Jennifer Jones

Lehigh Career and Technical Institute
Schnecksville, Pennsylvania
Jennifer Jones, Teacher Education Instructor

Creating a generation brave enough to teach

All teachers can remember that feeling of walking into your first classroom and the brisk sense of fear, wonderment, nerves, excitement and doubt. For many of us that feeling slips away over time slowly adapting to the prepared confident teachers who champion school districts across the country every day. Walking into this school year, many seasoned professionals remembered that first year feeling as we navigated the uncharted waters of teaching in a pandemic. I sat in my empty room behind my empty desk feeling equally as empty. As I swirled around with those feelings of doubt and confusion and fear allowing the confidence and security I once knew drift away. Whether I would be ready or not there would be a first day of school.

My classroom is a high school career and technical program, which offers students the opportunity to study teaching and work hands-on with preschool children. In a time in history where we as a society are facing a massive teacher shortage, I attempt to encourage young people to follow the path of education and become the future teachers that we will need. As one of our first assignments, I created a get to know you style quiz and asked the question “What are you hoping we learn this year”. One of my third year Teacher Education students replied and asked, “Will you be teaching us how to teach in a pandemic”. My initial response was hysterical laughter. How can I provide you with any knowledge on something that is currently swallowing me completely with stress and fear? I cannot teach you anything about how to teach during a pandemic, I am clueless! I responded with a slightly more positive version of I have no idea and I hoped I would never have to answer that question again.

I have exactly two goals for the students who participate in the Teacher Education program. One is they follow their desire to become a teacher, commit to the process of earning a teaching degree and work in their desired field of education. The other goal remains that if they decide teaching is not for them, I want them to forever appreciate the field of education and advocate for teachers and schools in whatever they pursue in life. Often, I am reminded of the immense role I have in my students’ lives to be a reflection of what the teaching profession could be and should be. I am who they want to be when they grow up and I should make them want to be teachers. So now, we are teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic and I have to create a learning experience that will not only facilitate learning but also continue to inspire young people to desire to become teachers. This will be no easy task.

Weeks into the year and we as a group have started to get into our new groove. We have weekly Monday Meetings which tend to be a mixture of lecture style teaching combined with good old fashioned fun and laughter and some much needed face to face. I have my hybrid in-class students join from the classroom while my virtual students join from home and I teach in front of my whiteboard as if the tiny boxes filled with sleepy faces are sitting in the empty spaces of our classroom. We have one-on-one time slots on Wednesdays, the day of the week our school is fully virtual, in which students can have private instructional time and enjoy a visit with their teacher if needed. All assignments that are posted online have both written instructions as well as video instructions from me for those who need to hear it rather than read it. We have a weekly shout out video where I highlight students who go above and beyond on assignments. Although it is not a perfect system and it never will be, we have created something that fits and feels familiar.

As we continue this journey, I checked in with my students once again. I asked questions like how are doing transitioning to hybrid/virtual? What can we do to make this course more interesting for you? What help do you need? Of course, there was a mixture of responses and some loose ends, which needed to be tended to. As I was reading and grading the assignments, which were, submitted online in the usual teacher haze of grading and attempting to stay on top of the endless list of “to do” items I came across this response.

    “I always love and can’t wait to go back to LCTI because it makes me happy. I also love when we show up how happy you are to see us all even though we can be a little crazy. My past couple of weeks have been really hard for me but I am going to stay positive and work on my growth mindset by replacing negative with positive. Thank you so much I appreciate you.”

Without realizing it or stopping to pat myself on the back, I managed to show my students how to teach in a pandemic. I found a way to push through the waves of doubt and confusion and terror and created a space both in-person and virtually where students can feel happy to be in school.  A classroom that is filled with joy and a little bit of crazy. There is no better testament to the strength and resilience of teachers than a student who says: “Thank you so much, I appreciate you”. I will continue to brave these challenges and attack each day to reflect onto my students that teachers can teach in every situation and instill that bravery in my students so they too will walk into a classroom of their very own and continue to spread the passion and commitment of teaching through successful careers.

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