to teaching at an “inner city” school.  I have taught hundreds and hundreds of students over the course of 14 years, but the cultural diversity of the students at LCA was certainly new to me.

The 2019 – 2020 school year started out the same way most of my other school years had.  My heart was filled with excitement, my stomach with butterflies, my head with ideas and great expectations, my lips with smiles and my spirit with zeal!  Holidays were the usual: first came Thanksgiving, next Christmas and New Year’s followed by a week of vacation (retreat for me) in February.  But no one could have predicted what happened in March! 

That Friday afternoon seemed like any other until an hour before dismissal.  The school principal had meandered through my class many times before so I didn’t suspect anything out of the ordinary.  This time, though, she came directly to me and whispered, “This is it, at the end of the day, send all the students home with everything they’ll need for the next two weeks.  I’ll explain more at a special faculty meeting at 2:45 today.”  We had all heard about the Coronavirus in the news, but could it really be affecting Lawrence, Massachusetts?  I had no idea how much change and newness I was about to face.

The two weeks predicted by the school principal was actually to be 14 weeks!  Thousands of teachers all around the world and I suddenly had our classrooms turned upside down.  Suddenly I was teaching math lessons from the office space I created in the basement of the convent.  I was facing a video camera instead of a room filled with students.  The dry erase board I was used to using was replaced by a “virtual” one on my computer monitor.  Though I never thoroughly enjoyed cleaning the shadows left by my dry erase markers, they were much easier to write with than my computer mouse!  After several years of teaching, I could predict my students’ reactions and even their behaviors pretty accurately.  But now that they were no longer in front of me, I needed to predict their questions and thought patterns and anticipate the examples they may need to help them grasp my lessons.  Now things were different.

I found myself using Google Classroom to make assignments and class announcements.  I had the students use IXL and Prodigy for drill work and reinforcement exercises.  The students (and more often their parents) submitted photos of their assignments by email.  I learned to post my video lessons to my YouTube channel.  I gave quizzes and tests on the “honor system” since I would have no proof if they did their own work or got someone else to help them.  I held Zoom sessions so my students could ask me questions about the math problems they were working on.  I also used Zoom to tutor some students who needed extra help. 

I found teaching in this way to be far more difficult than teaching from a “traditional” classroom.  At the same time, I learned a great deal about technology that I probably would not have taken the time to learn if the circumstances were different.  I could not keep the children “in from recess” or after school for “detention” if they misbehaved or did not complete their assignments.  I did not like the feeling of this loss of control, but it taught me that my purposes may be better served by positive reinforcements than by punishments.  Not all of my students had access to the same resources at home so I could not rely on the “old familiar” ways of doing things.  I had to work harder to vary my assignments and to keep the children’s attention. 

I didn’t have recess duty or lunch duty.  I did not have to bring the class to the restroom as a group nor lead them to their weekly special classes like gym and music.  I could spend more than twenty minutes at lunch and didn’t have to rush to use the restroom in three minutes or less.  At the same time, I really missed interacting with the students from other grade levels.  I missed chatting with the teachers outside of my grade level.  I missed going to Mass with my sixth graders and their first grade buddies. 

So I went back to school this year.  I went back to teaching and I went back to learning.  When things got tough, I asked Mother Rivier and followed her advice…”My daughter, be very zealous in preparing your classes and in teaching your pupils.  I realize that children are not always that easy to deal with, but do not become discouraged.  Be patient; offer all your difficulties to God, and be assured that nothing is lost.” (Spiritual Testament XX)