While schools around the nation remain empty, educators are left with heartache as they continue to miss their students.
When the district announced its closure, Alison Preston, fifth-grade teacher at Rumsey Station Elementary, immediately thought of her students.
And after weeks of not seeing them in person, she misses them more than ever.
“I miss greeting them at the door in the morning and seeing their faces when they get excited about something we did in school or they accomplished something that was difficult,” Preston said.
Though Preston still gets to engage with students while teaching virtually, it is not the same, she said.
“Being able to check in with students each day, giving a smile or a hug when they are struggling, and cheering them on when they are being successful is something that I miss,” she said.
Preston also said it is harder to check in on students’ social and emotional needs.
“I can’t see them in person to judge how they are doing by their body language or facial expressions. I don’t get to check in with them at the beginning and end of day so it is harder to check on their social and emotional well being,” she said. “They can’t just raise their hand or walk over to me when they need help or something is difficult.”
To stay in touch with her students, Preston holds class meetings via Zoom where she and her students play games such as “Would You Rather” and “Pictionary” and sometimes, they even do scavenger hunts.
Preston also utilizes Flipgrid, a website teachers use to facilitate video discussions. Each week, students leave Preston video messages to which she responds.
“We have shared our pets, brought guest family members and worked on community building through show and tell all in an effort to have learning and support for the students,” she said.
To keep students busy during this time, Preston had her class start an “I Survived the Coronavirus” journal, inspired by the “I Survived” book series by Lauren Tarshis.
“This is a way for them to share what they are doing and how they are feeling. This will give them a journal of this historic time as viewed through their fifth grade eyes,” she said.
“It is also probably their first written memoir or a time that will be remembered in history that they lived through.”
And though circumstances are not ideal, Preston just wants to her students that even outside of the classroom, they are still loved.
“I want them to know I am still here from them and I am missing seeing them face to face,” she said.
“While this is an unexpected change, it has allowed me to see them in a different educational setting and it has challenged me as a teacher to be the best I can be so that they still feel supported, are able to learn and know that I still care about them as not just a learner but a person.”
Lori Boudreau, an English teacher at Papillion-La Vista High School, also struggles with not seeing her students.
“It has been hard for all of us as teachers to be away from our students. The day-to-day interactions we have with kids is the main reason most of us chose teaching as a career,” she said. “At all grade levels we have such a great opportunity to positively affect young lives; we can still do that, but it looks and feels very different.”
Boudreau said she also misses her daily routine.
“Greeting students at the door, giving them a snack if they’re hungry, listening to a funny story, seeing their expression during an ah-ha moment and all of those spontaneous learning moments that happen each day are just a few of the things that classroom teachers miss,” she said.
Boudreau holds Zoom meetings with students so they can engage and ask questions on homework assignments.
“The uncertainty of this uncharted territory has been one of the most difficult things to adjust to during this time of remote learning,” she said. “We all want to get this right for the students and provide a system they can count on, so we’ve had to continue to create, adjust and readjust in order to make this happen.”
Though this transition has not been easy, Boudreau encourages teachers to keep their heads up.
“I think we all as educators need to remember to stay patient and continue to support one another through collaboration, communication and kindness,” she said.
“Teachers want to let students know that even though we don’t get to see them every day, we are thinking of them and we are here for them as well as their families.”