Kathryn DeLapp

St. Robert School
Shorewood, Wisconsin
Kathryn DeLapp, Middle School ELA

My fingers fly across my keyboard once I reach my desk each morning, hours before the students arrive. This year we have adopted a digital assignment notebook so that the students we teach in person as well as those who are homebound and waiting for test results to provide a clean bill of health can continue learning together. We integrate live Google Meet sessions into classes, post videos and resources on Hapara Workspace, and collaborate using Google Drive to connect the students we teach in person to the students at home, trying to maintain growth and education for all. Our school is fighting to keep our doors open, to provide the education that we know our students deserve, but that comes with limitations and challenges. Students with symptoms have to stay home and get tested, which means for at least a few days, those students become virtual learners.

The first day I had virtual learners in addition to my in-person class, I left school feeling absolutely defeated. My plans failed and the technology that I relied upon made tasks more difficult instead of seamless as I anticipated. I am no luddite, so I confidently set up my classes to effortlessly integrate these virtual learners with the in-person students, but I met tech glitch after tech glitch and was forced to throw in the towel that day. After apologizing to the virtual learners, I promised to return to them later and refocused my attention on the students who sat before me still, staring while my plans for the day imploded before their eyes. Frustration boiled beneath my skin, and as I attempted to sleep that night, my body tossed and turned while my brain reeled, trying to find a better solution to serve my students.

Parents, teachers, and students alike met obstacles in these first trying days and exhausting weeks. Learning has never been easy, and learning to adapt right now is no exception to that rule. However, we did learn from our mistakes, and we continue to learn each day, finding new ways to become better teachers.

I have found myself relishing in the small moments again — cherishing the ability to sit down in the middle of a group of readers to discuss a story we have read, meeting with students one-on-one to confer about the development of their writing, watching as carefree giggles fill a room and eyes sparkle with the smile I know is hidden beneath the mask. Suddenly, the technology problems become minimal, the integration of virtual and in-person learners falls into a familiar routine, and the community inside the building confidently strolls through COVID procedures that work to keep us here together.

These days, I turn to my SMART Board, call on the student whose image is projected there, and we all hear input from that student who is stuck at home. Then, another student in the back of the classroom pipes up and responds. On other days while the in-person students turn and work together in small groups to analyze a piece of literature, a small group of students in a Google Meet do the same. They all see me, hear me, and learn together. We find ways to adapt and to grow, to continue a fruitful education.

We wear masks, we distance ourselves physically, we sanitize like crazy, we teach students at home and in school simultaneously, and we do find moments of success. Fortunate to have the opportunity to form bonds and guide student growth in-person, I feel blessed to be teaching right now amidst a community that works together to overcome each obstacle the pandemic dishes out. I love my students, and even on days when I am drowning in a bucket stress, being in their presence enlivens my spirit and manifests hope for a better tomorrow.

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