Teaching in the Trenches of COVID – Guest Post by Kristin Marczak

Mar 25, 2021

Thanks for joining us for our last blog from our featured guest blogger, Kristin Marczak, who is teaching in the trenches in the Upper Peninsula in Michigan. I’ve worked with Kristin for the last several years as a Molding Math Mindset teacher who has gone through our training, and has implemented so many of the great things we’ve been doing in the area of math. She’s an expert at doing numeracy talks, being able to really look at students in her classroom and figure out where their needs are best met by bringing in concrete, pictorial, and abstract means.

In fact, I was just visiting her two weeks ago in her classroom and we were modeling some different things, and I’m so impressed with the work that they’ve done at her elementary school, C.J. Sullivan Elementary, and I can’t wait to share her interview with you!

What has been the biggest challenge of teaching virtually?

To narrow it down to the one biggest challenge has become nearly impossible even though I have thought about this question so many times over the last year. I believe each teacher faced their own challenges depending on what life is like outside of the school building. The ripple effect of one challenge to the next truly tested me as an educator, as well as a parent guiding my own children through their online learning. We experienced many growing pains, but we adjusted and made it through somehow! 

I have two children of my own in elementary school. At times, I would be teaching my own class and have two children on their own Google Meets. It was a challenge to have so many devices on our wifi! That is something I was not prepared for or had even considered when this world of online learning began a year ago. Many times, my Meets would freeze and students would have to shut their cameras off in order for me to just get through the lesson. Teaching first grade and not being unable to see their faces and make that eye contact definitely took the wind out of my sails many times. Being virtual and not being able to have the face-to-face connection during teaching made me feel like I was failing as a teacher. At times I felt the Meets were chaotic and I would end them earlier than anticipated just to ensure I kept my composure and didn’t break down in front of my students. 

We all know the “teacher look” and after 14 years of teaching, I have perfected mine! Once we moved to completely online learning the “teacher look” was no longer something that worked as classroom management strategy. I had to come up with new ways to keep students engaged. Whether this meant wearing funny hats, changing outfits between Meets, or just sharing a funny video clip or meme, I had to be flexible and allow room for change. 

At the beginning of virtual learning it felt like complete chaos, and I truly felt defeated. I was not sure how I was going to be while teaching through Google Meets and Google Classroom. I think at some point, most (if not all!) teachers felt the same way. Teachers have this gift of adapting and making split second decisions to better their lessons and give their students what they need. The last year has been something none of us could have anticipated, but teachers and students alike are resilient, and by staying the course we were able to dig ourselves out of the trenches and make it to the other side – hopefully!

What have you learned from teaching virtually that you might not have learned as a classroom teacher?

Without moving to virtual and hybrid classrooms, I would not have used Google Classroom. I now feel quite confident in it and would be able to move to completely online easily. I am happy my district provided PD to support and help to make us feel much more competent and effective. At the beginning of this school year, we had a hybrid model. At any given time the amount of face-to-face or virtual students could fluctuate. I had to not only keep up with my face-to-face students, but also keep a Google Classroom updated daily and have students join Meets. It was a draining cycle of working all day in the classroom, and then working the evenings on Google Classroom, but the knowledge and experience using Google Classroom will definitely be beneficial in the future. 

What has been your most humorous moment during your virtual teaching experience?

During one of my Google Meets, my dog, Daisy, joined and completely stole the show! My students were way too excited to return to the lesson and continue. We spent the rest of the Meet asking Daisy to do tricks and be on camera. It was hard for me to let the lesson go, but it gave me a chance to laugh with my students and just enjoy the moment. 

What is your best “hack” for virtual teaching at home or school?

When we moved to virtual learning, we were teaching from home without a document camera – which was a challenge! Through Google searches, Pinterest, and scanning social media, I found a great app called iDocCam that uses your iPhone as a document camera. I would set up my iPhone on top of books and pots and pans to reach the right height and use that during our Google Meets. It made my teaching much better and the students were more engaged. 

If you could choose your teaching situation, would you want to be back in the classroom? Hybrid? Or stay virtual?

I will always be in favor of in-person learning. I feel that in-person learning offers students so much more than an online classroom can. Being in-person allows me to connect with my students and build trust that I was unable to build while being virtual. There is no better feeling than working with students and seeing them get that smile on their face when they make progress and are full of pride. 

Besides personally loving the connection with my student, the students need each other too. First graders are learning how to build friendships and follow rules and schedules. In the classroom, we create a community that not only builds on academic skills, but also on social and emotional skills.

What wisdom, tips, or tricks would share with teachers who are also in the trenches?

While teaching in the trenches it is very easy to get “stuck” or “lost.” I strongly suggest, first and foremost, to take care of yourself. I know that is easier said than done, but coming from my own experience, when I was not taking time to rest and recharge, all areas of my life were negatively affected. Trying to balance all the different types of classrooms and your own personal life can be too much, for even the most ambitious person. Put the computer away, put the work away, and rest! 

Allow yourself to “let go” and try something fun. I run a tight ship and thrive on schedules and routine. I had to loosen the reins once virtual learning happened! It was not easy, but I was reminded that learning can take place in many different forms. 

“If you can stay positive in a negative situation, you win.” 

j

About the Author

Kristin Marczak is a Michigan native who studied elementary education at Northern Michigan University, and has a Master’s Degree in Curriculum and Instruction from Western Governors University. She began teaching at L’Anse Area Schools in the summer of 2007, and is now in her 14th year at C.J. Sullivan. Aside from 1.25 years in Kindergarten, the rest of her teaching has been in first grade, which she loves because she gets to watch her students develop so many skills.

Kristin’s dream job would be working with schools on developing and improving curriculum and being a coach for teachers to improve their instruction styles.

Currently, Kristin lives in L’Anse, MI with her two children, Landon and Avery. She loves sports, especially the Detroit Lions, reading, spending time with her two children, and dog, Daisy.

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